- Series: Questar Book
- Hardcover: 343 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Pub; First Edition edition (September 1, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0446516171
- ISBN-13: 978-0446516174
- Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.4 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,964,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hellburner (Questar Book) Hardcover – September 1, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
SF veteran Cherryh's view of the future is unrelentingly cynical, and her protagonists are often ordinary people caught between corrupt corporations and self-serving politicians. In this sequel to Heavy Time , the heroes (and antiheroes) manage a few small victories, but the larger battle continues. All the major characters who survived Heavy Time are back, taking part in a top-secret test pilot program for the military. When Paul Dekker, probably the most trouble-prone character in SF, is seriously injured in a suspicious accident, his surly former partner Ben Pollard is called in as next of kin. While Ben investigates, rival military factions fight for control of the program, with the pilots caught in the middle. Cherryh, who evokes more tension and danger in one verbal confrontation than most writers can manage in a dozen space battles, maintains a fast pace throughout. Her abundant use of technoslang makes her prose style rather heavy going, but this excellent novel is well worth the effort. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This sequel to Heavy Time ( LJ 6/15/91) features the continuing adventures of "belters" Dekker and Pollard as the duo become involved in the complicated and deadly corporate politics of space. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/92.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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It's a good thing Dekker, piloting the second, has such capable friends.
If you are intrigued by the lives of spaceship test pilots, this book is for you. Otherwise, it is short on action.
This one brings back our favorite "oh get a room already you two" couple in Ben Pollard and that magnet for trouble Paul Dekker. At the end of the last book the two of them had left the Belter life and entered the military. When the book opens they haven't seen each other for over a year and Pollard is about to land his dream job, a cushy programming gig on Earth where he'll get to roll around on beaches and eat real food and most importantly not get blown up in space. All that goes out the window when he gets a summons from the Fleet that Dekker has been in an accident with mysterious circumstances and has listed him as the next of kin, requiring his presence to see if he can get through to Dekker to figure out what's happened. Pollard, as you can imagine, doesn't take this well.
The early chapters, despite the inherent odd couple comedy, are somewhat rough going as they seem at times to repeat the setup of "Heavy Time" when a crazed Dekker and Pollard were trapped in a ship for a month heading back to base. Pollard hasn't lost any of his abrasiveness (heightened by his desperation to have the problem solved fast before he loses his soft landing) and the initial encounters are almost carbon copies of the first go-round . . . Dekker yelling incoherent stuff over and over while Pollard screams back at him in an increasingly unhinged manner and comes close to inflicting bodily harm on him. You know, like the news every night.
Yet while that was most of the plot for "Heavy Time" Cherryh actually does something interesting and goes way deeper here. The accident that hurt Dekker was in a simulation that the authorities assume was a suicide attempt because his entire time was killed after his position was swapped out but in that timeless tradition of "A Few Good Men" it becomes clear very quickly that what happened might not have been an accident and even if no one ordered the Code Red its possible people have reasons to be less than friendly.
I think a lot of people were disappointed with how little action there is in this one (beyond some punches being thrown) but to me this is Cherryh at her most intoxicating . . . while spaceship fights are nice, what fascinates me about her universe is all the political maneuvering and we have that in spades here, as we follow another Fleet soldier Lieutenant Graff as he tries to hold off his UDC counterpart and deal with the shifting Earth politics that both straitjacket him and give him very little guidance at all. Cherryh has a way of writing military conversations like every single one is a sparring match between two people who aren't moving at all, making every encounter feel like the participants are not just playing with fire but have soaked their hands in gasoline first. At stake is a new weapons project that require intensely trained teams and that everyone seems to want a piece of. Graff has to protect his men and deal with the constantly changing situation, weaving his way through hearings and confrontations while striving to keep the program on track and the various troop factions from going for each other's throats.
Her best novels for me are chamber operas, intensely packed situations unfolding in confined spaces and this is where her clipped and super narrow third person style shines, for Graff and Pollard and Dekker especially you get into these people, you feel their frustrations and hopes and all the places where their own flaws are going to trip them up. The addition of some other cast members from "Heavy Time" form a core team and what's interesting is watching everyone pulling around Dekker despite him not wanting friends at all. He doesn't want anyone to stay but they do (even Pollard) out of a sense of loyalty and maybe duty and a desire not to see him thrown to the wolves and sacrificed.
But its the wider jockeying that gives this the feel of a thriller and what's amazing is how lived in it feels, how natural the interactions between Fleet and UDC come across, shaped by years of events that we haven't even seen, and how she can depict people at the mercy of politics all the way down on Earth that there aren't even privy to except in rumors and edited dispatches. It feels like a world that breathes, where all the parts are jammed so close together that even the smallest twitch sends ripples across the surface.
Is it mostly talk? Oh heck yes. But its the kind of talk where its important to follow what people say versus what they mean, where everyone has to choose their words with a careful precision lest they start a trouble they don't want, where even the spaces between words and the silences locked inside are just as crucial as the back and forth.
She gets people, or more specifically these people, and every conversation, every gesture, the weight of every act is informed by how they think and all the history that they've experienced to bring them here. There's a toughness to it that only comes from pure desperation, where you believe in what you're doing and you believe in the dire consequences of failure and how they'll hurt people who aren't you, and it sings across every page.
I wasn't a big fan of these people when I first them in "Heavy Time" but the time this was over I wouldn't have minded spending another hundred pages with them. If the book has any flaw (other than the slow beginning) its that she has the lens focused so narrowly that few of the characters (and thus us) understand the big picture and how they've affected it but that's something to be expected in her books and frankly, its a minor flaw indeed. She creates a world where the list of things the people who live there can control are far outweighed by the list of what they can't, and the only way to live with the imbalance and not go mad is to rely on each other.
When it comes to overall themes, the work is really about bureaucracies and organizations. At the core is the inter-service competition between the new interstellar Fleet and the older Earth United Defence Command (UDC). And next to this core is the competition within the military-industrial complex, esp. competing major military contrators and their systems. A failure for one company's product can mean the success of another's. And added to this core is the competition of various political and non-governmental bodies to shape strategy. On Earth and on Mars. This includes both various legislatures and individual politicians but also corporations (Earth Corp. & Mars Corp.) and activist groups advancing a cause (esp. in this case "peacers" who are focused on Earth and are willing to leave the colonies alone in peace). Added to this layer is the sociological conflict and diffferences between the various human societies. Earthers have very narrow, parochial view of the universe. It all revolves around them. Mars is "more Earth than Earth"; wanting to be new traditionalists. The insystem space station culture varies from the Shepherds and Belters. The merchanter families and their societies are developing independently. And, of course, there are the techno-driven colonies, primarily Union (all the way out at Cyteen), which wants complete independence and will do anything, including massive cloning and brain-tape-driven education, to achieve its goals. The year is 2324, the war is in its early stage and the players are staking out their ground... Devising both strategy and tactics that will be tested in the war as it expands.
A major issue for me when reading the book was that four of the main characters from HT are also major characters here. We'e already explored who these people are, how they think, how they act, and how they interact with each other. So there are no surprises here at all. But we really only focus on two of them: Ben Pollard and Paul Dekker, both now in the military: UDC and Fleet respectively.
The second major issue is that the basic plot of the first book is essentially repeated here for over 200 pages. Something bad happens to Dekker and an unwilling Pollard is forced to help him out. This is the first conspiracy. It is tied to the others and will reveal them. But all in good time. For most of the book Dekker is as zoned-out as he was in the first. Which mean I really didn't like him all over again. And selfish Pollard is still selfish, though we know why, and has to overcome his own instincts to save Dekker. The two women--Meg and Sal--are mostly merely along for the ride and don't play too much of a direct role in the book.
The three new major characters--Lt. Graff (Fleet). Colonel Tanzer (UDC), and Commander Porey (Fleet)--exist to interact with politicians & our characters and pursue their own agendas, hidden and otherwise. We initially focus more on Graff vs. Tanzer and then later Porey vs. Graff. We are meant to like Graff, which we do, and not like Tanzer or Porey, both hard-headed military leaders with rather brutish styles.
The last major issue is the...lack of any real action. This is mainly a conspiracy thriller. More political and military intrigue. So there is mostly endless dialog. What little passes for a major action at the end is pretty minor. And tied to getting the Hellburner rider ship program to prove what type group of crew are needed to make it actually work. (Once a crew can do that, the neural tape system will be able to provide these skills to others.) So if you like how Cherryh writes dialog, and I do, then you'll mostly enjoy the book. If you're looking for lots of action and excitement, you'll be disappointed.
The great "reveal" in the book is essentially the viewpoints of the various cultures. We finally see how the war came to be, how the various societies have come to see themselves, and to interact. Thus Earth's undesired rabble have gone forth into space now for generations and created their own strange and brave new worlds. Not unlike Australia's founding? And because it is a prequel, we knew the rider program would be vindicated. Now we know how and by whom.
So this is yet another micro-picture of a vast universe. As is each book in this series. We never really get to see the big picture. We see only what Cherryh wants us to see from the limited viewpoints of the charactes involved. We piece together the big picture from the little details provided in each book. That is part of the joy. We have to explore this universe carefully. We meet some interesting people along the way. We see the universe from their eyes.
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