19 December 2007

Significantly weaker than Cosmonaut Keep

Dark Light (The Engines of Light, Book 2)
Ken MacLeod
Tor Books, 2002

Matt and Gregor Cairns, with Elizabeth in tow, use their new light drive to travel to the planet Croatan (as in "gone to...") where they get embroiled in the local political scene, along with fellow Cosmonaut Grigor Volkov. They manage to communicate with two "gods," the alien intelligences that live in asteroids and comet nuclei, and discover that all the sentient species (i.e., saurs, krakens, and hominidae) are involved in some Great Game being played between the gods. Upon learning this, Volkov and Cairns return to Croatan to play a Great Game of their own by trying to influence the political future of the various peoples there, ostensibly in preparation for a coming alien war.

All in all, Dark Light makes a pretty disappointing follow-up to Cosmonaut Keep. MacLeod tells the story as a straight-forward narrative, instead of by interweaving multiple plot/timelines. While I appreciate his desire to try something different here, this story simply lacks juice. The new characters, including Stone and Slow-Leg from Croatan's prehistoric ("heathen") sky people and some "Christians" from Rawliston, are nowhere near as compelling as those sketched in Cosmonaut Keep (or in other works by MacLeod). Finally, the plot is simply not that interesting; instead of being a stand-alone work, it seems that Dark Light is merely a transitional novel between books 1 and 3 of the trilogy.

The book is not completely without merit, though. MacLeod's prose is still finely crafted, with many puns and double-entendres scattered throughout. As well, the machinations of Volkov and Matt Cairns are absolutely fascinating to those interested in libertarian, anarchist, socialist, and/or communist politics.

On its own, this is a so-so novel, but after reading the first few pages of its sequel, Engine City, I think that sticking with the trilogy as a whole will be worth it.

(This review was originally written on July 14, 2006.)

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