By Ken Mcleod
Newton's Wake is a science fiction novel by Ken Mcleod
I've been looking forward to this book for a while. The Engines of Light series kind of fizzled out for me with book two and I never got around to book three. And that got me worried a lot, since I really, really liked MacLeods Fall Revolution books and there's nothing worse than having one of your favourite authors loose it. So this book would be a test – if it was any good MacLeod would stay on my "buy on sight" list and if it was really good MacLeod would get back on "buy and read on sight".
Lucinda Carlyle is a Combat Archaeologist. Which pretty much means that she's a archaeologist with an attitude. You see, in the post-singularity future of Newton's Wake, ruins have a tendency to fight back. A bit more about the Carlyles before I get back to the Singularity thing. In the future humanity has split into a small handful of fractions; there's the AO (America Offline) which is fairly low-tech farmers, there's the Knight's of Enlightenment (KE) who's mostly hackers (in the sense of engineers), there's the DK who are communists and then there's the Carlyles who are mostly post-singularity scavengers, but also holds control of the teleportation system called the Skein. They don't really produce anything and the services they charge for are all from stuff they have stolen or “salvaged” as they call it. Lucinda is on a mission to scout a planet on the end of an untested Skein - little does she know that she's on the brink of changing everything she knows.
MacLeod has taken on one of the most interesting topic in Science Fiction to day – the post-singularity future. The thing is, the nature of the/a singularity is that you can't describe it. A singularity is like a black hole of evolution. If you stand back you can see intelligence evolve towards the event horizon, but the moment the event horizon is reached you are eternally left behind. Unless you choose to cross the event horizon yourself... MacLeod, of cause, know this and even though he knows this, he briefly tries to describe what's on the other side of the horizon, and fails. It's really the only weakness of this book. Not that he fails, that's was expected, but that he tries at all, is kind of surprising. Anyway he doesn't fail horribly and it's just a small bit of the book, which may even work for you. The rest of the book is absolutely wonderful.
What MacLeod is working with is the people who didn't get caught in the singularity and stayed human. There's people are living in the ruins of the singularity. You see the singularity wasn't a silent implosion where everybody/thing silently went it's own way and just got to intelligent to comprehend. Unluckily the singularity started in war machines, and it took a bit before it came to realise that it's old orders where irrelevant. This is where the combat archaeology comes into play, you seen on the road to the event horizon, the singularities pretty much invented and developed just about every device imaginable. So instead of doing research, it easier to just poke around in the old singularity machines and hope that they aren't to hostile and that they contain something useful.
This is probably the best MacLeod that I've ever read. The characters are well rounded and easy to both love and hate, the post-singularity universe is very interesting and stuffed to the brim with cool technology. The writing is crisp and clear, and the story telling is a lot more action driven, than we are used to from MacLeod. Not that MacLeod can't do the more advanced stuff, but I actually think that he's getting his points across better in this book, than in his earlier books where he tries a lot harder to be clever. MacLeod seems to have reached a good balance in his writing with this one. You own it to yourself to read this one, even if you already tried MacLeod and didn't like it.
Written on 16th April 2004 by TC .