I‘ve re-read this in 2014 and reviewed it at Goodreads. I thought it a good idea to copy it to this blog after having read her novelette Pots.
Great world-building regarding political, social and cultural relations and history. Astonishingly, this space opera is a bit weak w.r.t technology and science – we don’t see much of those at all, just some age diminishing or mind altering drugs. On the other hand, there are obsolete technologies like lots of paper printouts, central computers or magnetic cards to open doors.
But it works very good as a Hard-SF and I think I’ve never read a better example of live on a space station.
It is a quite complex novel with multiple interleaving plots involving lots of characters playing political games.
The story starts very dry, which made me think of reading a newspaper article. I didn’t know which character or plot line I’d like to follow. I found nearly no emotions at all beside the atmosphere of tenseness.
Later on, there were some emotional peaks – e.g. with the Ewok-style folk Hisa (called “Downers”, which are an alien race of the planet Downbelow) with their ever-repeated “love you” or the story of a brainwashed enemy Union prisoner of war Josh Talley. But you won’t find romance, melodrama or even much action which I usually associate with space opera.
And in the last 100 pages it ends in a fire-work of tense action and turnarounds contrasting the slow first half of the book.
Characterization is very good and never black&white. There is this important Sigourney Weaver style spaceship captain Signy Mallory who is a real hard mom to her crew but has no problems at all shooting outsiders for nearly no reason.
I can’t think of a harder contrast to Bujold’s light hearted Vorkosigan saga – maybe with the exception of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.
I recommend it to lovers of Hard SF who don’t need 2000ish technology forecasts to enjoy a story.
Meta: isfdb. It won the Hugo.