19 December 2007

Skillfully interweaves the personal and the political in a tapestry of transcendental posthumanity

Cosmonaut Keep
(The Engines of Light, book 1)
Ken MacLeod
Tor Science Fiction, 2002

Cosmonaut Keep
is the first in a new series by Ken MacLeod, who wrote The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division. As in those earlier works, this novel skillfully interweaves the personal and the political in a tapestry of transcendental posthumanity.

MacLeod again uses two narratives spanning an unknown amount of time to tell his story, and this conceit (while a bit confusing at first, at least in this novel) works. The "present" narrative takes place in the near-future, albeit in an alternate world where the EU is part of a larger Communist bloc and where alien technology, specifically a starship and drive, are being discovered. It follows one Matt Cairns as he makes his way from Edinburgh, Scotland to Area 51 in New Mexico to a space station and the future. The "future" narrative takes place on a world called Mingulay, which is inhabited by humans and saurs, intelligent descendents of the terrestrial dinosaurs. (Other forms of intelligent life in the novel include the kraken, superintelligent spacefaring squid, and god-like colonies of microorganisms that inhabit millions of asteroids in the solar system. There we follow one Gregor Cairns in his quest to solve the Great Game---to discover the secrets of interplanetary navigation believed to be possessed by his ancestor, Matt.

If the rest of the series is as fascinating as this volume, then reading it will be a real joy. Once again, MacLeod shows himself as one of the smarter writers in contemporary SF and speculative fiction.

(This review was originally written July 9, 2006.)

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