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The Sky Road (Fall Revolution) Hardcover – August 19, 2000
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In the series that started with The Star Fraction, Ken MacLeod has created a future history whose genesis was an argument about anarchism between a group of left-wing students in the '70s. The destruction and renaissance of civilization, here and elsewhere in the human galaxy, turns on this argument. In the fourth book, MacLeod productively fills in some of the gaps. This is the story of Myra, Trot-turned-entrepreneur, whose nuclear deterrence-for-hire is central to the event known by some as the Fall and others as the Deliverance. It is also the story of young Clovis, part-time worker in the yard where the first space-ship in centuries is being built, part-time scholar trying to find out what Myra the Deliverer was really like.
MacLeod's readers are used to his quirky and intelligent take on the world of power politics and his charmingly cynical gift for engaging and engaged protagonists. What this book also has is a profound sense of the beauty of a simpler and stiller world; MacLeod's real gift is his capacity to see all sides of a question, even when he is sure of the answer. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
Unlike most American SF writers, MacLeod (The Stone Canal), a Scot, has little good to say about the U.S., democracy or capitalism. Indeed, the future history within which he sets his complex but compelling novels pretty much assumes the collapse of Western-style democracy in the near future and its replacement by a crazy-quilt of various socialist, libertarian and anarchist states. MacLeod's current tale follows two separate plot lines. In the near future, Myra Godwin-Davidova, an American expatriate, former Trotskyist and current leader of a small, high-tech socialist workers' state surrounded by Kazakhstan, struggles to keep her nation afloat against the onslaught of the Sheenisov, an aggressive nation bent on world conquest. As her political alliances crumble, Myra's only trump card is a cache of outdated nuclear weapons planted decades ago in Earth orbit, but if she uses them she could destroy the world. Hundred of years later, Clovis colha Gree lives in a bucolic near-utopia almost totally lacking in violence. Although his people treat virtually all electronics and computers with superstitious dread, the scientists of his day, called tinkers, are attempting to build the first spaceship since Myra's distant era. Clovis, a young scholar working on the spaceship, plunges into intrigue when a secret cabal of tinkers uses him to recover forbidden computer data. The intellectual difficulty of MacLeod's work may prevent him from acquiring a mass readership, but his complex plotting, crisply delineated military action, well-drawn characters and trademark byzantine radical politics are sure to endear him to a growing number of aficionados. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, I don't object to complexity. For example, David Brin's new book, "Existence", is quite complex, with perhaps 8 or 9 plot lines going. But every once in a while, the plot lines intersect to reinforce each other. And Brin has the knack of leaving literary bread crumbs that make it easy to pick up the plot thread from where he left it 15 or 20 pages ago. So it's possible to write a complex yet readable book -- it's just that MacLeod does not succeed very well in The Sky Road.
The book isn't so bad that I threw it away. It will sit in my bookcase for a rainy day when I've exhausted all other reading options, and then I'll pull it out and start slogging through it again. But I do wish I'd spent my moola on a different book.
As usual, the writing is elegant, and generally superb. The story is well plotted, and moves along at a reasonable pace. However, when all was said and done, I didn't really feel like I had gone anywhere by reading this book. The story was entertaining, but there was no real climax, and hence no real resolution.
Perhaps that is what Macleod was striving for; a vehicle to develop characters for future works. If that is the case, he succeeded admirably. I suspect that this is a novel that will always be regarded in the context of his other works, rather than on its own merits.
Still, I enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone who likes their science fiction on the serious side.
Ken MacLeod's new book is an intriguing offshoot from his previous three novels. (It is not necessary to have read those books to appreciate The Sky Road.) In this future, the world has fractured into numerous smaller states by the early 21st Century, essentially in a continuation of the process begun in the ex-communist states in the 1980s. In addition, Artificial Intelligences begin to emerge, not always planned, and not always benevolent. The three books, in addition to the persistent worry about AI's, portray a variety of political organizations, and forms of organization, most notably perhaps the anarcho-socialist society of the Solar System and the anarcho-capitalist society of New Mars, in the time of The Cassini Division.
The Sky Road is kind of an "alternate history" of MacLeod's future. The earlier parts, chronologically, of The Stone Canal, and all of The Star Fraction, are set in a common past to both The Sky Road and to The Cassini Division, but one of the events in The Stone Canal goes a different way in The Sky Road. Like The Stone Canal (and, to a lesser extent, The Cassini Division), this book is told in two threads, one in the past, in 2059, and the other some centuries in the future. The pastward thread follows Myra Godwin-Davidova, a minor character in The Stone Canal. Myra, 105 years old, is the head of the government of a mini-state near Kazakhstan, called the International Scientific and Technical Worker's Republic. At the opening of the action, the Sino-Soviet Alliance, or the Sheenisov, is advancing on Kazakhstan. Both the reformed UN and Dave Reid's Mutual Protection Society are trying to take control of the world, partly from space, and to stop the Sheenisov. Myra goes on a whirlwind tour of Kazakhstan, Turkey, the US and the UK, looking for military assistance. What she has to offer are the world's remaining supply of nuclear weapons. But her problem is, it's not at all clear who the real enemy is, or for that matter how many enemies there are. She also deals with her personal problems: her age, her guilt over such betrayals of her past ideals as the use of slave labour, and the selling of nuclear protection, and her loss of yet another loved one in suspicious circumstances.
The other thread features Clovis colha Gree, a young student in an odd, somewhat Utopian, Scotland. He is working on a project building a spaceship: the first spaceship to be built since the mysterious "Deliverance". It seems that since this "Deliverance" the world has reorganized itself on a rather pastoral model. Clovis' field of study is history, particularly the life of the "Deliverer". (The reader figures out right quick that the "Deliverer" is Myra Godwin-Davidova.) Clovis meets a beautiful woman called Merrial, and they fall tumultuously in love. But Merrial is a tinker, and the tinkers are regarded with suspicion by the rest of society, as they are the only people who deal with the somewhat restricted computer technology available in this future. Clovis is drawn by his love for Merrial and his thirst for knowledge about the Deliverer to a questionable search for secret files of the Deliverer's: ostensibly to help protect the spaceship project. But this search leads them not only to some anti-hagiographic knowledge about the Deliverer (her use of nuclear weapons, for example), but also to some potential use of the "black logic", the "path of power".
The two threads converge to reveal to the reader some, at least, of what's going on: what the Deliverance really was, and what "black logic" might be, and part of the nature of this future society. It's intriguing, and clever, and by the end quite moving. The only weakness is that I found Merrial and Clovis' affair just a bit convenient: not all that easy to believe. (To explain exactly why would involve spoilers.) I also found the political machinations of Myra's time hard to follow, but that weakness is in me, partly, and partly, I think, its a feature: MacLeod 21st century really is a chaotic time. I also was impressed again by MacLeod's clever way with a phrase. His prose is sound, but only some of the time does it sing. (The first chapter is quite impressive in this way, but he doesn't really maintain that peak level.) However, throughout there are dry asides, and clever plays on words, and mordant observations that hit home.
Ken MacLeod continues to be one of the most exciting new SF writers. His books are politically intriguing, and honest, also full of nice SFnal speculation about future technology, nicely written, and fast moving. The characters are well-drawn, and almost always ambiguous. Each of his books is worth reading, and The Sky Road is one of his best.
If the fourth book in a series is the first you read, then OF COURSE you're not going to have a clue with regards to obscure references and knowing-winks-and-nods to past events and characters.
For the love of god, read the series and put the book into some form of context before slapping a 2 star rating on it. You're putting off more patient prospective-readers who may well take the time and effort to become properly versed in the back story before leaping in for the final lap and then moaning that they don't know what's going on...
An excellent book and a wonderful series, the more positive elements of the other reviews here are all spot on... Not to be missed if you are a fan of Hamilton or Reynolds... Or like myself, have strong leftist/socialist tendencies and a love of sci-fi.
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