I encountered this book after emerging, rather shaken, from reading a compellingly grim apocalyptic near-future science fiction adventure and asking Himself to recommend something that was fun. And he came up with this chirpy, self-published novella, which is a free Kindle ebook.
Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.
Novellas aren’t my favourite format (that said, I’ve read several this year which I’ve really enjoyed…) because just as I’m about to really settle into the characters, they up and finish. But this one gets over that problem by dint of giving the reader short episodic accounts in different viewpoints, which stitch together to provide us with an idea of life on Union Station. It has the feel of Babylon 5 without some of the darker narrative threads.
Foner is an able writer with a nice light touch regarding the humour, and a knack of being able to deftly depict characters and situations with a smooth, accomplished style. This entertaining read is a world away from the gritted, claustrophobic disasters we are more used to seeing played out in space. That said, the main protagonist, Kelly, isn’t having an easy time of it – the dream job comes with some serious drawbacks. And then, there’s that rash promise she made to her mother a number of years ago…
However, Kelly isn’t just sitting around on Union Station twiddling her thumbs and looking around for a suitable spouse, she has more than enough on her plate trying to keep humanity safe in the shark tank of trading deals with a variety of greedy aliens. And while humans are being shepherded by the Stryx, an ancient enigmatic AI, their viewpoint is… alien, which often leaves Kelly floundering.
There is a delightful supporting cast of characters, my favourites being Donna and her two pre-teen daughters, who are on a mission to get ‘poor Aunty Kelly’ a steady someone in her life. However, this hunt for a suitable partner is more of a nifty plot device for embarrassing encounters in dubious bars, rather than a typical romance. I also thoroughly enjoyed ex-mercenary Joe’s adventures in trading scrap and keeping his adopted son out of trouble. The eventual conclusion to Kelly’s series of dates is telegraphed well before the end – but that isn’t the point. It’s all about how she gets there with the series of quirky adventures she has on the way.
Small wonder that Foner, who originally wrote this offering and self-published it to cheer himself up while working on an epic fantasy, found himself besieged with requests for more Union Station goodness. There is now a series of nine novellas in this world that I, for one, will be revisiting very soon.