March 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Newton's Wake by Ken Macleod
Orbit (UK) HCVR: ISBN 1841491756 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Iain Emsley

384 pgs. List price
£17.99
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Space Opera has come of age in the hands of British writers – just consider what M John Harrison and Iain Banks have delivered over the last few years. Macleod has rightly had his supporters and Newton's Wake shows that he has matured into a great writer. He has thoroughly explored the Left Wing political stance and this stand alone novel shows that he can move into new areas with the subgenre.

Earth's best minds were uploaded in the Hard Rapture and taken to an unknown storage facility. On the planet Eurydice, the comfortable lives of the population are about to be disturbed as the long dormant war machines reactivate. At the same time, the rock comes under closer scrutiny from other civilizations. The secret of the planet is about to be told.

What Macleod does is to find the right balance between action and politics, something that was been slightly missing from the last series. He takes his time in building a central cast of strong characters who can maintain a range of opinions. His novel covers a wide and ranging scope, yet he never loses sight of the individual, a situation to which he had become prone. He widens his scope to look at the way that the current geopolitical “threat” to the US comes from China and South East Asia rather than the former USSR.

In counterpoint to this, he begins a debate on the relationship between literature and art and how close they need to be or how graphic and real they must be to either educate or entertain the audience. I think that this is a positive step for him and one that he has navigated brilliantly in this latest book.

It is this which allows the novel to investigate one of the myths of 1950s and 1960s science fiction, that technological progress is the key to humanity's uplift. Throughout the novel there are references to dystopian fictions, such as Planet of the Apes, 2001 and 1984, in which technological progress can be seen to be detrimental to the human race in terms of allowing various alien hegemonies to develop and become overlords. Perhaps this change has come from a certain post-millennial angst. We now live in the foretold future and “Skynet” has not crippled us (yet), the apocalypse found that its diary was full at the time and the increasingly apocalyptic visions of the future failed to materialize. The question is how to do we deal with the society around us, how do we cope with the Internet and the current social situation. On a global scale, Macleod comes back to the individual and allows them to make their own options. The major political groups cannot offer them a solution for their own blinkers and the finale is one that is a surprise but also thoroughly satisfying.

Newton's Wake shows how Macleod has become far more a master of his own material and the wider issues within in that were threatening to engulf the novels. This a great read, full of thought and workings, but also human and entertaining.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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