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VINE VOICEon 5 January 2002
There is an old joke that runs as follows: - Q: What is the Golden Age of Science Fiction? A: Between thirteen and fifteen. This novel feels a bit as if it was written with that age group in mind, yet at the same time it manages to carry some fairly technical and complex political and scientific ideas as well.
This is not a great Ken MacLeod novel - but by his standards that makes it still a more than halfway decent piece of science fiction. It is Golden Age sci-fi/space opera in its main concerns (god-like ancient aliens with an apparent Erik Von Daniken complex, interstellar commerce, space drives and so forth), but also typically MacLoed in its concerns with economic and political ideologies and agendas (growth capitalism versus steady state socialism). It has echoes of his earlier novels - bit of the narrative on the planet Mingulay read like "The Sky Road", bits of the parallel narrative in the 21st century have echoes of "The Star Fraction" and "The Stone Canal". As a consequence, it feels a bit like re-treading old territory, but in other ways this is a lighter novel, less dark and complex than his first four novels, more open and accessible to the first time MacLeod reader.
The main problem, as the start of a new "sequence", is that it simply does not quite grab you the way to should. It's good, but not outstanding, inventive, but not really all that original. And, some of the characterisation, and in particular the love story sub-plots are rather on the juvenile side - catering (it seems to me) to male adolescent fantasy.
On the other hand, it throws up enough interesting puzzles (although the answers to some of them were obvious from within a few chapters) to make me want to read the next instalment. I only hope that "Dark Light" is more engaging and challenging.
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on 5 December 2000
Seriously good work from Macleod sees two time lines mirroring each other, in character and events, across both time and space. The plotting is tight, the characters strongly drawn (including the various heroines, which hasn't always been true in the past) and the locations both on and off planet, as ever with Macleod, are so real that you could walk round them blindfold in your head.
As for the saturnine dope-smoking reptile scientist - spot on (I'm positive I used to know him).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 9 December 2003
This book is my first outing with Ken McLeod and very enjoyable it is too.
The story has two threads. The first is set in the near future, and we get a hearty dose of political thriller mixed into the plot (the EU has been invaded by the Russians, and we are back in the cold war!) along with some fairly standard cyber thriller elements. At one point there was so much talk of legacy systems that it was like reading Computer Weekly!
The second thread is on the planet Mingulay, which is inhabited by humans and various other species, including the classic 'grey' alien (big head, big black eyes, small mouth; appears in every third episode of the X-files).
Mingulay is a long long way from earth and is in a volume of space called the Second Sphere which includes many human-inhabited planets. This book is about how humans came to be on Mingulay in the first place, but also acts as a scene-setter for the trilogy as a whole (the other books being Dark Light and Engine City).
McLeod has a fast-paced writing style, but thankfully this does not result in thin characterisation. He uses humour well and manages to write about alien species as if he knows them personally. Maybe he does.
All in all, well worth a read as a stand-alone novel and I can also recommend the trilogy as a whole.
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on 16 July 2012
Oh my, this was a boring book. Aside from the glacial pacing, any dramatic tension created from the plot is immediately dispelled by the smart-arse characters saying 'Yeah, that's what we expected to happen, cos we're all experts in politics and psychology and stuff".

But what really struck me was the blatant author wish fulfillment. I don't know anything about Ken Macleod but from the author blurb I gather he was a computer analyst/programmer who lives in Edinburgh. And lo, one of the main characters is a computer analyst/programmer who lives in Edinburgh who, despite being so incredibly dull and prone to long-winded political digressions, attractive women find irresistible.
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on 15 November 2000
This guy just keeps getting better with every book. Macleod creates an entire cosmology with Cosmonaut Keep that should provide him with innumerable angles to explore in the Engines of Light series. The typical Macleod elements of socialist politics and cyber-coolness are here in droves for fans of his previous works, but even more interesting to me are the suggestions implied within the book that he will use this series to explore the mythologies and facts of the Earth's development. I have to say that I never thought I'd pick up a hard-science-fiction novel that isn't afraid to dabble in pixies, giants, and other archetypical elements of fantasy... Ken is simply the best SF writer working in the EU right now, and most American writers should look to his works for inspiration as they create the speculative fiction of the 21st century. Thanks for another fine work.
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on 13 March 2001
With more space to work in this time Macleod allows himself to stretch out a bit. The result is a book which is less dense than his previous work, but more readable. In fact, it's a real page-turner.
Here's hoping that the ENGINES OF LIGHT sequence maintains the promise of its opening. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
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on 24 December 2001
I've been a fan of Ken Macleod ever since he debuted with the Star Fraction, and I'd never have expected to give him a 2-star review.
Compared to the heights he reached with his first three books (and particularly with the Stone Canal and the Cassini Division) this is plodding stuff. The previous books simply demanded to be read, and kept me up to the early hours. Hence my disappointment with this.
As has been mentioned elsewhere, his alternative history requires that you suspend your disbelief from a very strong hook. Russian AA gunners defeating hordes of US stealth planes by switching off their targetting systems and relying on the force? Give me a break!
I had the impression that a lot of this is political wish-fulfillment. All of his novels have political points to make, and these have sometimes jarred a bit, but this has to be the clumsiest yet.
That aside, the book just failed to grip me. Some of the echoes between the two timelines were engaging, but as for the rest, the most gripping thing was wondering which characters would pair off. The aliens and super-intelligences will be interesting to some, but Vernor Vinge does that so much better...
The bottom line is that this marks the end of my collection of signed Ken Macleod hardbacks. I might try the next one in paperback, though.
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on 7 January 2002
Macleod, like his friend Ian Banks, can be a fast, sloppy writer sometimes and his characters don't always come off, but this guy is a real SF writer in the true tradition. I started reading this stuff when it was Wells, Orwell, Pohl&Kornbluth,
Philip K. Dick and Michael Moorcock -- i.e. when it really was a literature of ideas, not another escapist genre. Macleod reminds me why I first enjoyed SF and why I'm beginning to enjoy it again. Banks, Mieville, Macleod, Moorcock, Harrison, Gentle and a handful of others are actually still writing about ideas -- political,
scientific, philosophical -- and I can only thank the Cosmos that they are still plugging in there against the Dumb Lords of Fantasy, whose plump
bottoms bend the shelves of the bookstores as
much as overfed, overcomforted Brits bend the frames of their couches. Ballard, Aldiss, Clarke all wrote in this tradition of ideas. Macleod is a noble follower in their footsteps. There are more immediately engaging Macleod titles out there, but I loved this, just for the way it confronts possibilities.
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on 25 February 2002
Ken MacLeod is somewhat of an enigma to me. I have read "The Star Fraction" previous to this, and I found similarities in my reaction. Throughout both I found myself lagging behind the narrative, desperately trying to work out, or remember, why each character was doing what they were, and quite why they were being pursued/hunted/condemned and so forth. In "Cosmonaut Keep" I continually had to stop and try to make clear in my mind just what was happening, where it was happening, why it was happening and just /who/ was allied to whom.
Although that sounds very negative, there is another factor to consider with Ken MacLeod. The continual feeling as you read through the book that he is much smarter than you are, and knows a great deal more about politics, past and present, than the average person is apt to. Perhaps, as Iain Banks has noted, it's the monumentally assured nature of his prose that keeps you trying, even when it gets heavy going on the grey cells. There is an underlying feeling that he's telling a great story, and that you should do him the justice of reading on and really trying to understand what is happening. And in the end it does pay off. Even though I look back on both those of his novels I have now read without fully comprehending why certain events took place, I remember then in a good light and as damned good pieces of science fiction. His imagination perhaps sometimes runs away with him, and so there is less time spent on description, and reminding the reader why a character is acting as they are, and going over again (to clarify rather than dully repeat) what plot revelations have occurred.
Peter F. Hamilton has said the prose are "sleek and fast as the technology it describes" - and this clearly leads to an excellent story in the long run. But you may feel a little left behind during the course of the journey. In the end, however, MacLeod is well worth the effort and proves ultimately rewarding.
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on 17 July 2001
Ken MacLeod has created an entire cosmology with this new saga that has numerous, interwoven angles, exploring mankind's first encounter with a mysterious and majestic alien civilisation. The opening promises to be a complex and very entertaining new science fiction series. Ken keeps the story tension high and the readers grip intact. His use of European and socialist politics, cyber-coolness, even exploring the mythology and origin of Earth's own development, most certainly maintained my interest and kept my eyes firmly glued to the pages.
Cosmonaut Keep is told in two timelines. The entwined timelines of Gregor and Matt Cairns, transform the reader from the near future to ten thousand light years away, while managing daring and passionate characters, seeking a place for themselves and their dreams in a vast, complex, and ultimately enigmatic universe.
After a mysterious prologue, which finally comes to focus at the end of the book, we are introduced to Gregor Cairns, an exobiology student and descendant of one of Terra Nova's first families on the planet Mingulay, along with his fellow research partners Elizabeth Harkness and Salasso (a saur). Gregor is a direct descendant of the "Cosmonauts," who arrived at Mingulay, some centuries earlier from Earth, in a starship...
The other timeline follows Matt Cairns, a Scotsman, back in the middle of the 21st century...
Ken has written a clever and suspenseful story. I most certainly look forward to the next adventure in this exciting new star-spanning saga.
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