Tuesday, 3 July 2001

Ken MacLeod: Cosmonaut Keep (2000)

Edition: Orbit, 2000
Review number: 855

Beginning a new series, Cosmonaut Keep has two independent storylines. The first takes place in a shattered Europe in about fifty years' time, in a Scotland which is a Socialist Republic and then in a space station; it is concerned with first contact with a bizarre alien species, a bacterial lifeform which forms colonies which are incredibly powerful computers.

The second story is set farther into the future, and in quite a distant part of the galaxy, populated (from a human point of view) by the descendants of people rescued from death by aliens, living alongside other hominids and reptilian intelligent lifeforms. The connection with the first story gradually becomes clear as the novel progresses, though to begin with it is a bit confusing and seems to be irrelevant.

The beginning of the novel is actually where most of its problems lie. It takes a fair amount of time to get going, especially the second storyline. It grows on you by the midpoint, but it sometimes feels as though it isn't worth the effort - maybe a more complex structure and greater integration of the stories would have helped, rather than the scheme of alternating chapters MacLeod uses.

The very end of the novel is interesting, introducing a note of ambiguity before the start of the second part of the series; a journey is undertaken, but it is not clear by whom or even exactly when. Though the novel as a whole is not as good as MacLeod's earlier work, it is intriguing enough to make me want to continue with the series.

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