My life in outer space

Angel Stations – Gary Gibson (2004)

Angel Stations

Gibson’s debut novel is a multi-character narrative space opera much in the style of Peter F Hamilton
Mankind has been able to travel out to the stars due to the discovery of Angel Stations; vast torus-shaped space stations surrounding wormholes which give instantaneous access to other stations in other parts of the galaxy.
The study of abandoned Angel tech has been a mixed blessing. It has allowed Earth to design probes which have been sent as far as possible toward the galactic core and which have discovered that processes have been set up to automatically set off novas and flood the galaxy with lethal radiation at very long but regular intervals.
The radiation is due to arrive at the planet Kaspar in days, and is likely to kill off the only other sentient race that humanity has discovered, currently at a pre-industrial feudal culture level.
Humans have also used Angel tech to alter human genes in military test subjects, producing a number of humans who are virtually indestructible and can, in some instances, see the future.
We follow a disparate group of people whose paths converge at the abandoned Angel citadel on the planet Kaspar as the wave of radiation approaches.
It’s an interesting debut, featuring echoes of Peter F Hamilton, Jack McDevitt and Fred Pohl’s ‘Gateway’.
Certainly the concept of older races ‘culling’ other life in the galaxy (usually by way of ancient machines) is a popular idea (see ‘Engines of God’, ‘Revelation Space’ and ‘Berserker’) and perhaps is in some ways a counterbalance to works in which ancient alien races are either extinct, coldly aloof or benevolent.
It’s not simply a derivative novel, however. Gibson has created some interesting concepts and has cursed the earth with a Blight, an Angel Tech derived virus which was unleashed while one of the protagonists was trying to retrieve it from one of the Earth’s criminal gangs.
Kim is a xeno-archaeologist who has the deaths of some of her colleagues on her conscience and has become addicted to absorbing ‘books’ which are the distilled memories of others. She has fallen on hard times and is working as an asteroid miner from the Angel Station in the Kaspar System.
She too has unleashed a plague of sorts, as one of the artefacts she retrieved from the Kaspar citadel during an archaeological expedition has become active. This has released self-replicating Von Neumann bugs which are slowly consuming all the human-built sections of the stations as well as their ships. The bugs are using the cannibalised material to make more bugs.
Meanwhile, members of a human cult – The Primalists – are hiding out on Kaspar in deep caves waiting for the radiation to kill all the sentient natives so that they can claim the planet as a new Eden. One of the aliens, however, is in possession of an Angel artefact that might be the key to deflecting the radiation and saving his species.
The Kasparians are an interestingly designed species able – in an odd mirroring of Kim’s addiction – to achieve sentience by eating the flesh and brains of a dead adult. Their children are pre-sentient animals and do not attain intelligence until this ritual has been carried out.
There are some loose ends left untied which no doubt means that sequels are in the pipeline.
Maybe it’s me but it seems many debut novels now are planned with sequels in mind. No one seems to want to write stand alone novels any more. Is this publisher pressure or a strategic move on the part of the author?

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