C. J. Cherryh’s writing can get annoying with pages and pages of internal… well, monologue is not quite the right term, but it’s close. Major character’s thoughts are examined in detail as they go around on subjects weighing every angle. In general, very few people ever consciously think like this; it’s more an attempt to distill the conscious and unconscious factors that make a person act they way they do. It’s effective in its own way, but can be drawn out and heavy handed.

I had hoped that Fancher’s influence might tone this and a couple other elements down, but no. In fact, instead of this process being applied to one or two characters, we’re up to… three? four? here. And this means this is a more complex novel than most of Cherryh’s (and I’m not sure she’s ever written a simple one). Nonetheless, it was well worth the trip.

Downbelow Station, and a few other places, give the general outline of humanity’s expansion into the stars, first by slow-boat, and then FTL. Over time, Cherryh has been slowly exploring more of the backstory, and this book is set earlier than all the others. There’s a three-way tug of war of influence and trade, with Earth trapped behind the tyranny of distance: FTL drives won’t reach all the way from Sol to the nearest station established in STL era. Someday, Earth, with the resources of billions of people, will be set loose on the network of stations out there, but not yet….

In fact, closest stations to Earth are now something of a blind alley trade-wise. Only barely relevant, with the bigger stations further out there happy with that situation. But of course, it can’t last. Everyone knows it won’t last. No one knows when it will change.

The novel doesn’t end where I would have thought, but is well structured throughout. Better yet, as things get going from a slow-burn beginning, the story picks up a more human, personal side that I think much of Cherryh’s work lacks. This is a good intro to her long-standing Union-Alliance series, and easily one of the best of the set.