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Warp Angel

By Stuart Hopen. New York: Tor, 1995. 288 pages.

Lawrence Watt-Evens praised Warp Angel as “perhaps the strangest science fiction novel I’ve ever read.” Strange it may be, but that does not make it very good. By “not good” I mean: it is not good science fiction; it is not good writing; it is not a good novel in general. Warp Angel seems to be the story of Magen, a young woman in search of her lost husband, Adam. All this takes place in a far distant future in a star system far removed from Earth. The society there is decadent, lawless and immoral, and Magen must fight against the Slavers “Bod” to find Adam. Along the way she meets Amelia, Chev, Veil and others, and we are “treated” to acid duels, intrigue and a variety of curious worlds. The problem here is not so much concept as it is execution. The story has it’s own array of twists and turns; it is part space opera, part philosophical meditation and part New Wave. However, it doesn’t do anything well.

The writing is abysmal and the dialogues are less than inspired. Nearly every conversation contains a singular “yes,” “no,” “really,” or “I believe you.” The most inspired line is perhaps “You look like a killer whore.” Hopen embarks upon interesting images and descriptions; the beginning of the book and its starship graveyeard is promising. However, from that point on most descriptions are lazy; there is opportunity to take advantage of the strangeness of it all and describe it in new, exciting and sensual ways, but Hopen rarely delivers.

In terms of plot there is a story, and perhaps there is a point to it all. Perhaps the main thread is that Magen is looking for her lost husband, Adam. To that end we have assassination attempts, dog-fights, conspiracies gone wrong and battles galore. A variety of scenes to develop Chev and Amelia as characters overshadow Magen’s story and leave us wishing for more. Alas, most everything comes across as a plot device, and it’s hard to tell whether Hopen wishes to tell a larger tale or whehter he wants to give us smaller vingettes. The gaps that are left open further led to my disappointment.

The book attempts to be philosophical but rarely carries through with its ideas. Several people reviewing the book at Amazon.com were fascinated by the book’s treatment of Judaism, but the sprinkling of tidbits and facts does not an educated discussion make—there is little follow-through with the ideas introduced. Watt-Evans stated that “this story [...] has more compelling ideas and images in the first few chapters than you’ll find in a dozen ordinary SF novels.” This may be true, though I doubt it; it is mostly glitz and glammer. Very little here is truly new. Hopen could have contributed something worthwhile if he had been more interested in developing ideas rather than sprinkling them here and there.

Finally, the book cannot satisfy fans of hard-SF. Star Wars appears rational and well-reasoned by comparison. Although the world is a sort of “future-history,” the treatment is essentially mystical fantasy. Terms such as “gene-splicing” are thrown around liberally, but as in the philosophical realm, Hopen rarely explains enough to deliver. Hopen tries to follow in the tracks of New Wave and Cyberpunk writers; the style reminds one vaguely of someone like Dick, but whereas Dick could be a piss-poor writer with great ideas, Hopen is a mediocre writer with derivative concepts and no follow-through. I’ll take Dick any day.