Date Night on Union Station, by E.M. Foner - 4 Stars
I can see that this book was written as a standalone dating comedy set in a space station of the future and although it has since become a series, you can read this part without knowledge of the rest of the ‘on Union Station’ canon, which I haven’t leafed through yet.
Imagine yourself as Earth’s Acting Consul on a cosmopolitan alien space station. It sounds good but there are several problems, from linking the higher you rise to the lower your salary (a loyalty test) to the lack of anyone in the same species as you being around to date, down to the aliens believing that your job title, Acting Consul, means that you are just pretending to be a consul. All in all, you might not want it. Most humans would think it’s great if the species had established a presence beyond our solar system but when the only export our colleague beings want turns out to be our decorative kitchen utensils, it looks like it’s going to be a slow build to reach equivalency and mutual respect.
The race who’ve made this all possible, the Stryx, are a benign but secretive bunch who’ve been hanging around the Universe for such a long time that they’ve grown accustomed to tinkering until its set up the way they like it. With a proprietorial interest in less-developed species (us) and an interest in law and order (subtle interventions), you could have worse landlords. However, the Stryx’s methodology frequently includes setting up the heroine of this story with outrageous people that pose problems the Stryx would like her to solve. In Star Trek terms, the primary directive in dating is not being met because poor old aunty (Kelly Frank, 35, tubes full of cobwebs) has joined an alien dating service that doesn’t believe its purpose is to match her with a compatible date. Would you walk out after date 1 or would you me more inclined to keep going for the entertainment?
Kelly and Joe are quite good characters for a plot like this, ordinary people who get directed down the wrong corridors by fate and generally toyed with but seem relaxed enough not to be bothered by it. I’d like to think I’d do the same thing in their situation. As am Ambassador, is she too casual? Yes but so what? I was outside the Jamaican Embassy the other day and they’ve got the most stiff and formal car ever parked outside, number plate JAM 1, so if consular status can turn even the Jamaicans into robots, who wants it? What you get from life often depends on your approach and these two characters are open to anything. They then explore a full gambit of reactions from hope to shock to get your antennae out of my dress until the book concludes, which happens happily, but almost instantly, with a hint of Elvis. It’s one of those “you had to be there” moments. Although, Kelly’s decision at the end is a little like snogging an octopus to see what happens.
I should also put in a word for the characters of the entrepreneurial flower girls. They’re brilliant and it’s only a matter of time before the Stryx offer them jobs because they’ve got so much more nous than the grownups. I would have preferred the alien counterfeiters to have copied something hilarious from Earth’s hall of shame with no idea what it’s used for, but hey, it’s not my book.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable and fun read, so I think you’d like it too. There aren’t any jokes that I’d find cripplingly funny (e.g. ‘Acting Ambassador’ is an amusing idea and my mind likes the connection but my ribcage isn’t actually hurting as I write this). That’s cynical though because this book is daydreamy fun and I would quite like to be dating on Union Station. Wouldn’t you?