Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon May 14 12:33:15 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #53

%T Angel Station
%A Walter Jon Williams
%I TOR books
%D May 1990
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 393
%G 0-812-55787-5

In 1986's Hardwired, Walter Jon Williams gave us possibly the best cyberpunk novel barring William Gibson's own work and Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix. 1987's Voice Of The Whirlwind, though not quite as brilliant, stood head-and-shoulders above most of the rest of the subgenre. Angel Station is Williams's third major cyberpunk novel -- and a winner it is, too.

Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria are the gene-spun children of Pasco, `bossrider' (captain) of the interstellar tramp freighter Runaway -- artificially gestated, growth-accelerated, somatically altered for high intelligence and special abilities useful to starship `shooters'. Pasco is a brilliant loser who sees his world and the shooter culture he loves dying under the impact of Consolidation, political pressure from the Multi-Polities at the center of human space to stabilize the wild Fringes.

As the novel opens, Ubu and Beautiful Maria are watching Pasco's last video-note to them, made just before he committed suicide. They don't have time to mourn him; Runaway's debts are piling up, a rival shooter clan is on their tail, and Consolidation looms over all like a falling planet. They are driven to use Beautiful Maria's talent for witching computer systems to defraud, but they're amateurs at it -- they foul up and escape Angel Station barely ahead of the law.

Their only hope is to find a singularity usable as a starship's heart, wealth so fabulous they can buy out of their troubles. What they find instead is First Contact...

Williams's portrait of the high-flash-and-low-dives world of the shooters is fun stuff, and the aliens of Clan Lustre are serious weird (one of the better and biologically more plausible variations on the communal-entity theme I've seen). At bottom, though, this is a novel about how Ubu and Beautiful Maria grow up, and it works because Williams gets you to identify with the process despite the extremely odd context of their lives (as pictured, they're not that much less alien than the aliens). This is no juvenile, though -- shooters party hard and one of the things Ubu and Maria were engineered for is each other.

If there's a flaw in this novel, it's that the ending seems too pat, all the solutions tied together into a bundle that's a bit too neat. That's always a risk in genre fiction, but Williams is a good enough writer that he ought to be able to manage a resolution that's more complex and grey-scaled but still satisfying.

Nevertheless, the ride to get there is memorable. This book has lots of wonderful descriptive bits in it; Maria shooting a black hole, Ubu playing the polyphonic shooter analogue of rock music in an Angel Station bar, the interior of Clan Lustre's world-ship. There's a priceless couple of paragraphs on an alien's reaction to a human spy drama. Even the minor characters live and move.

All in all, I think this is one of the best novels I've read this year, and wouldn't be much surprised if it gets nominated for a Hugo (though I doubt it would win). I give it an official Raymond's Reviews Black-Leather-and-Chrome-Hyperkinetic-Ambience Award and recommend it strongly.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon May 14 12:33:15 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>