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darklightHere's a a short review of Dark Light, the 2nd book in Ken MacLeod’s Engines of Light series – a classic intermediate chapter building the setting for the final instalment whilst re-visiting a load of old-Earth politics, leading to a classic clash of Philosophies and Ideologies, with the usual violent results for the local civilization.


The book picks up where the first one left the story – or, actually, it picks it up a light speed journey later, which means a lot of time has passed in the Universe, but none for the travelling protagonists. And, as they are at the event horizon of their event cone, it could as well have been an instantaneous transition, as Matt Cairns, the old Cosmonaut from Earth finds (his internal clock is still on 2049 plus the years he’s lived. Never mind a few centuries passing whilst travelling at the speed of light!).

We find the Bright Star at the end of the journey they set out for at the end of Cosmonaut Keep, landing in Rawliston on Croatan, where the ship, the first human-piloted one to arrive, ever, is immediately impounded by the Harbour Authority.

Meanwhile, inland in the Great Vale, Stone and Slow leg are working on their trade/smuggling arrangements (delete as appropriate – it all depends which side of the divide you stand), which brings them into contact with our Cosmonauts, with the de Tenebre traders who preceded them, and of course some of the locals who also get involved into a game much bigger then the ones usually played on this planet in the 2nd sphere.

But with the arrival of the old class warriors from Earth the place gets set up for a clash of Philosophies and Ideologies, turning it into a playing field for the (old) politics, demagogues, and agitators like Grigory Volkov or Matt Cairns. The fallout for the local population is the same it has always been throughout history…

The book takes the conceptual setting of the first one, with its long-lived (immortal?) Cosmonauts; the technology of the Saurs and the Krakens (FTL, AG,…) and of course the Earth-derived races themselves, with the Saurs, Krakens, Giants, Pictsies, and of course humans, (see the review of the first book for more details on the universe this sines plays in) but it adds to it.

Firstly we learn much more about the Gods, the colonies of highly evolved tiny being living in asteroids, we learn about their politics and history of interference with Earth, the living things on Earth, and with the 2nd sphere. One of the main undertows of the story plays on what the 2nd sphere is actually for – is it a backup of life on Earth through the millennia, is it a (scary thought) Bridgehead in a war, or - ? The Bright Star, with its communication equipment allowing humans to talk to the Gods is of course well placed to start exploring these topics, and not all that is found is good…

We also get a different faction of humans, from a much earlier colonization period than Rawliston. They are known as the Heathens, live in the isolated Great Vale, don’t use any metal (but are very skilled craftsmen otherwise), and have a rather interesting social structure, with the sexes no differentiated by genetics, but by other factors (sorry, I won’t spoil your fun – this is one of the most entertaining recurring threads in the book!).


This is a typical middle book in a trilogy, it’s, both figuratively and literally a way station, changing and setting up the configuration for the final instalment, which will play on another planet again.

It could stand on its own, but it makes so much more sense when read in the sequence that I don’t think anyone would really want to read it on its own.

I also found that, despite quite some ‘action’ in the story that it somehow doesn’t have all that much pull/drive; it feels inconsequential, and most of the characters don’t come all that much to live - a classic middle third.

Here’s hope for the final third (on my reading pile, will be reviewed here in due course), if that one lives up to Cosmonaut Keep then this will, overall, be a great trilogy, with a necessary but slow(er) middle third. I’ll let you know…

 More Ken MacLeod

Title: Dark Light

Series: Engines of Light

Series Number: 2

Author: Ken McLeod

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL:

Publisher: Tor

Publisher URL:

Publication Date: January 2003

Review Date: 19 April 2007

ISBN: 0765344963

Format: Paperback

Topic: SF

Topic: Politics


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