- Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (March 1, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0446362239
- ISBN-13: 978-0446362238
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #981,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Heavy Time Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1992
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CJ Cherryh has written five novels that set forth the basics of her space-based Alliance-Merchanter Universe, starting with Downbelow Station (DS, 1981) and ending with Finity's End (FE, 1997). Heavy Time (HT) and Hellburner (HB) are the 2 prequels that are really one big book. I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in HT/HB first read DS. If you love that, like I do, then take the time to read the other 4 novels: Merchanter's Luck (ML, 1982), Rimrunners (RR, 1989), Tripoint (TP, 1994), and FE. DS sets the tone and builds the basic universe. The other 4 novels are really snippets of that universe revolving around a troubled character trying to find his/her place in the universe. Each of the 4 sequels is a standalone novel that can be read in conjunction with DS.
But HT & HB are unique. They, too, tell the story about troubled people trying to find their way in the universe. But the "universe" is much smaller and more focused. Being essentially just small parts of our Solar System. Before the great war fully comes into play involving the rebellious colonies deep in space and the independent family spaceships that supply worlds and stations.
Act 1, pages 1-66: Aboard the small mining exploration & discovery ship TRINIDAD. With long-time older miner Morris Bird and short-time young miner Ben Pollard. We are supposed to like the kinder Bird and dislike the reprehensibly ethically challenged Pollard. They hear a distress signal, check it out, find a drifting ship nearly identical to theirs, find someone alive (Paul Dekker), and then have to rescue him. Dekker is "out of his mind" in this period and for much of the rest of the book. So he isn't a pleasant character either. And Pollard is just repulsive as all he wants to do is use the law to get title to Dekker's ship. Pollard views it as salvage and couldn't care less about Dekker. Fortunately for Dekker, Bird has some humanity left in him.
Act 2, pages 67-269: Aboard Astroid Exploration (ASTEX) Mining Refinery Station R2. Here we met the companions of Bird & Pollard, Soheila Aboujib (Sal) and Meg Kady (Meg), two attractive women in a "man's world" who are trying to make a living as independent miners. Both Sal & Meg have had their run ins with the Company. Things aren't going quite like they wanted. They want access to a ship so they can mine. Pollard, who knows how to make a bureaucracy do his bidding, spends his time trying to work the paperwork system to get legal title to Dekker's ship. Dekker spends a lot of time in hospital, where doctor's and ASTEX just want him to sign away his knowledge of the truth about the "incident". Dekker claims he was deliberately run over by a 'driver; the company says no 'driver was in the vicinity. Pollard kept logs that can verify the truth. And Sal comes into the logs. She has ties to the powerful Shepards, a ship guild, that is in labor talks with the Company and fighting to keep their indepedent status. We mostly spend time with these characters as they sit in bars & restaurants talking or going about overhauling Dekker's damaged ship, WAY OUT. And with Dekker at the hospital during his lengthy psychological recovering period.
Act 3, pages 270-330: Aboard R2 and then on the Shepard spaceship HAMILTON. This is the "thrilling conclusion" part involving riots, a gun-battle chase, an escape into space, but with a possible destruction into a gravity well if negotiations aren't successful and one of the military's new giant command carriers under construction doesn't come to their rescue. All because various players (the miners, the Shepards, the Company, the Military) have come to realize the facts of Dekker's incident and each has a vested interest in using it for their own agenda. We briefly meet a young Lieutenant Porey of the Fleet who will be mentioned in later books as being one of the great Command Carrier Captains in Mazian's rebellious Fleet.
The novel, set in the year 2323, ends setting up its immediate sequel HB, which opens in the year 2324. DB takes place in 2352. Keep in mind that the title merely refers to the heavier gravity time these miners spend on the refinery when they return from their zero-gravity space time. The big refinery has many levels with differing gravities. All the way from near zero to Earth 1.0.
Keep in mind that as in ALL of Cherryh's books in this universe, we only see what little she wants us to see. These are small stories tied to a bigger picture, but she doesn't expound directly at length about that bigger picture. You have to pay very close attention to small details to get some of that picture. But even then you realize the story is ultimately about 5 people trying to find their place in the universe.
Long out of print (?) it is worth the attention of every Cherryh admirer.
Fortunately CJ Cherryh has a way of soothing that sting by demonstrating now in the future giant corporations are still going to control everything and ferret out ways to legally screw people over. So it seems I won't miss all that much.
Her Alliance-Union setting is ridiculously sprawling, with lots of moving parts that often can't be seen in full until you read a whole bunch of them and get a sense of the larger sociopolitical backdrop she's putting together. As such there's no real ideal entry point other than diving in and paying attention to the background details until it all comes together in one of the cornerstone novels. In that case this one and follow up "Hellburner" (which I think I have around here somewhere) work as prequels to "Downbelow Station" which a lot of the stuff percolating here and presumably in the sequel finally explode.
This one, however, might be tough unless you've already read a bunch of them because it can take some time to get used to the setting and the style. In fact, I'd say its one of the least user friendly entries into the setting. It takes place in the asteroid belt, where one of those giant corporations that only have good intentions for everyone, ASTEX (known by the miners as "Mama") controls pretty much all operations and while miners are able to make a living its clear that the deck is pretty much stacked in Mama's favor. Two miners in partnership, Ben and Bird, are out prospecting likely claims when they come across a damaged ship that shouldn't be there. There's one survivor aboard, Paul Dekker, but he's in shock and out of his mind, screaming about a lost partner and not giving much insight into what damaged his ship in the first place. The obvious explanation is that he was struck by another ship but nothing was marked as being out there and of course Mama's records are always accurate. Or are they?
As far as the mystery goes its like watching a movie on Watergate, if the conspiracy oriented theory isn't the right one then what the heck are you doing here. "Oh it was a random accident" would certainly be a twist ending but not exactly thrilling. So the question isn't what exactly happened but the "why" and when everyone else is going to figure that out. Which is a fine plot to hang on the book.
The problem here, unlike a lot of her books, is that the rough around the edges characters are tough to identify with. Dekker spends most of the book either out of his mind and when he's not insane he's mostly confused as different forces seek to use him for their own ends. One of the men who rescues him, Ben Pollard, is uniformly abrasive, and while you can understand that he's trying to work the corporate angles and increase his livelihood it doesn't give him a lot in the way of narrative drive. He's not keen on solving the mystery, he just wants Dekker to go away so he can claim his ship as salvage. He and his partner spend most of their time arguing over Dekker so it seems like a chunk of the book is two men shouting at each other in an enclosed space while a man off his gourd wails in the background. And while that sometimes describes my workday more often than I'd like, its not gripping reading at times. The addition of two ladies that work with the boys and perhaps have their own agendas helps but large sections of the book are just everyone going about their hustling while all the stuff with Dekker burbles about in the background waiting to explode.
What's fascinating about this book and speaks to one of her greatest skills as a writer is how she gets what it would probably feel like to scrabble about working for these people. From the texture of the dialogue with its casual slang (but not even just the slang, but the basic cadence of it) to the systems and rituals and structures that have come into existence out of necessity, the setting here has a gritty and lived-in feeling that novels about actual present day miners doesn't don't ever quite accomplish. The sheer feel of the rhythm does nine-tenths of the work in making the story immersive, which is why its a shame that the characters can't bring it all the way home.
Maybe they exist too far on the political fringes. When things do eventually erupt its hardly due to anything that the main characters do so much as events that they're only partially paying attention to because they have their own more immediate problems suddenly get shoved into the foreground. Like real politics, Cherryh's characters often don't show their hand (or even their faces) until they absolutely have to, choosing to work through asides and intermediates. It can make the proceedings somewhat opaque if you're not totally keyed into what she's doing, or have a good working knowledge of the background. But no one encapsulates the feel of future political maneuvering quite like she does and her ability to move from everyone trying to jockey for advantage in the background while the people affected scramble for cover in the foreground is really unparalleled. The layers involved in the density of what she's doing is striking but I think she might have been too good at her game this time out, with understanding not really arriving until its explained to us. It makes this book feel like another small piece in the much larger puzzle she was assembling in the runup to "Downbelow Station" and if you care about her vision of military SF then this is a great example . . . but the meshing of the gears is what's the star here and the characters, well-meaning, over their heads or otherwise, are just caught up in those gears and if there's anything compelling about them, its whether they're slippery and flexible enough to get through or hard-headed and stubborn enough to be ground to bits.