(2004/2013) Gary Gibson, Tor, £8.99, pbk, 548pp, ISBN 978-1-447-22412-9
A probe emerges from what is in effect a stargate near the Galactic core to discover a wave of gamma radiation heading out to the spiral arms…
Humanity has finally reached the stars but not entirely through its own efforts. An alien wormhole device was found in the Oort Cloud linking to a network of such Angel Stations ('stargates'). The Angels themselves have long gone but their technology and even their genetic traces remain and study of these have enabled humanity to leap forward in its technology though sometimes in ways that human science cannot understand.
One such Angel Station is in a system with a world containing a medieval-level alien civilisation: the only extant sentient species humanity has so far found out among the stars. Though there is a human research facility bolted onto the Angel Station in this alien system the alien world itself is off-limits to all but a few researchers due to a 'prime-directive' kind of ruling to preserve this primitive civilisation from cultural contamination.
And then there is this alien medieval civilisation itself which currently sees one would-be conqueror besiege a city so as to get its inhabitants 'god'. And in this city the 'god' in question speaks to a monk…
Meanwhile, the wave of gamma radiation sweeps forever further out from the core. It will first hit the primitive alien world before, after many years, reaching Earth…
Besides the alien priest, in the mix is a former soldier who volunteered to be infected with alien genetic technology, a human explorer of the alien system trying to forget what happened to her lover, and a religious fanatic, who among others will come together to confront the threat facing the aliens and humanity…
Angel Stations was Gary Gibson's debut novel back in 2004 which has been reprinted in 2013 along with the author's subsequent works. Of course back in 2004 we did not know how Gary's SF writing career would progress but a decade on we can now see that he has developed a reputation for high-adventure, wide-screen space opera. For seasoned readers you might place him mid-way in a spectrum between the space opera of Jack McDevitt and Eric Brown on one hand and Alastair Reynolds and Iain Banks on the other.
The way Angel Stations is constructed makes for its first third being a little confusing as there seems to be not much connecting the disparate story threads. (Indeed I note from the back-cover that one of the positive, promotional review quotes even says that the novel 'pays several close readings': I would not go quite that far as in my view paying attention is suffice for a single reading.) Fortunately, for the most part, these individual threads are sufficiently entertaining to carry the reader through to the novel's mid-section where these threads begin to weave together into a more coherent tapestry. At this point the action ramps up with a growing catastrophe affecting some of the protagonists as their locale is threatened by an alien technological incursion. From then on in, matters accelerate through to a satisfying conclusion.
As said, Angel Stations was back in 2004 Gibson's debut novel. Back then it signalled that here was an author to watch. With Tor reprinting all his works over 2012-4 now is the time for those who missed out on some of his works to fill the gaps in their collections. His other works include Against Gravity and Final Days as well as the Shoal trilogy Stealing Light, Nova War and Empire of Light. Indeed now is the time to read these as when they first came out each book was a year apart: just enough time for memories of the characters and events' detail to begin to fade; Gibson does like to weave a multi-threaded tapestry. For newcomers to Gibson, let's just say that if you like mid-list, adventure space opera then this is an author whose work you will very likely enjoy.
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