- Hardcover: 303 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (November 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765313316
- ISBN-13: 978-0765313317
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,848,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Learning the World: a Scientific Romance Hardcover – October 27, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. British author MacLeod (Newton's Wake) delivers perhaps the finest novel of first contact since Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. When the starship But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky! enters a new star system, its crew assumes that they will seed yet another human, or rather posthuman, colony and continue on their way. It's all rather routine, a matter for financial speculation and trading in economic futures, something they've done often before. Imagine their surprise, however, when they discover that the system is already inhabited, by a batlike species who have just recently entered their own industrial revolution. Meanwhile, on the second planet in the system, a talented young astronomer has made a startling discovery: something is approaching from interstellar space, something clearly artificial. MacLeod has created a captivating alien civilization that, in some ways, is closer to us than his equally fascinating posthumans. As always with this deeply political writer, the book is chock-full of well-done extrapolation concerning the political and economic workings of his various societies. This is contemporary SF at its best. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School A colony ship full of genetically enhanced posthumans reaches its destination only to discover that the planet is populated by batlike people at a primitive stage of technology just short of an electronic age. After millennia of expansion throughout the galaxy without having encountered another intelligent race, humans had come to think it impossible; for their part, the bat people have always thought that space aliens could exist only in engineering tales. The novel unfolds over several years through the alternating stories of two young people: Alternate Discourse Gale, a feisty posthuman on the ship as she leaves home to join her teen cohort of colonizers (Learning the World is the title of her blog); and Darvin, a graduate bat-student in the Impractical Science of astronomy, who discovers the colony ship while mapping the heavens from a mountaintop on his planet. The story moves rapidly, with many twists and surprises. Through action and character, the author masterfully creates an authentic sense of both alien worlds in all their complexity. Of the far-future humans and the bat people, the latter are closer to humans as we are now, and the interplay of the two worlds, each with its numerous cultural and political rivalries, is engaging, rich in social commentary, and often moving, yet also playful and often humorous. Thought-provoking and entertaining, this highly original first-contact story should please any science fiction reader. Christine C. Menefee, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
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In this novel of first contact, the pace is a bit slow, at times, and MacLeod jumps over what sounded like some very interesting parts of the story in order to get to the end. Nothing's wrong with the story. In fact, I was happy to find that this novel stood on its own, but had MacLeod chosen to do so, there were lots of other interesting bits that he could have written and decided not to.
A few other reviewers felt that the story was choppy. Well, the story is covering a lot of ground and a fair span of time. If you wanted 4 or 5 novels on the subject, like a lot of other authors feel pressed to do in order to sell more books, fine. But, you'd still be waiting for book 3, while we all know now how it turns out (WHAT! We find out what happens by only purchasing ONE BOOK?!?!? AMAZING!!!).
I find MacLeod's political bent interesting, and I appreciate the extra dimension it gives his books. Again, this may not be to everyone's liking, especially those who just want things to get complicated, people to fight, and stuff to explode. If you are looking for something a bit more intelligent, give MacLeod a chance. He tells a good story, and his are usually positive without being obvious or simple-minded. Unlike what a few reviewers said, this novel is actually quite spare with the politics, and this may be a good place for readers new to MacLeod to start.
And who complains about people getting together to talk stuff over and find solutions? Someone who lives under a rock, doesn't acknowledge or have peers or colleagues, and is either told what to do or never discusses anything, I would guess. MacLeod's characters are likable, and they do what a lot of educated people do: they think about things and discuss them. Perhaps the mere suggestion of political activism is anathema to some Americans, these days. How sad. At a time when we need people more engaged in actual debate, calling our politicians on bad choices, and pushing for better solutions, an author who suggests such a thing gets lambasted for it. I wonder if this is because the author is Scottish and occasionally voices communist views (common in Europe), or if it's due to intolerance of politics and change, in general. In any case, if that's NOT you, then pick up one or more of MacLeod's books and feed your brain.
its well worth the read i have it in paper back and on kindle.
The aliens are so alien (not) with their universities, secret police, clipboards, tea, sidewalk cafes and coin operated phones.
This is more of a young adult or older children book than a serious SF novel.
Writing is good, ending was unexpected but this could not compensate the non-alien aliens.
In this, his most recent, novel, we alternate viewpoints between members of a sub-light-speed interstellar ship, and the aliens living on the destination planet. This approach is quite reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's _A Deepness in the Sky_. The scheming factions on the starship, and the back-channel communication between one faction and the aliens only further the comparison...which is all to MacLeod's disadvantage, as reminding us of an outstanding novel can only reveal more starkly just how far short his own novel falls.
The characterization is stunningly flat: only the aliens have much personality, and even then, not much: they seem like fictional versions of MacLeod and his pub-frequenting Scottish political chit-chat buddies (the same set that appear in every single novel MacLeod has ever written) - the only difference is these guys have wings, and don't actually live in Scotland, just a place that resembles it.
The plot is fairly uncomplicated, although a few bits that are relevant are presented hastily and then rushed from the stage. When the political denouement comes, how many factions are there on the starship? Two? Three? Four?? It's not quite clear, and the exact reasons that they've factionalized beyond the initial two groups are also only roughly sketched out....and, heck, for that matter, the decision to escalate a minor disagreement into full bore factionalization is also handled sloppily and confusingly.
One ends up convinced that MacLeod pushed his characters into a political crisis not so much because the plot and the characters demanded it, but because that's the only way that MacLeod knows how to end a story: bad thing happens, then Our Heroic Pub Dwelling Street Politicos Race to the Barricades (tm), and using a combination of positive-sum-game thinking, samizdat distribution and organization, and a good close reading of a Manifesto and/or Constitution, defeat the shortsighted zero-sum-game folks.
The banality of this scene is topped only by the boring First Contact scene: door opens. Member of species one steps out, raises hand in gesture of peace, and says something like "hey there; we're not going to hurt you". This is Deeply Symbolic(tm), though (at least in MacLeod's mind) because it indicates that ...umm..."hey there; we're not going to hurt you".
If you're looking for a great novel about First Contact, scheming factions, weird aliens, peace, war, back-channel communications, and stark insights into how people think, you've set your sites high...but you can find something that delivers: _A Deepness in the Sky_. Skip this book, though. MacLeod is either past him prime, or just loafing, and he shouldn't be rewarded with your hard-earned dollars for this disappointment.