You’d think that, having finished Merchanter’s Luck and Rimrunners by C.J. Cherryh, I’d be excited to dive into the pile of books I bought yesterday. Well, I am excited for a number of the books I bought, but I wanted to keep reading through Alliance-Union for the moment. Overall, I’m going in chronological order – the timeline, not publication date. Which means that yes, I’ve skipped over the most important book in the series, Downbelow Station. Why would I have such a gross oversight? Well, for all the book is a Hugo winner, I’ve already read it this year. Just a few months ago, I think. And as interesting as it is, it’s not one that I can just pick up and read anytime. I was very tempted to reread the forward, describing how both Downbelow Station and Merchanter’s Luck came to be, but I’ve read it enough to have the salient points memorized.
Essentially, Cherryh wanted to write the story of Merchanter’s Luck, but wanted it to be part of a larger universe. So she wrote Downbelow Station to create and define that universe. That book was so long though, that there was no way it’d fit into DAW’s format. However, the editor couldn’t see a good way to cut it, and the publisher released a new, larger format, just for this book.
All of which means that Merchanter’s Luck takes place after the conclusion of the Company Wars that were heating up in Hellburner. It’s actually a very short book, not much more than 200 pages, and questions what truths a man can hold to when everything he does is a lie. Sandor Kreja is a skilled liar, smooth-talker, and desperate beyond belief. Dreams die hard, and the one he’s risking everything on he’s had for years.
Then we move on to Rimrunners (that might technically take place before Merchanter’s Luck, but I usually place it after just because of the whole Downbelow Station introduction) which features Bet Yeager, an ex-marine just trying to make a new life for herself on a ship – any ship – that’ll take her. She’s not a merchanter like the protagonists of the other book, she’s military through and through, and trying to conceal it because people don’t like the idea that they might be sitting next to a trained killer from a ship that is now a pirate.
There are horrible things mentioned in Merchanter’s Luck, in Downbelow Station, in Rimrunners, and they’re part of human nature. But these books, like so many from the seventies and eighties, see our future as being bright and positive. Sure, shit happens. Even Star Trek addresses how their utopian society isn’t nearly as utopian and foolproof as it seems. But so many books today are incredibly depressing. So many have the underlying message of “the human race is fucked and there’s nothing we can do about it.” I don’t spend most of my free time reading just to get scared and depressed about the future. I want to see that while shit will continue to happen, we can be better. We can do more. We can prevail.
There’s a saying that most Jewish holidays, the ones that aren’t fast days, can be summarized as “Someone tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” It’s actually pretty sad how accurate a statement that is. But there’s still the sense that the future is bright. After all, we did survive. And in the case of the Holocaust, we say, to this day, Never Again. Because the future is in our hands. It’s our job to make the world a better place – “tikkun olam” the phrase is. Healing and repairing the world. We do this because it’s a mitzvah, a sacred responsibility as well as a good deed, to leave the world a better place than we found it. To make happier lives for our children. Isn’t that what parents everywhere want?
So when I look at all the poorly written, poorly conceived dystopian young adult novels out there, among others in this negative trend, is it any wonder that I find myself ever more strongly drawn to the sci-fi of the seventies and eighties?