With visionary epics like The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, and Cosmonaut Keep, award-winning Scottish author Ken MacLeod has led a revolution in contemporary science fiction, blending cutting edge science and razor-sharp political insights with pure, over-the-top interstellar adventure. Now MacLeod takes this heady mix to a new level with a stunning new SF masterwork--Newton's Wake.
In the aftermath of the Hard Rapture--a cataclysmic war sparked by the explosive evolution of Earth's artificial intelligences into godlike beings--a few remnants of humanity managed to survive. Some even prospered.
Lucinda Carlyle, head of an ambitious clan of galactic entrepreneurs, had carved out a profitable niche for herself and her kin by taking control of the Skein, a chain of interplanetary star-gates left behind by the posthumans. But on a world called Eurydice, a remote planet at the farthest rim of the galaxy, Lucinda stumbled upon a forgotten relic of the past that could threaten her way of life.
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Amid the somewhat strident politics there are some outrageously funny patches in this over-packed space opera from Nebula and Hugo finalist MacLeod (Cosmonaut's Keep, etc.). In the 24th century, brash young Lucinda Carlyle takes her first big chance to prove herself to her wheeling-dealing clan who control the skein, a network of "gates" transporting people and equipment instantaneously between planets. In the Hard Rapture war centuries earlier between the United States and united Europe, run-amok American AI took over the brains of humans. Survivors flung into space include the gawkish farmers of America Offline (AO), the straitlaced Oriental Knights of Enlightenment (KE) and the third-world "commies" who strip-mine planets (DK). Lucinda opens a Pandora's box of shifting alliances that turns 20th-century American sensibilities upside down. Keeping the AO, KE and DK straight can be confusing as Lucinda brawls along her barrack-room Glasgow-dialect way. Perhaps MacLeod's most memorably quirky character, Benjamin Ben-Ami, produces epics like Jesus Koresh: Martyred Messiah, with "a mild-mannered and modest but strong-willed hero" and "gloating psychopathic villains, the Emperor Reno and the Empress Hilary." MacLeod slyly entices Americans to see ourselves as others see us not a flattering picture at all.
Mediocre at best
The narrative is weak and even if it weren't mired down in phonetically slaughtered Scott and techno babble, it would still suffer from its staggers and lurches. Any immersion into the poorly outlined universe is slapped away by crass and juvenile political digs against current century political figures 400 years after anyone should ever care or know who they were. Just as you start to get a feel for a character and see a spark that would make them interesting, the narrative drowns them. In several cases I had to struggle to remember who a character was because my interest in them was so low,
The stumbling plot isn't predictable at least, but only because it is so directionless. Like a drunk stumbling into an alley the story bounces off a few walls and passes out. The ending felt more like "I guess I'll stop here" than a climax. The few paragraphs I'm sure an editor insisted be stuck on the end, do a bad job trying to justify the previous pages story value.
Some redemption for some original concepts, but they felt like they deserved short stories, not as a few random plot devices they ended up as.