Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Title: The Sky Road
Author: Ken MacLeod
Publisher: Orbit

The Sky Road is the fourth novel by Scottish writer Ken MacLeod, which, like his previous books, works as a stand-alone story. But across the four there is a certain continuity and bigger picture that builds up. Though while MacLeod fills us in on one level, he provides mysteries on another.

Like his previous work, The Sky Road works in parts - the narrative moving from an unspecified future point in first person to the past of the 2050's in third person. In the first future we have a primitive and regressed culture, which has lost much of its technology, but has developed others and are about to send their first rocket into space - returning man to the sky road. All along there are references to the Deliverance, an important event that has shaped how the world is at this point. This deliverance leaving two types of people - the children of the deliverer with their special knowledge and everyone else. Suspecting the time of deliverance may impact on their rocket launch, Merriel and Clovis investigate these events.

This takes us back the 2050's and it turns out the events which led to what became known as the deliverance. The ISTWR is a splinter state near Kazakhztan, which is run by ex-socialist revolutionaries. Despite being a small insignificant country they have become powerful due to their possession of a nuclear arsenal which has survived the third world war, first world revolution and disarmament enforced by the US/UN. But the world continues to be in turmoil and the US continues to splinter, brains and money flee to space, and the Sheenisov sweeps across Asia. This leads to a tense political situation which Myra Godwin, leader of the ISTWR, is trying to ensure her country survives. Involving intrigue, space plots, barbarians and a return of the AI from The Star Fraction.

As always MacLeod's writing is tight and engaging, working well as it alternates between the time lines and demonstrates how one lead to the other. Along the way we touch on consistent ideas od the Space Movement, the Outwarders and the 4th International. In political terms there is always a sense of activism as one side struggles against the other according to who is in power. Strong structures are portrayed, as are the garthering forces of revolution. On the technological side we have moments of nano, of AI, of anti-aging. All becoming integral to the plot in this book and in the greater picture.

Its interesting to see how MacLeod takes the three characters Dave Reid, Jon Wilde and Myra Godwin and works their influence on history through out his work. From their meeting as students at Glasgow University in the 70's outwards. Wilde and Reid's rivalry passing through The Star Fraction which saw the rise of the first AI, to The Stone Canal of New Mars with regenerated humans and cyborgs and machines to the return to Earth space in The Cassini Division. Godwin was involved with both and appeared at various points affecting the story in different ways. Which sees her story unfold now in The Sky Road. The persistence of other details also works well and it is clear to fully appreciate the full scale I'll need to re-read them all together.

Each novel by Ken MacLeod is highly anticipated and on opening the first page they are quickly devoured. I seriously recommend his work and rate him highly!

September 2000

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