Ken MacLeod’s newest book, the first in a trilogy about a conflict between robots who became self-aware and uploaded war criminals in a far future and far away star system is one of the most compelling reads I’ve had in a long time. It’s not big with around 270 pages, but even then I breezed through it like nothing.
That said, this is all setup with not a lot in terms of payoff. You learn about some of the players, their background and with the setup out of the way, thing go from bad to worse in a short time.
Yet by its very nature its hard to take anything at face value and get too invested in either characters or what you think happened. The book continuously explores the nature of reality – given that the available technologies make everything suspect to manipulation or outright simulation, the world surrounding the players, their memories and even their sense of self.
Nothing can be taken for granted, not whether the reported history is correct or outright fabrication, not whether the given dates and locations in time and space are correct and so on. Sure, this adds to a nice general paranoia, which strangely enough is not reflected by most characters at all, but it makes you wonder if MacLeod is going anywhere with it.
The whole conflict from the past that drives many characters and the overall momentum, the Acceleration vs the Reaction, seems like a cheap, idiot’s guide version of a much messier and more complex history that has been utterly rewritten and simplified (extremist singularitarians vs transhuman racists) to make it easy digestible, but this has the effect of making it also feel more like a fantasy than anything that could have happened.
I’m wondering how Orwellian the book really is (Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia) and that’s actually the problem, because if book two and three are less crazy than the things I’m hoping for will happen, than it will be quite the disappointment. I think MacLeod is one of the few science fiction writers active these days who can actually pull it off, but at the moment I’m still unsure.