I admit that I finished Ken MacLeod’s “The Cassini Division” a few weeks ago. It has taken me a bit of time to wrap my mind around the idea of “justifiable genocide”.
No, I’m not giving anything away, that much is revealed in the opening paragraphs of the book.
The thing which strikes me as somewhat bizarre about “The Cassini Division”, as compared to the other novels in the Fall Revolution cycle is this: MacLeod normally spends a great deal of time and energy informing his readers about economic and sociological environment his characters inhabit. Except for the “Fast Folk”.
They’re left pretty much as incomprehensible bogeymen. We don’t understand their motives and therefore they must be destroyed.
I guess that is MacLeod’s basic point: Because we cannot possibly understand their motives, and because their actions so far have been detrimental, it is us or them, the universe ain’t’ big enough for the two of us. MacLeod’s “True Knowledge”.
Perhaps they are simply too alien for non-accelerated, pre-singularity humans to understand, and therefore write about. It can be argued, however, that in order for us to comprehend and support genocide, perhaps we should understand a bit more about what we’re wiping out.
I need to re-read this book. I want to understand, though I don’t think I’ll agree.
I still can’t understand why the “Fast Folk” didn’t simply pack up Jupiter and leave with it. The Cassini Division was tasked with destroying anything that arose from the Jovian surface.
How would they have reacted if Jupiter itself left orbit?
My first thoughts as I read through Ken MacLeod’s The Stone Canal centered on how many themes it shared with Rudy Rucker’s Ware cycle. No, no, no, I’m not accusing anyone of cribbing from anyone else’s notes. I do say, however, that there was something in the S.F. atmosphere at the time, that post-cyberpunk moment, when the relative ease or difficulty of AI, the nature and definition of consciousness, the connections between minds and math, were the thing to explore.
So, what then does MacLeod bring to the party? Well, since this is the Fall Revolution cycle, these humanist / transhumanist / posthumanist goings on take place surrounded by revolutionary politics. The half of the story which takes place on earth overlaps The Star Fraction and the creation of Norlonto (one of the micro states in a hyper balkanized Europe), while the section on New Mars explores the economic and legal operations of an anarcho-capitalist society.
While the official take on the Fall Revolution cycle is that they can be read in any order, I’m glad that I read The Star Fraction first, if only to acclimatize myself to MacLeod’s voice. That being said, I found The Stone Canal to be more even and better constructed than The Star Fraction. Hey, he already had my attention with the ideas he was mining, they’re right up my alley. So it was gratifying to see how much MacLeod grew as a writer between the two books.
Do I recommend The Stone Canal? Absolutely, but, I recommend reading The Star Fraction first.
I can’t wait until The Cassini Division and The Sky Road show up on my doorstep.
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.
I’m starting to chew my through Ken MacLeod’s body of work, starting with Giant Lizards from Another Star the 2006 Boskone book (he was the GOH). Speaking of which, I still have to post my Boskone and Arisia reviews. They’ll be A bit different this year.
Next up, the first book in the Fall Revolution sequence, The Star Fraction.
This should be quite a trip. For a while I’ve been wondering where SF is going, and I like the idea of SF authors having Political Science as one of the sciences in their quiver. As usual, I’m impossibly behind in my reading (sorry Jim) but I predict that there will be much Stross, Banks and more MacLeod in my immediate reading future.
I’m also thinking that I should pass along my copy of The Star Fraction to Pierceheart to get his military informed opinion.