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Cosmonaut Keep (Engines of Light) Mass Market Paperback – January 7, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Like a British--specifically, Scottish--counterpart of Bruce Sterling, Ken MacLeod is an SF author who has thought hard about politics and delights in making unlikely alternatives plausible, grippingly readable, and often downright funny.

Cosmonaut Keep swaps between two timelines whose characters share the ultimate goal of interstellar travel. In an uncertain future on the far world of Mingulay, human colonists live in the title's ancient, alien-built Keep--coexisting with reptilian "saurs," trading with visiting ships piloted by krakens, and hiding their laborious "Great Work" of developing human-guided navigation between the stars.

Meanwhile, alternate chapters present a mid-21st-century Earth whose EU is (to America's horror) Russian-dominated with a big red star in the middle of its flag. Rumors of alien contact abound, and computer whiz kid Matt Cairns finds himself carrying a data disk of unknown origin that offers antigravity and a space drive.

Clearly, the later storyline's Gregor Cairns is Matt's descendant. There are ingenious connections and surprises, with witty resonances between their wild careers, their travels, and their bumpy love lives. The foreground action adventure points to a bigger picture and a master plan known only to the godlike hive-minds who built the "Second Sphere" of interstellar culture, and who regard traditional SF dreams of unlimited human expansion through space as precisely equivalent to floods of e-mail spam polluting the tranquil galactic net.

Cosmonaut Keep opens MacLeod's new SF sequence, Engines of Light. It's highly entertaining and intelligent, promising more good things to come. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Scottish author MacLeod (Cassini Division) crafts an intricate tale, with two thematically linked plots that focus, in different ways, on human travel between the stars and the aliens who help them. Circa 2040 computer guru Matt Cairns flees from Scotland to the United States, then to a space station; he possesses crucial information supplied by aliens that may provide the means for humans to travel the stars. His adventures happen at a critical moment in history: soon after aliens contact a space station, the political situation on Earth rapidly destabilizes. Two hundred years later, biologist Gregor Cairns, a descendant of the cosmonauts who colonized the planet Mingulay, realizes that navigating the stars may be within the grasp of humans, and he sets out to find some of the long-lived crew of the Bright Star, the original starship to reach the planet. Gregor's investigation of the aliens who pilot interplanetary craft the friendly but uncommunicative saurs and the huge kraken eventually leads to a surprising link between past and present. MacLeod handles the strands of the plot deftly, weaving one beautifully realized world with the other and highlighting the parallels between the two. Rarely does a book demand so much of the reader and then deliver. Densely written with a remarkable depth of cultural texture, though occasionally confusing in its politics (which includes socialists, "Webblies" and libertarian capitalists), MacLeod's story is spoiled only by the false notes of two parallel love interests. (May 30)Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke awards.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Engines of Light (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction; 1st edition (January 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765340739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765340733
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,129,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ken MacLeod's SF novels have won the Prometheus Award and the BSFA award, and been shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He lives near Edinburgh, Scotland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on May 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Once again, Ken Macleod has produced an original, intelligent work of science fiction in "Cosmonaut Keep". As usual, he has created a world that is by turns familiar, in other words it has its basis in a plausible future Earth, and completely bizarre. The bizzare aspects, in this isntance, being an earth-like planet that is home to humanoid (and regular) dinosaurs, native humans, and humans from Earth, and starships piloted by giant squid.
Much like his previous books, Macleod has filled this one with quirky, conlicting (and conflicted) politcal theories. It is in this regard that he shines as one of the smartest authors around today. He writes with the authority of a polical scientist, but never comes across as dogmatic. I suspect that in real life he is left of center, but the politcal philosophies his characters espouse are really just vehicles to drive the plot.
Finally, one positive, one negative. On the positive side, the characters in "Cosmonaut Keep" are Macleod's best yet. They show a level of depth that is just amazing; a level I didn't find in his previous works. On the negative side, "Cosmonaut Keep", like Macleod's other novels is told in alternating time periods. This proves to be a very creative way to intertwine seemingly disparite storylines, but it is handled poorly in the first half of this novel. Macleod should have been more careful in the details he reveals, as I found myself hopelessly confused 50 pages in. In the end all becomes clear, but this is a tough novel to get into as a result.
Ultimately, though, "Cosmonaut Keep" is a smart, entertaining beginning to what promises to be a great series. Enjoy!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By flying-monkey on May 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What's happening to Ken MacLeod?
It seems to be a kind of authorial mid-lfe crisis for SF authors that they have to write a three-volume space opera or they won't feel complete. Some of these are superb though: for example, Peter Hamiliton's 'Night's Dawn' sequence and Paul J. MacAuley's recent trilogy. Macleod's (at least judging by this first volume), doesn't measure up.
Despite having reservations about his ability to really sustain a story, and his often wooden or stereotyped characters, I've always enjoyed his books, not least because of their determinedly idiosyncratic left-wing politics and situations. This one is also enjoyable enough, and has some great individual scenes (in particular the dinosaur-herding-by-flying-saucer bit), but it is too much of the same: parrallel stories (again), beautiful dark-haired heroines (again) etc. And, some of the devices needed to keep the plot going just make you go "D'oh!". I also found the nearer future story-line featuring a group of very dull computer hackers and their friends, uninvolving.
I was left feeling unsure whether the whole thing wasn't meant as parody, and perhaps that the author wasn't sure either. Oh well...
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By beowulf on March 10, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
For some reason Ken MacLeod insists upon withholding key information about (A) the time relationships between the two story lines of this novel, and (B) the background history of his fictional universe. Worse yet, I can't see that this obfuscation helps to move the plot along in any way. It just made this reader confused, hoping that the author would at some point deign to explain what's going on. He eventually does, and the book concludes in a satisfactory manner. But a couple of times I almost gave up and chucked it in my library's donation bin out of frustration.
If you want a few hints that are not really plot spoilers:
1. Matt Cairns is the ancestor of Gregor Cairns.
2. The Matt Cairns storyline takes place in near future, and Gregor Cairns storyline takes place in a more distant future.
3. There's a hierarchy of intelligences in this fictional universe: our hominid cousins (the pithkies), humans, the saurs (intelligent dinosaurs), the krakens, the Grays, the gods (some sort of sentient colonial micro-organism). Pithkies, humans, saurs, and krakens all originated on Earth and were exported (over the eons) to the surrounding planetary systems by the gods, greys, and/or some other intelligent life form.
4. The immortality of the original cosmonaut crew is not explained until the end of the novel, and then only in passing. The implications are that everyone back on Earth are now immortal, too. (Will this be a key fact to know in the next novels in this series?)
Never fear. Half way through this novel, most of your questions will be answered, and your enjoyment will begin to outweigh your frustration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Neal Reynolds VINE VOICE on February 28, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I had to sort of work my way through this novel. I was interested in the characters and in the depiction of relationships between the 'saurs and the humans. However, the jumping back and forth between the two time periods, novel & interesting at first, became rather annoying to me.
However, this is rather good space opera, and should satisfy those who enjoy "hard" science-fiction. It's good enough that I'll be reading the second part of the trilogy.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Christensen on January 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The first book in MacLeods Engines of Light series and the first thing that he has written since the Fall Revolution series.
It's clear to see that MacLeod has had better time for planning before he started this series - the universe seems better structured and the foundation a lot more stable than it did in The Fall Revolution. MacLeod seems a lot more secures as he shows us glimpses of his universe.
This book has two story lines. One telling the tale of how man found faster-than-light travel and one about a marine biologist (and his friends) on the planet of Mingled. And then there's the gods to connect them.
MacLeod is better than ever in this book.
Unfortunately he looses it a bit the sequel (Dark Light), but that's another story.
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