This is a summary of an even more rambling longer review.
I remember I enjoyed Cherryh’s The Chronicles of Morgaine, and there are some similarities: both books feature powerful, driven women with virtually none of the traditional softer attributes – these having been cauterised by previous trauma – and the narrative follows men under their shadow, tortured souls coming to terms with years of being outcasts within their own abusive families. The settings that they inhabit are capably sketched, and the psuedo-science consistent enough within the standard suspension of disbelief parameters. But if Morgaine is worth another look, that had better be where the similarities end.
A major flaw of Tripoint is the classic of characters being described in superlative terms but not actually saying or doing anything to live up to their billing. Marie, for example, is presented as intelligent and utterly focussed on revenge, yet she does nothing intelligently vengeful in the entire book (nor has she in the previous twenty years). This goes even further with the main character, Tom. Everyone he meets is instantly convicted of his deep intelligence and honesty, despite him consistently doing stupid things and lying (unconvincingly) to them. Moreover he inexplicably becomes indispensable to the entire senior staff of a tight professional ship. We might excuse the absurdity in a kids story (“C’mon Joey, it looks like you’re the only one who can drive the fire engine!”), but not in purportedly adult fiction (kids wouldn’t suffer the constant tiresome introspection anyway, and their parents would censor it for the occasional prurience).
Cherryh, much as Donaldson in his utterly awful Gap novels, wants to make every conversation and relationship cataclysmically central – which can’t really work much more than once (let alone on each page). We have, for example, a few chapters painting a picture (and outright stating) that Tom is entirely defined by his mother and her programmed hatred of Bowe, but within hours of him being placed on Bowe’s ship she and her vendetta are utterly forgotten. That’s it. The supposedly overwhelming relationship and driving purpose of Tom’s life is just brushed aside. Alternatively literally in about five minutes Tom finds a deeper respect, trust and committed relationship with ‘Tink’, a ‘tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold’ (oh, and then again with Sabina … oh, yes, and then with Capella), than he’s had with anyone he’s lived with in the last twenty-three years. Again, just because we’re told so, not because Cherryh actually writes some powerful and convincing dialogue.
Instead we get reams of melodramatic bilge. It feels like we’re living with a particularly emotional teen at their most paranoid, where every day (every minute) is the ‘best’ or the ‘worst’, and every day, or hour, is it’s own crisis (“Oh no, I’ve got a pimple,” alongside, “Oh no, I’ve got cancer”), yet the narrator wants us to take this seriously. So, yeah, the more I think about it the lower my assessment of the book goes. Tortured indecision can be rough going at the best of times, yet it seems to be the core of much of her work. In this particular example it’s not only hard work for the reader, it’s patently absurd.