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by Ken MacLeod

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-765-30032-X
Publisher: Tor

Another of Edinburgh resident MacLeod’s idiosyncratically distinctive futures (The Sky Road, 2000, etc.). In 2044, following various wars and revolutions, Scotland maintains a precarious independence within the Communist-Russia–dominated EU. Computer whiz Matt Cairns’s American-spook girlfriend, Jadey Ericson, obtains a computer disk containing details of a secret European Space Agency facility on a remote asteroid where scientists are secretly chatting with aliens. These ancient, highly advanced associations of bacteria-sized entities have given the ESA computer codes to crack any encryption—and blueprints for a revolutionary space drive. Rather than sharing the information, one EU faction agitates for a preemptive war against the US. Instead, though, the asteroid’s scientists declare independence. In alternate chapters, we learn that a starship from Earth subsequently arrived at planet Mingulay, 12,000 light-years distant. Here, the “gods” are real; huge, squid-like krakens navigate starships; and the Cosmonaut Families share the planet with two other variant human types and the dinosaur-like saurs. But, apparently because of a prohibition by the kraken, the original starship remained idle in orbit. Now, Mingulay must compete economically with other human-colonized planets like Nova Terra. Researchers Gregor Cairns and Elizabeth Harkness team up with the immortal saur Salasso to investigate the ban on space flight—and solve the intricate problem of interstellar navigation without computers, the original bio-machines having long since degraded.

Distinctive, politically challenging, both tantalizing and satisfying—and bulging with implications that merit, and will doubtless receive, further exploration.