thierstein.net
Home Reviews Shorts Search

Ken MacLeod – The Execution ChannelKen MacLeod is a Scottish SF Writer, with 13 Novels to his name (the 14th, named Descent, is out in March 2014. Review is in the works), plus Omnibus editions, Collections, Chapterbooks, a good number of short stories, poetry – you name it. He's won a Sideways award, and both the Prometheus and the BASFA award multiple times.

 

The Execution Channel is a stand-alone novel – depending how you look at it's a near-future story based on a slightly variant history since around 9/11, leading to a different but recognisable setting; or, in my opinion, a what-if alternative present, really, with the world in an even bigger mess than it is now; really not in all aspects an improvement on ours. Consider the tag line on the cover: 

 The War on Terror is over... Terror won.

 

The UK in this setting seems to be still in one piece (so none of the Federated UK fun from the Fall Revolution series, for example), and still with a strong England/Scotland divide. People are paying in Euros, though, which had me giggle each time...

 

The story kicks off with what appears to be a tactical nuke attack against the base in Leuchars, Five, which is essentially a USAF installation in this story. And soon thereafter there are further attacks against a major refinery, against motorway junctions and other key infrastructure.

There is instant retribution from the populace – against both American/Capitalist targets (Starbucks etc – the Yanks Go Home movement appears to be quite strong) and against Muslims (aka Mozzies) and other foreigners looking funny. The mob reactions are just as indiscriminate and clueless as the machinations and attempts to unravel what's going on of the various secret services behind the scenes as they mix, mingle and muck about. 

 

Yes, this is, in large parts, a secret services story, although there are hints of more Sfnal going-ons; even if these take a while to come to the fore. The most unusual feature in this world is the Execution Channel of the title, which displays, as its name implies, killings and executions from around the world (and yes, there is sufficient footage for 24/7 coverage, which should not be a surprise). Most people think of it as an American black-ops effort, but the truth, as is frequently the case, is more complex...

 

"Armageddon is the Rapture. Millions of stupid Yanks going straight up into the sky." - What a quip. I'm speechless.

 

This also contains a number of action set pieces – rather more, especially in the first half, than I'm used to from Ken. And some of those are proper breathless, edge of the seat action scenes – there is some rather impressive writing here.

 

The story is told through the eyes of a number of protagonists. We have James Travis, who works on government contracts, and has been spying for France (a major 'enemy' of the UK in this setting). We have his daughter Rosisin, who was in the peace camp outside Leuchars, and has witnessed (and illegally photographed) the transport plane which landed and unloaded a strange device shortly before the explosion. Then there are a number of spooks from the US, MI5, and Special Branch; and a group of contractors working on 'Information Management Services' (ie guided disinformation and hacking) for Homeland Security. And finally we see through the eyes of Mark Dark, a blogger running one of the conspiracy websites at the receiving end of said disinformation efforts.

 

This world, and the state it's in, made for rather uncomfortable reading for me. This is not some far-future, post-apocalyptic dystopia. This is here, now, and things have gone from bad (as it currently stands) to worse in a very recognisable and realistic way. It feels only slightly overdrawn, with the Special Relationship with the US having gone further, with constant CCTV surveillance and facial recognition per default, leading to, if required, constant tracking of an individual's movements. With arrests and being held under the 'act' without charge or recourse to lawyers, with extra-ordinary renditions (to the US), and with secret 'facilities' for 'information extraction' (these also feed the Execution Channel). With the ongoing loss of privacy and civil freedoms, and the loss of democracy which comes with all this. 

Not good, not nice, but very realistic, and where we're heading anyway. Hell, meet Handcart...

 

This is a slightly different book for Ken MacLeod, and not just for it's near-future/present setting. It's more political than his more recent work (he has not really let rip since the Fall Revolution books, at least in terms of 'current' politics), and, as I said, uncomfortable to read in parts due to the setting and its implications. Besides that it is really rather engrossing and a recommended read. We need more of this, both to entertain us, but also to warn of the danger the current course brings for our future - a key role for good SF, in my book.

 

 

More Ken MacLeod

 

Title: The Execution Channel

Title: The War on Terror is Over... Terror Won

Author: Ken MacLeod

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net

Publisher:  Orbit

Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.net

Publication Date: 2008

Review Date: 140127

ISBN: 9781841493497

Price: UKP  6.99

Pages: 370


Andy Weir - The Martian

 

Peter Watts - Blindsight

 

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

 

Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku

 

Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep

 

Doris Lessing - Shikasta

 

Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner

 

Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

thierstein.net, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround