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2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
Editor:  Ernest Lilley
Associate Editor: Sharon Archer

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Aug02 Contents
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Columns:
Editorial License
US Books
UK Books
Can Books
Comics
DVD

Events/Cons:
CanVention 22 and the Aurora Awards
If It's Tuesday, this must be TOR

Feature Interview:
Ken Macleod

Feature Review: Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod

BBook Reviews
The Alchemists Door
by Lisa Goldstein
Alternate Generals II
ed by Harry Turtledove
Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks
The Iron Grail by John Woodstock
The Sacred Pool by L. Warren Douglas
The Sky So Big And Black by John Barnes
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
Straw Men by
Michael Marshall Smith
Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
To Trade The Stars by Julie E. Czerneda
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror
, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Graphic Novel:
Murder Mysteries. Original short story and radio play by Neil Gaiman. Graphic story script and art by P. Craig Russell
Zine: The Journal of Pulse Pounding Narratives

SFMedia:
Film:
Austin Powers: GoldMember

Metropolis (2002) Restoration
& Metropolis Essay
PowerPuff Girls
Reign of Fire
Signs
Simone

 

Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod
Tor Paperback: ISBN 0765340739 Jan 2002
Review by Ernest Lilley
336 pages List price $25.95  Purchase this book at Amazon .com

Feature Interview: Ken MacLeod

Matt Cairns is a software project manager living in Russian controlled Edinburgh, in the Scottish Highlands. Gregor Cairns is his many times removed great grandson, and he lives on a planet about 100 light years from earth and about 300 years into the future.

Cosmonaut Keep faithfully alternates between their stories, chapter after chapter, as they slowly wend towards each other and the culmination of this, the first book in Ken MacLeod's "Engines of Light" series. The obvious question, how'd we get here? Is semi-answered by looking up at the heavens and seeing the colonists ship, the Bright Star, still in orbit after 200 years of abandonment. The real questions, when, how, and why did the Bright Star leave Earth, and how long did the trip here take, these are the questions that unravel more slowly.

Matt isn't some guy who works for a company, though he may work for "the company" from time to time. He's a freelance code maker that assembles teams of AIs and geezer geeks to patch, hack, or create code in the middle of the 21st century. He's also a hardware hacker, and has the good or bad fortune to have a thing for an American secret agent, an attractive lass named Jadey, whom he cobbles up black market gadgets and software for, with a minimum of need to know.

Jadey, on the other hand needs to know a lot, and what she needs most is someone to take apart the data on an encrypted disk she's gotten off a courier (deceased) and possibly to figure out what to make of it as well.

It turns out that what you can make of it is nothing less than a flying saucer and a space drive.

It also turns out that the Russians have been in touch with Alien intelligences in the asteroid belt for some time and thanks to a mini-revolution on their deep space station, all sorts of weird science are about to be unleashed on the world, including the computing technology to make every crypto code in the solar system totally useless.

It's only moderately surprising, then when Matt and Jadey find themselves on the lam from the Socialist Securtiy Appartchnick shortly after divining the nature of the disk's data. Black helicopters never quite show up, but that's part of the fun. A lot of old fashioned conspiracy theory is kicked around, without ever quite getting nailed down.

Here's a bit I liked, along those lines, taken from a scene where scientists are about to test out the space drive for the first time:

"Shut the Airlock," he advised. "Okay, everybody out of the bay."
"Why?" asked Kahn. "It's safe enough."
"We don't know that." He scratched his throat, making noises into the mike. "There might be some, uh, eltectromagnetic phenomena."
"What makes you think that?" I asked.
If he hadn't been standing in the air at an angle to me, I would have sworn he shuffled his feet and looked down.
"If, well, what one hears about close encounters with these kinds of machines is anything to go by."
Oh.

The aliens are little green guys, or at least I think they come in green as well as as every other color imaginable, but the surprising thing is how little they actually are. Buy eyed monsters? Not really, just bugs...microbes, to be specific.

Microbes that have been inhabiting our asteroid belt for a very, very long time. How long? Well, when the colonists on the Bright Star reached their new home world, they were greeted by the evolved descendants of terran dinosaurs, which had been moved there sometime before by the little guys. That long.

Gregor knows all too well that he is descended from Matt, who was on the original crew. He knows, because Matt's title is handed down from generation to generation, as well as the grand work that he had started. Sure, they figure, it was easy to be the First Navigator when you had all of Earth's computing technology behind you, but how was anyone supposed to chart a course from star to star with simple computers and only your own brain to guide you? Not easily, that's for sure, and yet, that was the task that Matt had left his heirs, for if they could learn to fly between the stars, they would be the only human world not at the mercy of the alien pilots and starships that restricted mankind to a 100 light year sphere around Earth.

Cosmonaut Keep is idea rich SF with an engaging storyline that merges post-modern and retro SF and is packed with sex, politics, human and alien technology, and even some character development. Both Matt and Gregor are in their early twenties, and both of them are trapped in dizzying orbits of binary babe systems while on the verge of unleasing pardigm shifting on technology their worlds. It must run in the family. Where do I sign up for adoption?

I'm always worried when I know a story is going to switch viewpoints every chapter, but often, as is the case here, it works well for the story development, and things move along briskly, so that you don't get a chance to pine for the other storyline for long. Best, as the tale winds up, the two threads start to interweave nicely, tying things up nicely at the end, while opening things up for the bigger story that the series will reveal.

Highly recommended.

Ernest Lilley is Editor and Publisher of SFRevu. He also writes about technology in his publication TechRevu (www.techrevu.com) as well as being a frequent contributor in online and print publications like Byte.com, Digital Camera, Pen Computing and others. He likes station wagons with stick shifts, PDA's with keyboards, and SF with ideas.