book reviews

Mini review: Ken MacLeod, The Stone Canal

Ken MacLeod The Stone Canal (Legend 1996; £15.99 hb, 322pp)
Follow-up to the highly successful The Star Fraction from the West Lothian based author. Both witty and funny, zestful, and written with extraordinary panache, this confirms MacLeod as a great white hope of British sf. There’s a joyous relish in this tale – which brackets The Star Fraction in its telling – of a coming-of-age in contemporary Scotland (1995′s Glasgow Worldcon is an off-stage locale) through to a working anarchy on a colony planet via a European revolution. There’s much play with such current sf icons as AIs, nanotech, VR, resurrection of the dead, information science and cosmology, but all properly subservient to a cracking story with engaging and convincing characters. It’s all reminiscent of the excitement generated by John Varley in the 70s (without the dreary Heinlein-worship; when will American authors throw off his dead fist?), though MacLeod writes from a very British perspective and with a most welcome political intelligence. Very highly recommended, and my book of the year back in 1996.  Buy! Read!
Amazon UK link: The Stone Canal

Mini-review: Jack McDevitt, The Engines of God

Jack McDevitt The Engines of God (Voyager 1996; £5.99 pb, 419pp)
Or Engines of God as the cover has it. “Classic sense-of-wonder sf meets The X-Files” puffs the blurb, straining for a market, but don’t be put off: this intelligent, humane, and very readable book has little in common with either. Instead it’s an alien-contact mystery, with archaeologists as heroes. Why are various relics – seemingly purposeless sculptures – scattered round the nearer star systems, and why does dating place them alongside the extinction of various races? Reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson (Icehenge) and Paul McAuley (Four Hundred Billion Stars), this thoughful and somewhat bleak book is warmly recommended.
Amazon UK link: The Engines of God (Voyager)