Well, I'm half way through WJW original 6 SF storylines, and loving every minute of it! Have now completed Voice of the Whirlwind, Hardwired, and now Angel Station, and must say I continue to thoroughly enjoy my very late discovery of his early work.
WJW original 6 SF storylines, in his own words, are:
"A future in which everything went right. (This became my novel Knight Moves.)
A future in which everything went wrong. (This became Hardwired.)
A mystery/thriller. (Voices of the Whirlwind)
A first-contact story. (Angel Station)
A Restoration-style comedy of manners. (The Crown Jewels and its sequels)
A hard-boiled mystery. (Days of Atonement)"
There is something about the pent up creative energy that Williams unleashed upon these 6 story lines, once he made the switch from nautical historical fiction to SF, that produced a truly wonderful body of early work - wildly creative plots, deeply imagined cultures, plenty of well-extrapolated as well as newly imagined technology, surprising twists, nicely flawed, very human characters, and some not so human as well, and the somewhat rare craft to keep it all moving, entertaining, and (also somewhat rare these days) internally consistent. Just great stuff!
I'm not one to recapitulate plot lines in a review, totally spoils the story, but I do like to highlight the big building blocks that I find of greatest interest and enjoyment. In Angel Station we have
+Marginalized but fiercely independent space-going human trading culture that is in decline
+Family tensions and tragedies created as much by cultural pressures as by the readily available and freely practiced genetic design of offspring
+The timeless theme of those in power creating economic and political structures designed to maintain their power, and this pitted against the entropy inherent in human culture and technology.
+First contact with an alien trading culture just as richly imagined as the human one, just as crafty, and just as deeply entwined with their very alien biology as our culture is with our own biology.
Whew! That is quite a number of big themes to weave together into a story, but Williams does it masterfully, and with a very rewarding payoff at the end.
Highly recommended, along with Hardwired and Voice of the Whirlwind.
Now, onto the next three...