Cosmonaut Keep is the first volume in the Engines of Light trilogy by Ken Mcleod.
This is the first book in a brand new universe, called "Engines of Light", and as that the first book that MacLeod has written outside the universe of Star Fraction and Cassini Division. As I've understood it the universe behind the "old" books kind of evolved, as it was needed, with no major planning done in advance. There has be more planning involved in the Engines of Light universe (I asked him), which seems to gives MacLeod the security and courage needed to paint a wider and more varied world picture, than he could before.
Cosmonauts Keep is telling the tale of mankind's first space flight and the story of how, much later, these first travellers struggle to recover the lost art of interstellar navigation and travel. Matt lives in a near-future world, where Europe is under Soviet rule, in a kind of (officially) socialist-democratic workers state. Matt is an expert at interfacing legacy technology, with the new wet-tech (biology based computers and electronics). One day he gets his hands on some information, which takes him first to America (which is pretty much the same as always), and then into space and into contact with the Aliens (from which the information came from in the first place). Then the race is on to build the "engine" detailed in the plans.
Much later, on a planet, far, far away, Gregor is working with his colleges, Elizabeth (also human) and Salasso (Saur - humanoid alien) on understanding the marine biology of their home planet Mingled. The marine biology part isn't important; the important thing is that right after we meet these three friends, a trade ship arrives at Mingled, bringing news from the rest of the universe and a love interest for Gregor. Soon Gregor is reaching into the past for help, in his quest to catch up with the trade ship and win the "princess".
MacLeod has once again written a winner. Both Matts and Gregors stories are interesting in them selves and combined they become something bigger. The characters are interesting and very easy to like - I wanted to know what was going to happen to them and I wanted good things to happen to them nearly from the start. Not because they are perfect (that would make them boring), but because they are human with all that follow from that (well, except those of them that literally aren't human).
Where the ending is quite open and leaves you wanting more, it is also fulfilling enough to not leave you disappointed and unhappy. This could be the beginning of an epic saga, to rival The Nights Dawn trilogy (Hamilton) and The Hyperion Saga (Simmons), but then again, maybe not. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
This was the first Ken Macleod book I read and it inspired me to go on and read much of his other work. He is without a doubt one of the best Sci-Fi writers today, along with the likes of Iain M Banks and Peter F Hamilton, as well as a personal favourite. Anyway, here are my thoughts...
Character Development - 10/10
Macleod has an incredible gift when it comes to his characters and the relationships between them. At times they are stupid, at others they're close to genious, but they are always believable. They don't pull of crazy stunts that make you think 'yeah right, or come up with unrealistic plans that could never be devised. It's these human qualities that allow you to relate to them as you would a real person. From the very beginning you find yourself really caring about what happens to them, just like you would a friend or relative, and as you see them through the highs and lows of success and failure you can't help but feel attached to them.
Story - 09/10
Just like the characters, the story is surprisingly believable, and at times you can almost imagine the future truning out somewhat similar.
Matt Cairns, an expert in interfacing legacy technology, lives in Scotland during a time where Europe is under Soviet rule. He finds out some information that takes him to America and then Space, where he works on a ligh-speed drive. Accross the galaxy, Gregor and his two colleges Elizabeth (human) and Salasso (saur - humanoid), are working on the marine biology of their home planet Mingled when a trade ship arrives. It Carries news of the rest of the Universe but more importantly a lady named Lydia, who sparks Gregor 's interest.
Although the two stories are seperate they are also heavily linked and the second book (Dark Light) brings them together brilliantly.
Macleod includes some very interesting concepts such as the "gods", which are confusing to start with but become more and more clear as the books proggress. The one thing which can be slightly frustrating, but necessary, is the politics involved, especially for people like myself who never took a real interest to them. However, don't let it put you off, as this book is far too good to be tossed aside due to their inclusion, and besides, they're only used when really necessary.
The ending is left open for a sequel, and shouldn't be seen as "unfulfilling". Having read all three I can assure you that the remaining two will not disappoint, and the Grand Finale is far from "unfulfilling".
Written on 1st August 2000 by TC.
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