A couple decades after First Contact with a Proud Merchant Race of benign Artificial Intelligences called the Stryx, humanity has exploded onto the galactic stage... as a backwater species struggling to reconcile its old system of capitalistic nation-states with a universe that prefers to barter goods and services and where nobody pays the nation-states much attention. Now Kelly Frank, a functionary at the EarthCent consulate on Union Station, struggles to pay her rent on a civil servant's salary while dealing with clashing alien cultures, collectives of school children buying starships with mining rights they don't own, video games that become internationally Serious Business, and a mother who wants grandchildren and calls collect every week to nag her about it. And then, to cap it off, her office manager's daughters get her a gift subscription to a new dating service run by the Stryx themselves.
Elsewhere on the station, former mercenary Joe McAllister now works as a salvage operator. In between raising his adopted son, chasing down ships that skipped out on their bills, and trying to figure out just what the heck half of the junk in his shop left to him by the former owner is, he's paid for a job in trade with a partially used gift subscription to the dating service.
E.M. Foner wrote Date Night on Union Station to deal with writer's block in the middle of work on a more conventional sci-fi epic, but he unexpectedly ended up with a Sleeper Hit and was convinced to write sequels.
- Affectionate Parody: The series is almost to the level of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the number of science fiction tropes it parodies or plays for laughs, but there's no doubt that the author is a big fan of the genre.
- Benevolent A.I.: The Stryx gave humanity FTL drive and are very friendly as long as you obey their trade laws. They've even imposed a ban on interstellar warfare in their territory.
- Fantastic Racism: The Natural League is made up of species that became spacefarers without the aid of the Stryx, and deeply dislike species that the Stryx uplifted (e.g. humans).
- Fictional Counterpart: By description Trader/Raider is something of an amalgam of EVE Online, Elite: Dangerous, and Second Life, with the addition of using real starship cockpits as simulators.
- Fictional Geneva Conventions: The Stryx ban interstellar warfare outright within their sphere of influence, which leads to some species taking to using gaming tournaments for an International Showdown by Proxy.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the books are titled <descriptor> Night on Union Station.
- Humans Are Special: Downplayed. Humans are the new kids on the block, discriminated against by Natural League species, and don't have much to offer in trade besides workers. However, they have a surprising proficiency at gaming.
- Love at First Sight: After several disastrous dates for Kelly and Joe, at the end of Date Night the Stryx set them up with each other. They get married less than an hour after their first meeting and stay together for the remainder of the series.
- Klingons Love Shakespeare: For some bizarre reason aliens seem to love human kitchen appliances, even though they have little practical use to most races (some don't even cook their food). They seem to buy them mostly as art pieces.
- Military Moonshiner: Joe has a sideline in homebrewing and his products are served at a number of bars on Union Station. It evidently dates back to his mercenary days, since he's able to barter permission to land at a merc encampment when he offers several kegs to an old war buddy.
- One World Order: Most alien societies follow this, but EarthCent doesn't have much actual power over humans in general or Earth's nations in particular: it's initially little more than a formality imposed by the Stryx in exchange for the uplift. Kelly's diplomatic exploits start to expand its influence over the course of the series.
- Send in the Clones: The alien species called the Gem embraced cloning technology and carried it to the ultimate conclusion — the entire species is clones of a single individual.
- Serious Business: Trader/Raider, the hot new MMORPG virtual reality video game in Alien Night. Once a team led by Kelly's stepson develops a reputation in the game-verse, she starts getting approached by aliens for alliances who think EarthCent is trying to use the game for an International Showdown by Proxy. Kelly is quite surprised at the prospect.