The answer to your questions are unfortunately more questions
So is there anything I should know before I sub to the game? It is still in development and alpha/pre-alpha phase, so don't get too comfortable many things (everything) will change before it is actually released.
Are one of the ship choices really awful? There are ships that are more geared towards different jobs so they will be better at those and worse at other things. Example: The Hornet is a single/double seat fighter and it is a great fighter (my favorite ship) it only has cargo room if I take out the ball turret guns, and even then it will suck as a cargo hauler. Then you have the Hull-C, it is a dedicated cargo hauler so it will suck at dog-fighting. So pick a ship based on the role you want to play, or just get the Aurora as your starter ship and figure it out as you go. Right now you can't buy ships with in-game currency but everything will be available in-game currency once the game launches.
Are there different places to start and where should I choose? Right now there is not a "starting place" you can choose which module to load into.
-Vanduul Swarm/Pirate Swarm is the dog-fighting modules where you spawn in your ship and fight aliens or pirates for a while.
-Arc Comm is a place to just run around planetside and look at some stuff
-Hangar is where you can go into a private hangar and view your ship and any decorations you have purchased
-Stanton is the "baby persistent universe" or baby PU where you spawn as your character and run around a space station, spawn your ship, accept little missions, fly around the solar system, and do general shenanigans.
-There is a First Person Shooter module also but I forget the name, you spawn as a character and run around as a team and shoot the other team. (I terrible at this so I don't play it, others can give you a better definition of its game play).
Welcome to the 'Verse and I hope to see you soon. I'm Tabor Ravenclaw in game, the best way to make a friends list is to join the org on the RSI site and follow everyone, that adds them to your in-game friends list.