Cosmonaut Keep

by Ken MacLeod

Cover image

Series: Engines of Light #1
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2000
Printing: January 2002
ISBN: 0-765-34073-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 336

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I picked up this book after Ken MacLeod was recommended at the panel on British SF authors at the 2004 Baycon. This is science fiction of the classic variety, involving space exploration, starships, space travel, and neat computer interfaces. Of that, I approve.

The book is told as two stories simultaneously, only meeting in the final chapter of the book. This works reasonably well, even with the shift from first person to third person between the chapters, but unfortunately the stories are not equally interesting. The one that takes place on Earth, involving a systems manager to rides herd on AI programming routines (I loved that concept of the future of computer programming) is far more interesting. Although I didn't find the political situation particularly credible (more on that later), I did enjoy the story of someone who's fairly apolitical getting pulled into a high-stakes game between countries and ideologies.

The other story, however, plods. The setting is less engaging, despite being on an alien planet, and while there are moments of good description, I was usually somewhat bored. The most-frequently-encountered alien race seems remarkably human to me, and most of the story revolves around a stupid and very annoying love triangle. While the resolution of the love triangle thankfully isn't as dumb as its beginning, I can really do without reading more stories about people twisting their lives into embarassing knots by being incapable of straightforward communication. It's not unrealistic; it's just not something I enjoy reading about.

Suspension of disbelief takes its hardest hit from the political situation on Earth during that half of the story, where Russia has apparently conquered Great Britain and all of Europe is communist. I have a hard time swallowing this in a book published in 2000, particularly when this is accompanied with "Russki" and "commie" as derogatory terms. I get the distinct feeling that there's a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek humor under the politics, and I rather enjoyed the occasional crack at US capitalism and obsession with freedom (making the refugees pay for their food on the ship was a brilliant touch), but the slang still put it over the top into eye-rolling for me.

This book is pretty solid stuff once it really gets going, but unfortunately that doesn't happen until around 150 pages in. I liked the climax and denouement (although this book definitely sets up a sequel), and the stories worked together reasonably well at the end. Whether that's worth working through the rest of the book is a little iffy, though.

Followed by Dark Light.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-07-09

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21