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Star FractionHere are a few words on Ken McLeod's magnificent first novel, The Star Fraction, the first in a series of 4 (or, at least, that's the most usual count – it's not straight-forward apparently) called The Fall Revolution.  More than worth the read, and something I should have read long ago, but how many books can this be said about! Either way, this is a recommendation for those who have not been here before.

Moh Kohn is a mercenary, working for the Felix Dzershinksy Worker's Defense Collective, taking on contracts to protect research establishments from Crawls (AI abolitionists) and Creeps (animal protectionists). Or, in his own words: those who considered anything smarter than a pocket calculator a threat to the human race, and those who considered anything with a central nervous system a honorary member of it.

In his line of work he meets Janis Taine, a researcher working on memory drugs, mainly on mice, and thus in obvious need of protection.
The UK they live, work, and fight in has seen a lot of history since our days, even if the setting for the story is not too far into the future. The Kingdom has gone, and was replace with the Republic, and then the Restoration brought it back. The country is now a balkanised landscape of mini-states, groups with their own territory, and a 'free' state in North London Town (Norlonto for short). All under the King, and his 'Hannoveranian' army.

Moh's best friend is his 'Swiss Army Gun', build around a state of the art Kalashnikow, a Fujitsy neural-net chip, plus tons of hardware and software that he's cracked and bolted on. It's his tool of choice as he's working for progress and science, whilst complying with the Geneva Convention's Annexe On The Laws of Warfare, Inter-communal Violence and Terrorism. It's a mad mad world...

The technology used in the story is recognizable if not all available (yet?) - at the core of this world there is an expanded, pervasive internet (not named as such); with all concurrent security issues which have grown with it and associated eTerrorism issues. AIs are apparently feasible, but are prescribed (see un/us and Stasis below). The main components of this network run on freeware, incidentally written by Moh Kohn's father before he was assassinated by un/us 'teletroopers' (remote controlled battle robots) during the restoration.
People use 'glades' which provide them with assisted sight (low light and much more) and VR overlay – these obviously can link to the network, or, in Moh's case, to his gun.

Society has gone back to ghettos/tribal structures in small, nominally independent micro-states. Inter-society violence (see the above Geneva Convention) is rife, and a major source of income for mercenaries like Moh.
The UN is completely US dominated (and thus usually referred to as un/us), dominates space and space defence (aimed at Earth), and decides what technology you can have and/or research. If you overstep your boundaries you get visited by men in black, known as 'Stasis' (now there's a pun worth its money!). Or you have the real big hammer come down on you from orbit ...

Like Charles Stross' Accelerando this book has, seen in retrospect (not something that is obvious at the beginning) no human central protagonist (sorry Manny, sorry Moh!), and, for me at least, it worked really well with a soundtrack comprising Alec Empire and Crystal Castles.

This is a marvellous debut, breathless, inventive, and complex. It is classic MacLeod (something we now can judge from Ken's later output) in its depiction of the future political landscape as well as the (sometimes tedious) discussion around Troskyist Dialectics. Still, a lot of positions, as known today, have been amusingly reversed through the course of history – I chuckled darkly at many points.
The book was nominated for the AC Clarke awards, and won the Prometheus Award, deservedly I would say, it *is* rather good indeed, and magnificent for a debut.

Ken MacLeod  is a Scottish SF writer, with  (meanwhile) 13 novels, one collection, and some chapbooks to his name. Definitely one for your list (both the writer and the book) if you haven't been here before - I look forward to the next 3 books in the series!




Title: The Star Fraction
Series: Fall Revolution
Series Number: 1
Author: Ken MacLeod
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Orbit
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.com
Publication Date: 1995
Review Date: 100208
ISBN: 1844190962
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Politics

 

More Ken MacLeod

 

Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

 

Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives

 

S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

Liz Williams - Empire of Bones

 

Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner

 

Peter Watts - Blindsight

 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace

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