Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
The Company Wars #1
Everything you have heard about this book is true: epic, intricate, and very long. This was actually not the first book I read in the C. J. Cherryh's Union-Alliance series. I discovered Cherryh from reading the Heavy Time & Hellburner book. I actually picked up Heavy Time at a used bookstore because the cover art was spectacular.
Now what is this book about? Let me try to boil down the plot and why it is such an interesting book. It is about the Earth Company that has expanded the human civilization out into other space stations out there. Now, Earth Company's space stations are threatened by the Union. They seem to be people from Earth who now consider space their home. They also seem to be doing some crazy things like cloning soldiers. The third faction are the merchanter's which are the unaffiliated people on ships who are engaged in trade. Another aspect of this book are the Downers, alien race. The space station which is at the heart of this book is Pell station. They are near a planet referred to as downbelow. The Downers live on downbelow. Oh did I mention that Earth has a Fleet out there doing battle with the Union's fleet?
As with all of Cherryh's books, there is politics, war, bad ass women, and philosophical issues. I love the feel of the worlds she creates and this one is no exception. It's gritty. It's dark. It's focused on characters. This is not Iain M. Banks' The Culture. This feels closer the TV show, Firefly.
Now I don't think I actually enjoyed this book as much as Heavy Time and Hellburner, but I understand much more of Company Union-Alliance world. There were many references to things I didn't understand when I started reading other books in the series. It didn't really hinder my enjoyment of those novels, but now my understanding of the world is so much richer after reading this book.
Enough about this book, just go read it. It won a Hugo award in 1982!
Another thing you shouldn't miss out on is the music that was inspired by this series: https://archive.org/details/filk_finitys_end NOTE: I wouldn't listen to this album until after you read it, as there are some subtle spoilers.