C.J. Cherryh: Heavy Time (Paperback, 1992, Grand Central Publishing) 4 stars

Review of 'Heavy Time' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

The Klondike days of asteroid mining are long over and it's getting harder to make a living with the government and corporations slapping regulations over routes, assays, claims, flight certification. A lot of it the name of safety, but really it's all about Earth controlling the Belt and easing the freelancers out.

This might sound like something out of the Expanse, but it’s the premise for CJ Cherryh’s Heavy Time, the first prequel to her Hugo-winning Downbelow Station which - together with over twenty other Alliance-Union novels - charts a story of humanity’s future that spans multiple worlds and centuries of time.

James SA Corey acknowledged the debt the Expanse owes to Cherryh’s books in a recent Twitter exchange:

Are you a fan of CJ Cherryh? I’ve started reading her stuff and wondered if maybe she was an influence of yours. Spacers, stationers, and belters; interesting similarities there.

— Curlygec (@Curlygec) January 27, 2022


— James S.A. Corey (@JamesSACorey) January 27, 2022

And it’s easy to see the DNA of this book in The Expanse.

As a prequel, I suspect the set up for Heavy Time benefited from the research and worldbuilding Cherryh did while writing Downbelow Station, and the novel could have suffered from that legacy, leaning on that detail at the expense of plot and character. But in fact the opposite is true. Our knowledge is built out of the lived experience and the personal histories of the characters thrown together when two freelancers – Bird and Ben – rescue a fellow freelancer from a wrecked vessel far away from the usual spacelanes. What seems like a tragic accident turns out to be something much more sinister with all three spacers at odds with each other and the company which is trying to control the narrative and supress the truth.

Bird is an old-timer, playing the freelance game long enough to have watched the company slowly erode the rights and profits of belters and he’s seen how bad things get when the freelancers try to push back. Ben is a product of the company system. He thinks he’s smart enough to play them at their own game. Dekker is hopelessly lost, a rookie freelancer traumatised by the accident but desperate to find justice for his dead partner. And then there’s Meg and Sal, both with chequered pasts and links to subversive elements, who see Bird and Ben as potential meal tickets until things start getting very political and the whole situation spirals out of control.

Heavy Time is a masterclass both in demonstrating how to unfold detailed worldbuiding with the lightest of touches as well as how character propels plot.