Every since his debut The Star Fraction Ken Macleod has made it his mission to write the future of Scotland into his work, and so it is here in what is one of the first overtly post-Brexit works of sci-fi. In 2070 the world is split between the Union ( Europe including Scotland), the Alliance (England, the US, India) and the Co-ord (Russia and China). Macleod sets three plots in motion: in Scotland a mathematician proves that faster than light travel is possible; on colonised exoplanet Apis the authorities struggle with a first contact scenario; and on Venus a scientific outpost is infiltrated by a spy determined to keep a lid on new discoveries on the surface.All these events are happening at the same time – and the cleverness of this novel’s construction is the working out of the contradictions between the three. If an FTL drive is being now developed in Scotland, how can a colonised planet have been already reached using it? If aliens are already talking to humanity on Apis, then what is the point of trying to cover up evidence of their existence on Venus?
His strengths of well-drawn characters – from a Clyde shipbuilder to a robot spy -and a lightness of touch in the writing are well in place. The first half of this novel however can at times be slightly indigestible – the plots are not only disconnected, they appear to be mutually exclusive. The second half brings them together and resolves these tensions in an extremely satisfactory way – and as with all his work he speculates about politics as much as technology.
This is the first part of a trilogy, and perhaps the ending is a little more open and inconclusive than a standalone novel. There’s plenty of literal and figurative space to explore in parts two and three. Macleod is perhaps a voice to value particularly now: rather than succumb to dystopian themes his futures tend to contain the possibility of positive change.
Review copy provided by Netgalley.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
His other work, Iain Banks sci-fi (Scottish connection, though Macleod sticks to a near future usually), Jem by Frederik Pohl which this novel reminded me of a lot.
One thing you’ve learned
Who would have thought Faslane would be a gateway to the stars?