As I’ve said before, I don’t blog nearly enough about Science Fiction in this weblog, a blog which was born chronicling my trip to Worldcon in Toronto.
Well, where to start with Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction? Is it a mil tech novel about a mercenary and his gun? That’s a start, but only the barest of starts. Is it late cyberpunk piece? Nope, it’s definitely post cyberpunk.
What then is it? The Star Fraction is definitely a product of its time, the mid 1990s. Cyberpunk was dead, run over by the present of 1995 and Central Europe was in the throws of ethnic cleansing, UN interventions, peace processes and continuing knock-on effects from the collapse of the Soviet empire.
More than anything else, the science The Star Fraction is based on is Political Science. The schemings, machinations, gears within gears and plots behind plans in this text make the Machiavellian goings on in the Dune cycle seem like long slow child’s play.
Perhaps that’s why it took me a while to get into the book. As an American, I’m not nearly well versed enough in the factions and sub-factions and fractions, and history of leftist movements. I was definitely learning as I read along. I’ve actually picked it up a couple of times since purchasing it at the 2006 Boskone, but hadn’t gotten beyond the first couple of chapters. This time around, I primed myself by reading MacLeod’s collection, Giant Lizards from Another Star so that I could familiarize myself with his voice, his concerns and his themes. It worked.
For folk who are used to SF giving them things to think about, The Star Fraction succeeds on all levels. AI, nanotech, the panopticon society, the ubiquitous net, uploading, statism, leftist / rightist / centralist politics, telepresence, all deftly mixed together and seasoned with humor and irony. I’ll be chewing this stuff for weeks to come. I wish I’d read it before the previous Boskone. The stuff in here is definitely fodder for discussion in your local pub.
I’ve begun The Stone Canal and ordered the rest of the Fall Revolution Cycle, The Cassini Division and The Sky Road. I heartily recommend that you do the same. You may not agree with the politics, but you will learn and understand more than you did before, all the while being expertly entertained.
Lastly, I will say this about both books I’ve read so far. With so much riding on who is where physically and who’s aligned with whom, a political map of the future British Isles as envisioned by MacLeod, or a chart of alliances or a glossary of organizations / parties mentioned would have been helpful. Like any footie game, it helps to have a program.