Angel Station Mass Market Paperback – May 15 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Ubu has four arms, a fantastically faithful memory and is 13 years old. His 11-year-old "sister" Maria is more conventionally constructed, yet so psychic she considers herself a witch. (Both mature with the artificial aid of "mones" to the time of their late teens.) Their "father," Pasco, a small-time trader with an ancient spaceship, originally assembled them from spare genetic material and personality programs, but he commits suicide while in the throes of a depression, leaving his children to fend for themselves. Ubu compounds their problems by making an unwise business move, putting them deeply in debt--in danger of losing the ship and facing a life of virtual indenture. An attempt to capitalize on Maria's psychic abilities in a casino ends in disaster, leading to their arrest, escape and lives pursued on the edge of the law. Williams ( Hardwired ) colorfully evokes the life of the trader families and their honkytonk space stations. With its emphasis on youth, beauty, sex and mischief, the novel also conjures a contemporary mood agreeably distinct from its futuristic setting.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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...
It can also be read as an allegory of what can go wrong when you get what you want. The average adolescent or pre-teen would love to have superpowers and no parental authority and the opportunity to screw themself silly, but as WJW points out, this fantasy has certain drawbacks, to put it mildly.
BTW, I also pointed out to my students that the average six-year-old American has pretty well mastered the syntax of English or Spanish or whatever, even though natural languages are a thousand times more difficult than any programming language ever invented (the child's nouns agree with verbs, the parts of speech are used in the right way and in the right order, ...), but on average, six-year-olds write truly crappy novels.
Angel Station is not a hard book to read, however, there are layers beneath the layers. The characters do not fall into the classic villein/hero classifications, they go about their business following their own goals. This brings them into conflict. Some choose to act in a cruel way, others selfless. Those choices define who they become.
If Angel station asks one (two?) central question it is, "What makes a winner a winner, and what makes a looser a looser?" I don't think the book defines the answer so much as it expects you to think about it and perhaps come up with your own answer.
This is a book that should be read, put down for a while, then reread again. You will get much more from it the second time.
Disclaimer: I read a lot. This book is on my five all-time favorites list.
Disclaimer 2.0: This review is of the paperback version. I would assume there are no differences between the paper and Kindle versions.
The ending could be better in my opinion, but otherwise -- I'm perfectly happy.
...and this really brings me to my point. It's not Amazon's fault, but the reader rating system really isn't worth much. This got 3.5 stars -- and is in my view far better than the average bear. Conversely, I have burnt my fingers on various pieces of utter garbage that received average ratings of 4.5 stars. The system is broke. It doesn't work. It provides virtually no useful information at all...
Perhaps reviews could merely be self-assigned as 'positive' or 'critical.' The numerical system, as noted, isn't of much value. Alternatively, perhaps each review's rating could be accompanied by the average rating given by that reviewer. After all, if I give something five stars and I give everything five stars, the rating doesn't mean much. If, on the other hand, my average rating is 2.5 and I give something five stars, I must be impressed, or sleeping with the author, or SOMETHING.
First of all, the whole idea of being able to capture and use the power of a singularity on board a ship to travel the stars is fascinating and powerfully described.
The two main occupants of the ship "Runaway" use their own unique powers, Ubu's perfect memory and and his sister Beautiful Maria's ability to shepherd electron flow, to control their ship and navigate the deep. But they have a problem...Ubu and Beautiful Maria are broke and desperate and need to do something soon. Out of such desperation comes risky ideas, conflict, money, screw-ups, drugs, sex, the law, aliens, hope, betrayal, power,and resolution.
This is a great ride, where eveytime you think it's going to turn out, it doesn't, or it does in an unexpected way. Walter Jon Williams has put together a great story that will keep you guessing. Try it out...it's just as good as "Hardwired" and "Voice of the Whirlwind".