Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria are a couple of young adults who were genetically engineered by their “father,” a spaceship pilot and explorer who recently committed suicide on his ship, leaving his two “kids” to fend for themselves. The money is gone, and so are their prospects, so Ubu and Maria set out to try to make enough money to avoid foreclosure on their ship.
Luckily, they both have a couple of special skills engineered into their DNA. When they happen upon an unknown alien civilization, they come up with a get-rich quick scheme. But for it to work, they have to keep the aliens a secret from humanity. This becomes more and more difficult to do as their competitors plot against them.
Angel Station (1989) is the type of space adventure that I usually find very appealing and there were some aspects of the novel that I liked a lot such as the general storyline, the emphasis on trade and entrepreneurship, Ubu and Maria’s genetically engineered superpowers, the synthesized music that Ubu creates with his synesthesia, the holographic ghost of their father who randomly appears to give lectures on economics, and the ship’s cat who loves to be petted.
My favorite character was Twelve, the alien who acts as ambassador to the humans. He is totally devoted to his all-powerful matriarch and her teachings, so when he joins Ubu and Maria on their ship, he is bewildered by their bizarre behaviors and predilections. His attempts to understand human customs are hilarious and the way these experiences alter his later interactions with his matriarch are thought-provoking.
Unfortunately, though, I found all of the human characters to be unlikeable (almost detestable), making Angel Station a hard book for me to love. Ubu and Maria both brood a lot and the sexual relationship between them is kind of icky. Genetically, they’re not actually siblings, but they grew up together with the same father and they call each other brother and sister. The relationship isn’t a romantic one, but it has more to do with obsession on Ubu’s part and convenience on Maria’s. I found it and, in fact, all of the human relationships, to be unpleasant. The villain of the story is particularly odious, yet I liked how Walter Jon Williams gave him a sense of duty for his family. I wish Williams had given us some human characters we could root for. I’m sure I would have enjoyed Angel Station a lot more.
I listened to Tantor Media’s recent release of an audio version of Angel Station. Neil Hellegers does a really nice job with the narration and I recommend this edition for those who want to read Angel Station. It’s 16 hours long.