(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

HELLBURNER is set in the universe of Cherryh’s Cyteen novels. In the year 2324, there is an uneasy alliance that includes Earth, a colonized Mars, the miners and companies that exploit the asteroid belt, and the gigantic companies that provide defense and mining technologies. Distant from this group is another, Union, organized in the Cyteen system. The Earth system and Union have become belligerent rivals. Union has followed a course of technological redesign of human beings and of their planets. From Earth’s point of view, they have made themselves into an alien species. Those involved in outer space work are acutely aware of the threats posed by Union, while those who lack such experience are skeptical. Within the Earth organization, rivalries between the many centers of power tend to prevent a clear focus on the external threats and how to deal with them.

The point-of-view of characters, caught in the middle, are always struggling to understand what their situations are and what they should do. Paul Dekker, a talented pilot, lost his lover, Cory Salazar, in a mining disaster — the story told in Cherryh’s HEAVY TIME (1991). Cory was the runaway daughter of the head of the giant MarsCorp. Mrs. Salazar’s secret vendetta against Dekker follows him through the novel. Jurgen Graf, an officer in the defense fleet, is left in charge of the facility for testing a new carrier defense system, but he seems to be cut off from his superior officers. To read the story from their points of view is to be enveloped in their multiple mysteries, to share in their tensions, anxieties, and passions. The result is a thriller that challenges the intellect and absorbs one’s attention and energy.