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Newton's Wake
Ken MacLeod
Orbit hardcover £17.99

review by Christopher Geary

Building on the major success of his Fall Revolution series and the magnificent Engines Of Light trilogy, here's a new standalone space opera from Ken MacLeod that's bursting at the seams with clever and quirky science fiction ideas, and peopled with economically drawn, instantly likeable characters.
   Young upstart Lucinda Carlyle is a combat archaeologist in the Scots' clan who control a mysterious interstellar teleportation system, a skein of gateways linking dozens of alien worlds. On her first tactical command, she leads her crew through an unexplored portal to the supposedly uncharted planet Eurydice, where Lucinda's mission to investigate an enigmatic structure goes terribly wrong. Humans descended from the crew of a long lost space ark, the result of a hurried postwar exodus from mankind's damaged home world, have already claimed Eurydice. Now the isolated colonists face unexpected competition for their planet's resources from renewed contact with star-faring political groups, such as the anti-technologist farmers of America Offline, and military confrontations against the monkish Knights of the Enlightenment and spearhead forces of the 'bloody Carlyles'. As dead soldiers, cyber-enslaved scientists and disreputable folk singers are resurrected from data storage into new flesh, and various political, merchant and scavenger groups jostle for position and advantage in pursuit of the prize of Eurydice, everyone is about to learn whose kung fu really is the best...
   Even with various rival communist groups, and hordes of seemingly alien Von Neumann type war machines challenging their colonial hierarchy, while threatening to overwhelm their society and culture, the somewhat decadent populace of Eurydice still find time for staging a controversial theatrical show, and throwing a raucous global party to celebrate being reunited (though not exactly unified) with the other survivors of a stricken Earth. As if Glaswegian gangsters turned planetary explorers and claim-jumpers were not quite offbeat enough, there are nanotech enabled immortal salvage experts with a brutal sense of humour, and many bodiless souls in need of rescue from captivity in a digital fortress, too.
   Of course, this being a MacLeod book, Newton's Wake is not simply about sci-fi fun and games. In addition to the author's renowned political savvy, there's a fascinating journey through the psychological and moral problems haunting downloaded-to-clone-bodies human personalities who are worryingly unable to distinguish between 'genuine' memories of their past lives, and software patches that maintained their digitised minds while they were held on file.
   If you have not read MacLeod before, this is a perfect starter. He's like Ian M. Banks and Stephen Baxter put together, yet without the bombast of the former or the didactic hard-SF techno babble of the latter. Newton's Wake is a superb, entertaining adventure that's recommended reading for anyone interested in British SF.
Newton's Wake

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