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Literature / Angel Station

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Angel Station is a science-fiction book written by Walter Jon Williams, telling a story of a small merchant starship ran by a Brother–Sister Team. Broke and out of luck, they struggle to maintain their independent way of life, until one day they stumble upon something nobody has encountered before: an alien ship. Being who they are, their first idea is to offer them a trade agreement, which surprisingly seems to be working.The book's main theme is a rather classical form of First Contact, understood as exchange of ideas between different cultures that mostly come from biological differences.

Angel Station provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adjective Noun Fred: Beautiful Maria is actually legally named "Beautiful Maria". When talking to some Angel Station officials, they accidentally refer to her as "Ms. Roy", given her brother's name. She corrects them, much to their confusion.
  • Artificial Gravity: Justified, since every FTL-capable ship is built around a captured singularity. Some sort of gravity control would be necessary to keep it contained. It's also used to create normal gravity for the crew and can be turned down or off in some rooms.
  • Artificial Human: Beautiful Maria and Ubu Roy have DNA that was made from scratch by their "father" to give them their significant traits.
  • Bee People: Only the Living Ship is considered a member of the alien race of The Beloved; its subjects are more or less just drones (well, mostly).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ubu and Maria manage to outwit both Marco de Suarez and Beloved, and get out from under the mountain of debt their dad left them with, but Ubu had to absorb Beloved's indoctrinating rhythms to defeat her, and has lost some of his humanity in the process. Maria is trying to keep him human, but fears that one day, he won't be the brother that she knows and loves anymore.
  • Blind Jump: In the book, FTL travel is achieved by using captured black holes (contained within each ship) to open a tear in space-time. Proper calculations are necessary to "ride out the wave" to the proper destination. The protagonists make a random jump, hoping to find a system that will have "catchable" black holes to sell. A similar jump puts a Living Ship (also looking to capture and sell singularities) in the same system, resulting in the events of the book.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Played with. Beautiful Maria and Ubu Roy are not genetic siblings, as they were both genetically engineered by their "father" from scratch. However, they have been raised as brother and sister, so their feelings for each other are no different than if they had biological ties. That said, they have no problem screwing each other whenever they feel like it (it gets pretty graphic at times), although this can be justified by the fact that (after their "father's" suicide) it's just the two of them on long voyages and that their "father" used hormones to boost their growth, which made them all the more horny. They don't see a problem with this, probably because they have limited exposure to other people and they don't really advertise this.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria work together, live together and rule their ship together.
  • Cassandra Truth: Twelve tries to warn Beloved that playing Ubu and Marco against each other is a terrible idea, because humans are far more capable of subterfuge than she thinks, but she decides that he's too "contaminated" by his exposure to humans and thus sends him to be executed. Compounding her poor decision, she then orders his replacement to keep himself isolated from the humans, and thus his reports don't warn her that Ubu has been experimenting with how to replicate the rhythms that she uses to control her drones.
  • Driven to Suicide: Volitionals who have outlived their use to Beloved are injected with chemicals that destroy their sense of self-worth, almost literally driving them to suicide. This is the fate of poor Twelve.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Achieved by using captured singularities to open wormholes of sort. The jump itself is instantaneous, although it releases deadly radiation, which is why there is a legal No Warping Zone near any inhabited planet, station, or moon. It's impossible to trace a jump, but every ship is required by law to keep unaltered navigation logs, which must be presented to any official upon request (the logs are considered to be government property). This is likely done to prevent any piracy by openly showing where a ship's crew got their cargo. What's interesting is that ships are always built around already-captured black holes, not the other way around. They can also be equipped with special "claws" for capturing newly-discovered singularities, which can be sold to shipyards for a profit.
  • First Contact: The main theme of the book, as the crew of the Runaway become the first humans to make contact with an alien civilization.
  • Fixing the Game: Beautiful Maria is genetically-engineered with an ability to manipulate electrons with telekinesis. As a way of making money while they look for a contract, she plays a game (with a decent payout) that simulates navigating a ship through a field of black holes. Using her ability, she's able to win consistently by intercepting and altering computer signals before they appear on the screen. Ubu then suggests going for a big score and cheating at the roulette at a big casino on the titular space station. By that point, all casino games are electronic in nature, so Maria feels she has a good chance. She ends up winning a lot, but both are then taken to a back room, where it's revealed that the casino monitors all machines and detects any attempts at hacking them. Their only curiosity is the fact that Maria doesn't appear to have any equipment with her. They start beating on both of them. Even when Maria admits her ability, the casino owners don't believe her. They are thrown out the back of the casino badly beaten and without their winnings, not to mention permanently barred from any casino on the station.
  • Hive Mind: The Beloved. However, this is not as simple as it seems.
  • Human Resources: The drones used by The Beloved's people only exist for as long as they're useful. If one's use has run out or it goes insane, it is killed and processed into organic matter to be fed to the other drones. They don't mind. This is the fate of General Volitional Twelve near the end of the novel for trying to warn The Beloved of her eventual downfall due to her interactions with humans.
  • Humans Are Bastards: This is one of the things General Volitional Twelve finally figures out about humanity. He realizes that The Beloved's lucrative dealings with humans will eventually result in the greedy humans exploiting the Living Ship race, but his attempts to warn her result in her having him terminated and melted down into organic paste to be fed to other drones.
  • Insectoid Aliens: Many servants of The Beloved, like the navigator race, are insectoid or crustacean-like.
  • Living Ship: Beloved is a member of a race of living ships, who use genetically-engineered servants to maintain them and do various tasks like load cargo, the most prominent of which is General Volitional Twelve, who is sent to study humans and act as her envoy. At the end of the novel, Beloved's trade (high quality drugs for computers) with the newly-discovered human siblings Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria results in prosperity for both sides, although it is hinted that Beloved's "people's" exposure to humans will eventually lead to their demise.
  • Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Ubu Roy has four arms, for better adaptation to zero-gravity environment. They're also useful for having sex with Beautiful Maria in interesting positions (e.g. using the upper arms to hang from a ceiling bulkhead and the lower arms to hold Maria, who works off her pent-up energy by doing most of the work).
  • No Warping Zone: Ships entering or exiting a jump must do so far away from planets, as the process releases deadly radiation. The protagonists are once forced to jump fairly close to an inhabited moon, realizing they're committing a heinous crime. After their return, they are able to pay off the offense with their newfound wealth.
  • Organic Technology: Pretty much the only tech The Beloved have as a race - but how! However, their major deficiency is computers. Their biological equivalents are woefully inadequate for plotting proper interstellar jumps. Which is why the ones Ubu Roy offers The Beloved, which are merely mining computers, are still vastly superior to what The Beloved has, as they are capable of performing calculations at faster-than-light speeds using something called "macromolecules". In exchange, Ubu Roy learns that The Beloved can produce high-quality pharmaceuticals in great numbers based on samples he literally feeds her.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: While the word "wormhole" is never used in Angel Station, all ships use captured black holes in order to perform FTL jumps. Opening a "tunnel" creates in a massive radiation wave that can damage anything for thousands of miles, meaning jumps have to be made far away from planets or other ships. It is also revealed that aliens use the same method. Apparently, any ship can be equipped with devices for capturing black holes. Why they don't get torn to shreds by gravity is never brought up.
  • Rogue Protagonist: Beautiful Maria and Ubu Roy. They do their best to avoid being affiliated with any interstellar corporation and try to stay afloat. They end up breaking tons of laws (including exposing an inhabited moon to deadly radiation and falsifying navigation logs, both high crimes). This ends up paying off in the end, and they start their own company and absorb their competition. While she's not a protagonist, The Beloved's situation is similar among her people, and she ends up striking it big by trading with Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria.
  • Sapient Ship: The alien mothership, which rules over its drone-like "crew".
  • Servant Race: The Beloved's "crew", collectively (though there are many types).
  • Sexbot: Their "father" bought one during Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria's [hor]monal phase to keep himself some company and satisfy his urges, since his "children" were too busy screwing one another all over the ship. After his suicide, Ubu Roy decides to sell the bot to cover some of their debts. As he's approaching her with a shock prod, the bot frantically tries to seduce him to let her stay. He refuses.
  • Space People: The interstellar merchant culture that Ubu Roy and Beautiful Maria belong to. It actually considers planets as "dirtballs" - hostile, filthy and depressing. Honestly, what else could be said of a place at the very bottom of a deep gravity well?
  • Space Station: The titular Angel Station is an enormous Stanford torus. It's a key interstellar hub in that part of space.
  • Starfish Aliens: With some alien servant forms, most notably those of specialized but simple function (like cleaning).
  • Starts with a Suicide: The book opens with Pasco killing himself after realizing that he's pretty much burned out, leaving his kids to deal with the considerable debt that he's left behind, which sets off the events of the plot.
  • Technopath: Beautiful Maria has a really good understanding of technology, definitely surpassing any mundane talent.
  • Transhuman: Both protagonists are genetically engineered for best performance in space.
  • You Are Number 6: Members of the Servant Race created by The Beloved's people to crew and maintain them are given designations based on their function and a number - for example, General Volitional Twelve. He's not a "general" in the military sense, but his function is non-specific (i.e. general-purpose). "Volitional" means that he is able to function independently from The Beloved's control, to a degree.
  • Zero-G Spot: Beautiful Maria engages in microgravity sex with her temporary Love Interest from a rival merchant family. She has just suffered a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from the security staff of a casino Ubu Roy and she tried to cheat, so she hopes the low gravity will lessen the pain. Of course, they still end up tumbling through the entire cargo bay, with her partner having to use pieces of debris to keep her from floating away from him.