Engine City: Engines of Light Book 3 Paperback – 4 Sep 2003
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Engine City completes Ken MacLeod's "Engines of Light" trio of sophisticated, politically astute space operas. Previous volumes were Cosmonaut Keep and Dark Light.
MacLeod has lots of fun with UFO conspiracy theories, since here the saurian-descended "Alien Greys" with their antigravity saucers actually exist. So do hairy Bigfoot-like primates, sea-dwelling selkie folk, and other legends. Planetary fossil records are a misleading mess, thanks to tampering by the "gods".
These gods are hive-mind intellects, vast, cool and irritable, occupying comets and asteroids. They have long been transplanting intelligent species across space, and playing them off against one another, just to keep the noise down--the dreadful racket of radio broadcasts and space exploration. "Their first and last commandment is: do not disturb us."
The mixture of human and other races dumped in the Second Sphere, a far-off galactic region, is up to potentially disturbing activities: an accelerating growth of technology and interstellar trade. Are rumours of octopod alien "Multipliers" mere disinformation, or are these the Gods'-appointed nemesis for the human-led Bright Star Cultures and their commercial empire? Some long-lived cosmonauts, surviving from book one, hope for peaceful diplomatic relations. One, an unreconstructed Russian veteran, urges a massive arms programme on the world of Nova Terra. Everyone, but everyone, is in for surprises.
The twisty narrative has many cheery asides, such as the naming of a flotilla of human-built UFOs: "Matt's suggested names (Rectal Probe, Up Yours, Probably Venus, Strange Light, No Defence Significance) were all rejected..." Or a saurian's patient explanation that antigravity was useless for building their equivalent of the Pyramids, which required enormous ramps of close-packed earth, miles of rope, and tens of thousands of workers: "But when you tell people that, they don't believe you."
Towards the finale on Nova Terra, events are complicated by heavy weaponry, alien symbiosis, a programme of "guerrilla ontology" featuring literal "Men in Black" and devastating intervention by one of the gods. For excellent self-defensive reasons, the Bright Star Cultures class the killing of Gods (theicide) as a heinous crime. The provocation, however, is great...
A highly enjoyable conclusion to a fizzy, fast-moving but persistently intelligent trilogy. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Ken's books are always a delight to read ...I heartily recommend the entire series to anyone who has not yet begun them. As anyone who has read Ken's earlier work, such as the STAR FRACTION or the CASSINI DIVISION will know he creates excellent novels full of SF for the more demanding reader, venturing into the effects of new technologies and ideological and political ways of thinking, elevating the novels way above the normal 'space opera (level (fun as they are). Absorbing and fascinating, I couldn't stop reading this.')
THEALIENONLINE ('The modern-day George Orwell')
SFX ('A hectic ride, through slaloms of audacious complexity, irreverent ingenuity and paradox as purposeful as it is playful')
GUARDIAN ('Magnificent . a series you'd be wise to follow from the start')
Top customer reviews
Without giving too much away, the story expands on the 'alien threat' and the rift between Matt Cairns and Volkovs political ambitions. There is action aplenty, political intrigue and a satisfying conclusion (although one which also leaves it open for further novels to explore).
The main characters are by this time familiar and their motivations and actions are all consistent with the previous novels.
It's a sign of a good series that you care about the characters and are perhaps a little sad when the story is over and I felt that was true in this case.
One criticsm I have had of KM in previous works was that I didn't think his descriptive powers were quite up to the breadth of his imagination, however that was not the case in this novel.
Overall a good book and a good point to end the series.
At times the world he describes seems shallower than in his earlier books, but that is probably because he is creating new societies here, and not just future versions of our own.
It's another good novel from Ken Macleod, let's hope he'll quickly write another.
It's widely said that MacLeod's novels are `politically challenging' and `intellectually ambitious' or so the inside cover wants you to believe. Besides the Engines of Light series, I have also read his stand-along novel Learning the World which was even more boring than the first two books of the aforementioned series. Yes, they are `politically challenging' but it is not the type of science fiction which I prefer (what exact type that is is nearly impossible to define.). But within the pages of Engine City I found a world richly detailed, reminiscent of a steampunk novel. And although the previous two novels lacked characterization, I found myself attached to two characters- Matt and Volkov, which just may be latent fondness of the characters themselves. The entire rest of the cast can be heaped into a large generic pile, as far as I'm concerned (though I admit a liking to the tokin' dinosaur Salasso).
The book began a great pace, earning it a 4-star start. A bit of muddle interrupted a slim percentage of the novel before the pace picked up again into a 4-5-star rating. I might have even ranked the book 5-stars if it hadn't had been for two key factors (because bad news travels in pairs [or in the case of celebrity deaths, it travels in threes]). The series would definitely been better if it had been edited in such a way to abridge the 800 pages or so series into a nice 500-600 pages single issue, much like Hamilton or Reynolds would have done in one of their voluminous tomes. The separation between the forgettable novels casts a dark shadow onto the finale. The last reason Engine City gets 4-star rating is its continuation of dismal characterization. I can't remember personalities or relate to or even remember the bloody names of most of the cast, except those individuals mentioned above.
But where the novel shines in its tainted umbra is in the wholeness of its completeness. I feel satisfied with the way the pieces have come together, while at times I didn't understand which pieces were which (because of the two-year reading span). Event the writing seemed to have improved, as I chuckled or reflected a few times when reading passages like "The window was open but the bar was open," or "Black-furred flying squirrels pawed through it like demonic rescue workers," or "When the box is large enough, even the greatest minds sometimes have difficulty in thinking outside of it."
NOW, only if the entire series could be condensed or abridged into 500-600 pages would the series itself earn 4-stars, rather than a collective 3-star rating. I have a number of MacLeod novels in my library to still read, so I have not been deterred from reading the rest of this bibliography.
Still, well worth reading.
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