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The Star Fraction

Hemos posted more than 14 years ago | from the more-good-sci-fi dept.

News 2014

Our Science Fiction Reviewer in house, Duncan Lawie has sent a review of Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction. One more interesting point to this review - Duncan sent it from vacation, offshore of Antarctica - off of Cape Royds on Ross Island. That's about 77 degrees south, for the geographers in the crowd. It's a near future setting - 21st century dealing with politics. Click below to read more.

Ken MacLeod's vision of the 21st century - and beyond - is highly politicized. He has won two Prometheus awards for libertarian science fiction despite his positive appraisal of much of the Left in his writing. His four published novels involve a society very different politically from our own. His work has fanned out from his first novel, The Star Fraction to offer alternative viewpoints - often sympathetic but possibly contradictory - on where humanity could be heading. The breadth and cross-pollination between the books gives each a greater depth, regardless of the order in which they are read.

The Star Fraction opens around the middle of the 21st century. Britain has been fractured by turbulence at home and abroad. Division on every issue and the failure of central government has left independents of every stripe in enclaves throughout the country, from London to the Scottish Highlands. Many of these have a broad sympathy for the former Socialist government and the attitudes of the Left but are involved in feuds at the expense of the dream of a re-united Republican Britain. A Royalist government retains power over the rump of the country, but their power is further limited by the U.S./UN. The U.S./UN itself maintains global power through space based weaponry and control of new technology which has paralyzed the development of biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

The primary underlying "science" of this science fiction is politics. The interference patterns created by such a thought experiment are the very lives and livelihoods of the people in the book. Characters include a communist mercenary who works for a collective protecting (capitalist) property, a university researcher and a programmer/stockbroker from a Christian fundamentalist group. These people are powerfully realised. They care deeply about the society they live in and their political beliefs are a deep and genuine expression of their concern. The process of exploring politics through character makes the factional complexity of ideology more accessible. It also results in a visceral experience rather than a novel of ideas.

The speculative elements of The Star Fraction are in no way limited to politics. Space is a place where people go to work. This is significant, both for the influence that this all-seeing perspective offers the major powers and for the increasing freedom from Earth of those above. On the ground, the Green movement is seen to be deeply affected by global warming - what can they do when the environment is so clearly falling apart and it seems that still too few respect Gaia? There is also machine consciousness which works its way towards full artificial intelligence. The centre of this novel has much to say about artificial intelligence and its possible relationships with humanity. The idea of a life form springing from the silicon is opposed by those - both ignorant and computer literate - who fear the potential power of AI.

In the final third of the book the plot languishes somewhat as the populus works to reach a future bright with possibility. This final outcome remains open to re-interpretation and revelation. This novel brims with political pizzazz, wry humor and unusual insight. The struggle of the masses is brought to life in a manner which matches its fervency for a better world with brilliant action and convincing description.

It's only availible overseas, however.

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CONGRATULATIONS! Now should I make thinly veiled c (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273354)

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Never tell a lie unless it is absolutely convenient.

A can of ASPARAGUS, 73 pigeons, some LIVE ammo, an (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273357)

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ARIES (Mar 21 - Apr 19)
You are the pioneer type and hold most people in contempt. You
are quick tempered, impatient, and scornful of advice. You are
not very nice.

I can resist anything but temptation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273362)

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Those who can't write, write manuals.

Drive defensively. Buy a tank. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273364)

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The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange
protein -- it rejects it.
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Cauliflower is nothing but Cabbage with a College (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273366)

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Frisbeetarianism, n.:
The belief that when you die, your soul goes up the on roof and
gets stuck.

IBM: It may be slow, but it's hard to use. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273369)

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"Every group has a couple of experts. And every group has at least one
idiot. Thus are balance and harmony (and discord) maintained. It's
sometimes hard to remember this in the bulk of the flamewars that all
of the hassle and pain is generally caused by one or two highly-motivated,
caustic twits."
-- Chuq Von Rospach, about Usenet

Lazlo's Chinese Relativity Axiom: No matter how gr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273370)

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"Always try to do things in chronological order; it's less confusing
that way."

Using TSO is like kicking a dead whale down the be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273372)

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In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our
programming languages.

whatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273658)

next story..

Two Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273693)

In the interview with Salon, McLeod mentions being ispired by a tract called T"wo Hundred Pharaohs, Five Billion Slaves"

Has anyone come across this on the internet?

Re:Topics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273694)

I think he wants to be able to filter them OUT. You can't do that currently.

Re:Very good book. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273697)

I'm in a cheery mood after seeing this review, and the positive mentions Ken's books received in the comments to the SF101 article a few weeks back. I picked up 'The Star Fraction' and 'The Stone Canal'(?) at a second hand stall last year, and had an excellent time with them, but I was concerned that he didn't seem to be getting much recognition. I know being reviewed on Slashdot isn't quite the big time yet, but at least it all seems to be heading in the right direction.
I've just come across this old Salon interview with him;
http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/07/27/ma cleod_interview/index.html

Star Fraction. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273699)

Damn fine book and I say that without a shred of jest. Not only is it set in my old University, but you have two more books set afterwards in the same vein. All three are stunning. What can I say... read it/them Disco Jim

one reason to read it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273724)

It gives a fair idea of what the rest of the world thinks about americans, or at least what you would do if you had half a chance of getting away with it.

What order should these books be read in? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273729)


Date of publication, or is there some other order.

Just started reading Vinge's latest offering, and it is relighting that ole sci-fi fire. Perhaps I'll give these a try....

Why does Tor assume We're Idiots? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273732)


After reading the following from Salon, I will definitely not be running out to buy the Only U.S. Published MacLeod.

What book is considered the "start" of the series. I want a taste of MacLeod and would like to begin at the begining

But "The Cassini Division" is the first of MacLeod's novels to be published in the United States, TorBooks, his publisher, is starting with "The Cassini Division" on the assumption that the British-flavored politics of "The Star Fraction" might baffle some readers. This is unfortunate -- not only is it a bit odd to start a tetralogy in mid-stream, but "The Cassini Division" is also a simpler, less psychologically rich work than Macleod's first two books.

Re:Available in Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273734)

It's novels like this that give me some hope that the left might still have some place in English-language science fiction. The dominance of reactionary capitalists in SF is getting really old, and awfully annoying.

So Banks, LeGuin, and Asimov are reactionary capitalists? This is news to me.

I was shocked to see Tor put out The Cassini Division, given the politics of most of its stable of writers.

This would be the Tor that publishes Steven Brust, who wrote Freedom and Necessity, a Hegelian fantasy novel? (No, I'm not kidding. Go read it.)

You may be thinking of Baen books, which does put out a lot of David Drake tank-porn, but there's no politics there: Baen publishes teenage wish-fulfillment, and sometimes that's driving around in big tanks blowing up the natives, and other times that's communes full of caring and peaceful Gaia-worshipping elves. (Never mind that the two are equally unlikely. It's what the kids seem to want.)

Seriously, I think it's impossible to generalize about the politics of the SF genre. For every Heinlein you have a LeGuin, for every Suzy McKee Charnas there's a Jerry Pournelle, for every Poul Anderson there's a Steven Brust.

In any event (and as a confirmed right anarchist) I say Ken McLeod is good stuff. He writes books that take ideas seriously, even those he personally disagrees with. This makes the man worth his weight in diamonds.

Re:Available in Canada (minor rant) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273774)

Asimov is dead. So is Brunner. LeGuin is way past her best years and so is Moorcock. I am encouraged by Iain Banks's books and occaisionally Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson.

You know, I could turn this around and say, "Heinlein is dead. So is H. Beam Piper. Poul Anderson is past his best years and so is Niven."

Incidentally, I disagree about Moorcock. He's doing some of the best writing he has ever done -- he wrote a lot of flat-out crap in the 70s, mostly to keep New Worlds afloat, and nowadays he's writing these weird complex wonderful novels.

No, not all SF is right-wing, but not much on the left side has been coming out in recent years.

I'd agree that we haven't seen too much full-bore political SF in the tradition of Starship Troopers and The Dispossessed recently. Even Iain Banks tends to put socialism in the background (the Culture is never the central artifact being examined in his SF novels).

On the left, the problem is that the academic left in the US has gone in a direction unfriendly to the assumptions of SF. Sure, Samuel Delany is wonderful, but there isn't anyone else who can manage a _Trouble on Triton_. (If you haven't, look it up -- it's an amazing novel set in an SF society where deconstructionism is the dominant social aesthetic. It's great!)

On the right, the public choice and law-and-ecoonomics crowd have made the theoretical rationale for libertarianism too inaccessible for the typical writer to get a handle on. So we get pablum rather than the absolutely bracing rigor that is possible.

I mean, the average libertarian SF novels has businessmen more interested in preserving capitalism rather than making a profit. This is just ludicrous! If public choice theory has a single lesson to teach, it's that "corrupt nexus of business and government" is a single word. :)

Anyway, I'd have to disagree with your characterization of Glen Cook as 'right-wing'. AFAICT his worldview is:

  • To an excellent approximation everyone is greedy, cowardly and self-serving.
  • Ruthless oppression will very effectively obliterates the will to resist.
  • Good intentions lead to the use of bad means.

This is kind of a Hobbesian worldview, except that he doesn't believe that government can stop the war of all against all. I just hope it's a coincidence that he builds the most plausible and realistic societies in the whole genre. :) (He's not so great at the actual mechanics of prose, but I still love him anyway.)

Oh yeah, here's one more novel that someone looking particularly for leftist SF would like, and is more than good enough for anyone looking for a just plain excellent read. Go read Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist. It might be a little too American for you, because it's (among other things) about race relations, but it's damn good stuff.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273776)

Sorry, but 'The Sky Road' is an alternative ending
to the trilogy. Ken has confirmed this himself.

Re:The alternate universes ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273811)

MacLeod posts on Usenet, including rasw, and writes about his own beliefs.

From a stereotypical Slashdot geeky perspective, Macleod's books are also notable for coining such phrases as "a complete load of serdar argic".

Re:Too bad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273816)

If you speak some German you can actually buy US-books in a german internet bookstore. I believe that they sell them immediately after they're published in the US and some ship to all EU-countries without charge (www.buecher.de does).

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1273851)

I'm a Canadian, i just believe that your political beliefs cloud your viewpoint on Americans.

THB

Troubled day for virgins over 16 who are beautiful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273860)

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We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which
divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being
correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.
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My nose feels like a bad Ronald Reagan movie ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273863)

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Eggnog is a traditional holiday drink invented by the English. Many
people wonder where the word "eggnog" comes from. The first syllable
comes from the English word "egg", meaning "egg". I don't know where
the "nog" comes from.

To make eggnog, you'll need rum, whiskey, wine gin and, if they are in
season, eggs...

Broad-mindedness, n.: The result of flattening hig (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273864)

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When a child is taught ... its programmed with simple instructions --
and at some point, if its mind develops properly, it exceeds the sum of
what it was taught, thinks independently.
-- Dr. Richard Daystrom, "The Ultimate Computer",
stardate 4731.3.

You can't judge a book by the way it wears its hai (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273906)

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Ask not for whom the telephone bell tolls...
if thou art in the bathtub, it tolls for thee.

Nudists are people who wear one-button suits. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273909)

(Moderation suggestion: +7110, Insightful)


Chicken Little was right.

"Protozoa are small, and bacteria are small, but v (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273911)

(Moderation suggestion: +7191, Insightful)


Due to a shortage of devoted followers, the production of great leaders
has been discontinued.

The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273913)

(Moderation suggestion: +11320, Insightful)


clairvoyant, n.:
A person, commonly a woman, who has the power of seeing that
which is invisible to her patron -- namely, that he is a blockhead.
-- Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary"

You can get more of what you want with a kind word (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273915)

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Too clever is dumb.
-- Ogden Nash

Q: Why do the police always travel in threes? A: O (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273917)

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Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;
persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting
to find a plot in it will be shot. By Order of the Author
-- Mark Twain, "Tom Sawyer"

After living in New York, you trust nobody, but yo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273919)

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One difference between a man and a machine is that a machine is quiet
when well oiled.

Bacchus, n.: A convenient deity invented by the an (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273921)

(Moderation suggestion: +7530, Insightful)


Real programmers disdain structured programming. Structured
programming is for compulsive neurotics who were prematurely toilet-
trained. They wear neckties and carefully line up pencils on otherwise
clear desks.

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273923)

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In good speaking, should not the mind of the speaker know the truth of
the matter about which he is to speak?
-- Plato

To live is always desirable. -- Eleen the Capellan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273924)

(Moderation suggestion: +7637, Insightful)


Power corrupts. And atomic power corrupts atomically.

They also surf who only stand on waves. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273960)

(Moderation suggestion: +7718, Insightful)


If God is perfect, why did He create discontinuous functions?

"Whom are you?" said he, for he had been to night (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273963)

(Moderation suggestion: +12292, Insightful)


One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.

Yow! Is this sexual intercourse yet?? Is it, huh, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273964)

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OKAY!! Turn on the sound ONLY for TRYNEL CARPETING, FULLY-EQUIPPED
R.V.'S and FLOATATION SYSTEMS!!

Old programmers never die. They just branch to a n (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273966)

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Coincidences are spiritual puns.
-- G. K. Chesterton

Shit Happens. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273967)

(Moderation suggestion: +12708, Insightful)


Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. An (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273968)

(Moderation suggestion: +7965, Insightful)


"I love Saturday morning cartoons, what classic humour! This is what
entertainment is all about ... Idiots, explosives and falling anvils."
-- Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

The problem with people who have no vices is that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273969)

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Since we're all here, we must not be all there.
-- Bob "Mountain" Beck

The end of the human race will be that it will eve (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273970)

(Moderation suggestion: +13128, Insightful)


Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.

Turnaucka's Law: The attention span of a computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273971)

(Moderation suggestion: +8211, Insightful)


Either CONFESS now or we go to "PEOPLE'S COURT"!!

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, t (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1273972)

(Moderation suggestion: +8130, Insightful)


I came; I saw; I fucked up

PENGUINICITY!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274002)

(Moderation suggestion: +13447, Insightful)


FORTUNE REMEMBERS THE GREAT MOTHERS: #5

"And, and, and, and, but, but, but, but!"
-- Mrs. Janice Markowsky, April 8, 1965

Sorry. I forget what I was going to say. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274004)

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I walked on toward Ploughwright, thinking about feces. What a lot we
had found out about the prehistoric past from the study of fossilized
dung of long-vanished animals. A miraculous thing, really; a recovery
from the past from what was carelessly rejected. And in the Middle
Ages, how concerned people who lived close to the world of nature were
with the feces of animals. And what a variety of names they had for
them: the Crotels of a Hare, the Friants of a Boar, the Spraints of
an Otter, the Werderobe of a Badger, the Waggying of a Fox, the Fumets
of a Deer. Surely there might be some words for the material so near
to the heart of Ozy Froats [an academic studying feces] than shit?
What about the Problems of a President, the Backward Passes of a
Footballer, the Deferrals of a Dean, the Odd Volumes of a Librarian,
the Footnotes of a Ph.D., the Low Grades of a Freshman, the Anxieties
of an Untenured Professor?
-- Robertson Davies, "The Rebel Angels"

When you're not looking at it, this fortune is wri (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274005)

(Moderation suggestion: +8400, Insightful)


Keep grandma off the streets -- legalize bingo.

Like so many Americans, she was trying to construc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274007)

(Moderation suggestion: +13751, Insightful)


Death before dishonor. But neither before breakfast.

Excellent day to have a rotten day. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274008)

(Moderation suggestion: +8486, Insightful)


I gave up Smoking, Drinking and Sex. It was the most *__________horrifying* 20
minutes of my life!

"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, an (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274009)

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Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

A language that doesn't have everything is actuall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274010)

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A sense of desolation and uncertainty, of futility, of the baselessness
of aspirations, of the vanity of endeavor, and a thirst for a life giving
water which seems suddenly to have failed, are the signs in conciousness
of this necessary reorganization of our lives.

It is difficult to believe that this state of mind can be produced by the
recognition of such facts as that unsupported stones always fall to the
ground.
-- J.W.N. Sullivan

One of the lessons of history is that nothing is o (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274011)

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"Consequences, Schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich."
-- "Ali Baba Bunny" [1957, Chuck Jones]

FLASH! Intelligence of mankind decreasing. Details (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274012)

(Moderation suggestion: +8740, Insightful)


The study of non-linear physics is like the study of non-elephant
biology.

The strong give up and move away, while the weak g (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#1274013)

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A debugged program is one for which you have not yet found the conditions
that make it fail.
-- Jerry Ogdin

Guess i have to go to chapters tonight (0)

Viruz (73343) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274067)

i love that place
..........sig...........

Re:Why does Tor assume We're Idiots? (1)

Aaron M. Renn (539) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274068)

I'm not sure why Tor started with The Cassini Division instead of The Stone Canal, but IIRC there is some problem with the US rights to the Star Fraction that is delaying its official US release. Tor would dearly love to put that out, but first they're going with The Stone Canal and The Sky Road.

Of particular interest to /. readers... (1)

rafial (4671) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274070)

...the father of the aforementioned libertarian socialist mercenary created a piece of framework software, which was distributed freely on the net, which was so massively useful it became a fundemental part of pretty much every piece of running code in existance.

The kicker comes later in the book where it is revealed than in addition to being massively useful, this code also provides a side door into the information systems of the world, that enables the distributed AI's to survive, and that this was done on purpose. All issues of practicality aside, I enjoyed some fictionalized Free Software being used to bring down the man....

It's also just nice to see SF characters proudly identifying themselves as socialists (and Trotsky socialists no less). The characters in the Star Fraction were ones I would have loved to hang out at the pub with!

Re:Too bad. (1)

rasilon (18267) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274073)

Since most books, films etc. are published in the US, they naturally arrive in the shops there first. It seems that a lot of Americans forget that it takes some time to get them to other countries. It is available from the UK first because it is published here. The only other author I can name off the top of my head for whom this is also true is Terry Pratchett. Don't complain, you get most things before I do.

Re:Topics (1)

LordStrange (19871) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274074)

See Books [slashdot.org] .

They already have one.

Re:Too bad. (1)

GordonMcGregor (27949) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274075)

You can get it at Bookshop.co.uk [bookshop.co.uk] Amazon in the uk probably also carry it (amazon.co.uk)

Unusual to see the tables turned for a change. I had to buy Cryptonomicon from the States because it wasn't going to published in the UK for 9 months after the US date. And I thought it was only films that this happened to...

Very good book. (1)

bil (30433) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274076)

A very fine book indeed, although to get the most out of it you really have to read all four of his books (although you could get away without The Cassini Division).

It might be worth remembering though that the words Libertarian and Socialist have slightly different meanings on this side of the pond (as anyone whos ever heard a Revolutionary Communist Party member describe himself as a "libertarian socialist" and being taken seriously, can attest to).

Bil

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

jovlinger (55075) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274077)

Or is it Iain M Banks? One writes ok fiction, the other writes really amusing space opera. And they bpth live in the same body! But I can never remember which is which.

Science Fiction and politics (1)

jovlinger (55075) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274078)

In general, I prefer science fiction that takes the technology for granted and focusses on the social ascpects of the fictional setting. In this light, I'd like to recommend both


Beggars and Choosers (a trilogy that follows the best to worst progression) by Nancy Kress which postulates that "free" energy would basically lead to cultural breakdown, and also

Distraction by Bruce Sterling, which has socialist tribes as a major political force -- tribes use reputation servers to track individuals' statuses.

Of course, now you have to recommend me something.

PS, if you're sick of SF, Don DeLillo's White Noise is a really good read (at least so far -- half way through).

The alternate universes ... (1)

geekotourist (80163) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274079)

The Sky Road and Cassini are in alternative universes. Without spoilers: the dust jacket summary of Sky Road gives a strong hint. If you've read both, some discussions on rec.art.sf.written might cover the divergence.

MacLeod posts on Usenet, including rasw, and writes about his own beliefs. I found them interesting if for no other reason than few writers are able to have multiple economic systems in a book without making one evil. That he can write without the good/evil split is a sign of strong talent.

all available from www.johnsmith.co.uk (1)

sciuro (97151) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274080)

all four are definitely available from www.johnsmith.co.uk... can't wait for his next one.

rumour has it that he and iain (m) banks are drinking buddies.

iain m banks, though, is lighter sf... far less political.

-duncan

Re:Too bad. (1)

stpeter (112130) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274081)

The Star Fraction is indeed available in the USA, but only from Laissez Faire Books [laissezfaire.org] . Go here [laissezfaire.org] for the page.

Peter Saint-Andre
Editor, Monadnock Review [monadnock.net]

Re:AI Computer-bot runs amuck, takes over (1)

Grab (126025) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274082)

For a good AI story, check out "Halo" by Tom Maddox. Takes some getting into, cos it doesn't ease you into the new environment or give you easy hooks into it, like Gibson and things, but if you check it out and read it a couple of times, it really grows on you.

BTW, anyone know if Tom Maddox has done anything else? Nothing else shows up on Amazon.

Grab.

Re:Ken MacLeod is the Second Coming (1)

desdemona (126153) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274083)

I wouldn't go quite as far as saying that he's the second coming, but he's certainly been a refreshing voice in late 90s sf.
The Star Fraction, his first book, is in my opinion his strongest: although it's got narrative problems, the ideas are incredibly refreshing. What made me sit up and notice was the way in which he articulated the contemporary themes of the U.K. - the U.S. hegemony, republicanism, the 'barb' (Green terrorists), which to switched-on members of Britain today represent the most interesting and dangerous issues. People fighting for the right to use technology is what the book's central issue is about, and yet (as previous people have said) he does make other viewpoints sympathetic. Especially chilling is the U.S./Stasis agents' comment that a release of an autonomous AI into the datasphere makes the major powers utter phrases like 'clean start' - it is certainly something to think about when everything is wired. Also, one of the images that haunts a main character is of US/UN peacekeepers killing his parents: 'when the peace-process was more deadly that the war' (as the blurb put it) - spot on when it was first published in the aftermath of the First Balkan War. Green terrorism is also only too believable in the current environment of the UK : crops being burnt, GM foods made pariah.
The Socialist politics of the book are impressive and refreshing: impressive, given the move towards a consensus of a Centre-Right position in European politics (despite what Tony Blair says!) - that someone dares to keep the old dream alive and update it into something more modern; and refreshing, since cyberpunk (which this book borrows elements from) and most all near-future fantasies give raging capitalism as the background. Ken says (paraphrasing a bit) - 'if socialism is supposed to be more efficient than capitalism, then let us compete with it!' and then creates a world in which it happens - not effectively, but at least with a heart.
As a literary work, however, The Star Fraction is very obviously his first work, and also obviously inspired by Banksian prose. Funny, irreverent, yet unstructured and ill-disciplined. View-points jump around, geography undefined (BTW, for the review, Norlonto is NOrth LOndon TOwn, and the region given is actually at the moment horrendous suburbia in my view) and plot elements skimmed without good cause. It makes for harder reading than is necessary, but still, for science fiction buffs, for people interested in politics small and large (for both feature equally), and for people concerned about the state of science in the UK, it is a must read.

Watch out Duncan! You are in penguin country! (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274084)

One more interesting point to this review - Duncan sent it from vacation, offshore of Antarctica - off of Cape Royds on Ross Island.

Be careful not to harm the wildlife!

From the /. moderator guidelines: If you can't be deep, be funny

sounds cool (1)

vawksee (128372) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274085)

gonna have to go check it out

Too bad. (1)

kwsNI (133721) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274086)

Sounds like a great book, too bad it's only available overseas. Any ideas why they're not selling it here?

kwsNI

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

idiot/savant (142956) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274087)

St Augustine:
Say the word "Marxist" to most Americans (yes, I'm American) and the steel Cheyenne Mountain blast doors close over the eyes and ears

THB:
Every time i see a post such as yours it makes me cringe just a little. As a Canadian who has lived in both Britain and the United States, as well as several other countries, i think your eyes are so closed to what is around you that you cannot see the good in Americans. You present most americans as Ignorant to other's ideas.

But he's right. For the last fifty years or so, Americans have been raised to think that Communists and Socialists are evil people who want to destroy Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Mentioning the word is like waving a red flag (ahem) in front of a bull - you get an immediately hostile reaction.

This doesn't mean that the average American is a bad person. But I think it's fair to say that TAA would be less than open minded about many of the ideas in MacLeod's books. Under these circumstances, it makes sense for Tor to play it safe and try and build up a market before hitting people with ideas that they might not be comfortable with.

Idiot/Savant
"Truth, Justice, and the American Way" is a trademark of DC Comics, Inc.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

idiot/savant (142956) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274088)

Idiot/Savant:
But he's right. For the last fifty years or so, Americans have been raised to think that Communists and Socialists are evil people who want to destroy Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Mentioning the word is like waving a red flag (ahem) in front of a bull - you get an immediately hostile reaction.

THB:
your opinion is that of someone quite far left(strong socialist).

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Idiot/Savant

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

idiot/savant (142956) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274089)

Anonymous Coward [signed THB]:
I'm a Canadian, i just believe that your political beliefs cloud your viewpoint on Americans.

What political beliefs?

I've offered the opinion that Americans, in general, are anti-Communist. I've offered an explanation for this - that for a long time they felt threatened by Communism. I could have said that it was because Americans believed Communism to be an evil philosophy which ignored and undermined the rights of the individual, but that would have been an equally psychological explanation.

I've expressed neither approval nor disapproval of this attitude, or its causes. I have said that these attitudes may cause some market resistance to MacLeod's books, but I think that's blindingly obvious, on the level of "Salman Rushdie won't sell well in Saudi Arabia", or "Darwin won't sell in Kansas". Again, where's the politics?

In fact, I've expressed no political opinion or allegiance whatsoever in my postings, yet I have been labelled as "far left". Was it something I said? Or perhaps something I didn't say?

Idiot/Savant

good sources in the US for overseas books (1)

romkey (145460) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274090)

I've used the Advanced Book Exchange [abebooks.com] several times to find sources in the US for books published overseas. They act as a front end for a lot of small booksellers who list their catalog.

You could also try Alibris [alibris.com] - I have no experience with them myself...and, of course, you can always order through the link given above for Amazon.CO.UK.

I've enjoyed Ken McLeod's other books but haven't read Star Fraction yet.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

Matthew J. Francis (152914) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274091)

> (the last two being alternative endings that exist in different universes)

Not so. The timeline is skewed a bit by the whole New Mars plotline (don't you just love relativity :), but sticking with "logical time", the chronological book order is:

The Star Fraction
The Sky Road
The Stone Canal
The Cassini Division

There's no alternative-ness in The Sky Road - it occurs between the time of The Star Fraction (near-ish future)
and the Singularity (Stone Canal / Cassini Division), and retrospectively fills in a bit of
the history of what happened in between the two.

All four are excellent books that I've enthusiastically recommended to anyone who'll listen for ages now. My own favourite is probably The Stone Canal though :)

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (1)

pnh (153690) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274092)

Charlie Stross quotes me as saying that The Star Fraction "will be published in the USA, but after the other books."

I don't think I would categorically state plans for publishing a book we don't own the rights to. We own the rights to the other three MacLeod books. I suspect we'll make an offer on The Star Fraction at such time as we discuss his next book with his agent. I'd like to publish it in the US. But right now we don't own it and we don't have a firm plan for it.

All this being said, I really wonder why the Slashdot review lists The Star Fraction as a Tor book, while giving the ISBN of the Orbit (UK) paperback. I guess these little glitches happen when your reviewer is filing from Antarctica...

Re:Available in Canada (1)

pnh (153690) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274093)

I was shocked to see Tor put out The Cassini Division, given the politics of most of its stable of writers.

I think you don't know very much about the politics of most of our "stable of writers"! Ken MacLeod isn't even the first Trot on our list. Or the second.

I'd rather not pigeonhole a lot of particular authors' politics for them. But looking at our schedule for the next two years, I see as many writers who I personally know to tilt left as writers who I personally know to tilt right. For every Poul Anderson, a Suzy McKee Charnas. We're pleased to publish them all.

I'm the manager of the SF line, and I'm an American left-winger with streaks of both libertarianism and old-fashioned Catholic social progressivism. (Parse that!) The editor at Tor who hired me ten years ago, my mentor, is an avowed anarcho-syndicalist. Our boss, publisher Tom Doherty, is a moderate conservative with strong live-and-let-live impulses and a passionate desire for large infrastructure development.

One of the more interesting things about science fiction is the way that, within it, writers of extremely divergent political views have often managed a better level of discourse and argument than their mainstream counterparts. Samuel R. Delany, for instance, has written with great clarity on Robert A. Heinlein, starting with the observation that the conservative Balzac was "one of Marx's favorite writers, and Heinlein is one of mine." SF is where an extremely hard-nosed self-described "Marxian" like John Barnes can wind up writing a story in an anthology of libertarian SF -- a story that brilliantly explodes all the cliches of libertarian SF, but which was included by the libertarian editors anyway. It's a field in which Poul Anderson generously proffers an advance quote praising Pacific Edge, a very left-wing utopian novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. And it's where Ken MacLeod can write novels that ask (as he put it in his Vector interview), "what if the socialist critique of capitalism and the libertarian critique of socialism are both true?"

If you find that it seems like most SF and fantasy writers are either conservatives, libertarians, or moderate liberals, it may be that this is because you're mostly familiar with an older generation of SF and fantasy writers. And it may be that some of those folks' politics aren't quite as simple as you're making them out to be. There's an immense amount of boring normative crap in SF, human frailty being what it is. But the best SF proceeds from John W. Campbell's demand that we "ask the next question." Every so often, you get to see writers do this to their own most cherished beliefs and prejudices, and for me that's when the whole game becomes worthwhile.

Re:Why does Tor assume We're Idiots? (1)

pnh (153690) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274094)

Nah, we don't assume readers are idiots. But I do think that if we'd started with The Star Fraction, Ken would have been fixed in many booksellers' minds as yet another British SF author with a negligible potential American audience. We would have shipped about 2500 hardcover copies, and been lucky to sell half that.

We probably could have as easily started with The Stone Canal, which is really the anchor book of the whole tetralogy. The fact is, we started with The Cassini Division because that's the MacLeod book that made me wake up and go Holy Shit, after which I immediately dashed back to take a second look at the first two. Tests performed on a few other readers yielded the same result.

It's very hard to get American booksellers heated up over unestablished British SF authors. Whatever the folly of starting with TCD, we seem to have successfully established MacLeod at a much higher distribution level than such writers usually get over here. And, as I remarked on Usenet, everywhere I go it seems SF readers are arguing about whether we were crazy to start with The Cassini Division, and I find it very difficult to see this as evidence that we did something wrong... :-)

(By the way, I don't know if it's been noted anywhere in these threads, but our edition of The Stone Canal is now out. To be followed by The Sky Road in August, at which point The Cassini Division will also appear in paperback.

Two things.. (2)

Bill Currie (487) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274095)

1) I beleive it's available in New Zealand (I got it from the library here twice, in two different cities).

2) I thoroughly enjoyed the book (heck, I did read it twice:) and recommend it to anyone who can find it.

3) (Three things!) Gotta love that Kalishnikov (?). That was one hell of a gun.

Not only does the Star Fraction go into politics and AI, it also covers computer virii and virtual reality. A very thought provoking book.

Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

charlie (1328) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274096)

The Star Fraction is actually volume #1 of a loosely-linked trilogy with four volumes (the last two being alternative endings that exist in different universes); the second book is "The Stone Canal", followed by either "The Cassini Division" or "The Sky Road".

Oddly, Tor Books [tor.com] , his US publisher, decided to start with "The Cassini Division" (arguably the weakest book) then follow up with "The Stone Canal".

According to Patrick Neilsen-Hayden of Tor (posting on rec.arts.sf.written), "The Star Fraction" will be published in the USA, but after the other books. If you really can't wait, you can probably find it at Waterstones [waterstones.co.uk] (large UK bookseller with e-tailer outlet).

(Personally, I rate Ken as one of the two most important Scottish SF writers currently working -- the other being Iain Banks. Highly recommended!)

Available in Canada (2)

vlax (1809) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274097)

...which is where I'm getting my copy, the next time I'm back in Canada. Try www.chapters.ca.

It's novels like this that give me some hope that the left might still have some place in English-language science fiction. The dominance of reactionary capitalists in SF is getting really old, and awfully annoying. I've had all I can take of retread space army stories, lawless "high frontiers" stolen from a largely mythical memory of the Old West and how either welfare or environmentalism will destroy America. Enough is enough! (This means you, Jerry Pournelle!)

I was shocked to see Tor put out The Cassini Division, given the politics of most of its stable of writers.

Ken MacLeod's left seems to be a materialist (in the old-fashioned Marxist sense), pragmatic, moderately revolutionary and not even vaguely Green left. He takes a very dim view of the Greens in The Sky Road and proposes a socialism based on only the most cynical view of human nature in The Cassini Division. It's a socialism which expects people to do whatever they think they can get away with.

He obviously has little truck with American academic Marxism or luddite Green sentiments. Oddly, this makes him seem more conservative than most of the American right, who seem to want to tear the country down and rebuild it, in the same way the left did 30 years ago.

I suspect he's something of a reformed Scotish Trotskyite, but I'm just guessing. I note that his socialist revolution is, and can only be, global. That is the traditional position of the Trots.

Anyway, he's putting forward interesting ideas and the two books I've read (The Sky Road and The Cassini Division) are well worht reading.

Most of his ideas aren't new per se, but with the left in such a dismal state in the anglophone world these last 20 years, I suspect they will seem new to his audience.

Re:Available in Canada (minor rant) (2)

vlax (1809) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274098)

Asimov is dead. So is Brunner. LeGuin is way past her best years and so is Moorcock. I am encouraged by Iain Banks's books and occaisionally Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson. No, not all SF is right-wing, but not much on the left side has been coming out in recent years.

I'll have to read Freedom and Necessity although Hegel's philosophy isn't exactly my cup of tea. I may have to reevalutate Tor, although a look at their 2000 publishing schedule isn't encouraging. There are two MacLeod book (The Stone Canal and The Sky Road), but there is also a James Hogan novel, a David Drake, Larry Niven (who admittedly is a lot less political when Pournelle isn't around), Vernor Vinge, Poul Anderson and Glen Cook.

There are a few who could be viewed as moderately liberal on their calendar too - Frederick Pohl and Orson Scott Card and perhaps Piers Anthony - but not by me.

I'm not a beliver in censorship - if Tor can make money selling this stuff I'm not bothered to see it on shelves - but I remember the days when SF was a liberal medium where people looked forward to a future of equality and democracy. Back then, a utopia was a place where everyone had a place to live and food to eat and a chance to better themselves, not a place where the rich make the rules and the poor take whatever scraps are left.

No, of course not all SF is right-wing, but more and more of what you can actually find on the shelves is either Tom Clancy wannabes or dull space opera. I suppose Sturgeon's rule still applies: 90% of everything is crap. A lot of the old leftist SF was also, no question, crap.

But there was a time when people like Norman Spinrad and John Brunner were big names who put out a book a year, and the cyberpunks were taking a big bite out of utopian fantasies on both the left and right. Now, I find only a handful of SF authors willing to look at social issues without some kind of right libertarian perspective, and most of those are Greens (blech!)

As a leftist, I find the return to a rational, technologically literate liberal (and even socialist) SF to be a real breath of fresh air, and I desperately hope this is a trend that will continue.

Re:Available in Canada (minor rant) (2)

vlax (1809) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274099)

I guess you could make the point that we're getting right-wing pablum nowadays instead of left-wing pablum. Indeed, I might just agree with you on that one.

I've never developed much of a taste for Moorcock, so I'll take your word that his current work is much improved.

Heinlein - now there was a conservative one could enjoy (mostly - after 1980 I have to wonder about his overall mental health. Expanded Universe has to be one of the worst things he ever wrote.) At any rate, there certainly isn't anyone talking politics in SF today of that calibre. Certainly, as much as I disagree with him, I can at least see where he's coming from.

As for H. Beam Piper, I never took him very seriously, and you're right that Niven and Anderson have already done their best work.

I love Delaney's novels, mostly. Triton is great, and Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand is one of my all time, favourite SF novels. Dhalgren, however, just confuses the hell out of me. Delaney is most of what I still respect about postmodernism.

I've lived roughly half my life in the States, so I'll give The Intuitionist a shot.

We'll have to differ about Glen Cook. He was certainly well to the right of centre in the 70's and 80's. None of your points strike me as especially liberal. Cynical, maybe, but not liberal.

Are you sure you're a right libertarian? As long as you're willing to conceed that government does have some valid functions in maintaining high standards of living other than simply running the courts and police, I suspect there's room for you on this side of the fence if you want to defect. The Greens may be Luddites, but the rest of us aren't. Certainly your literary tastes won't be a barrier. :^)

Re:Too bad. (2)

caolan (2716) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274100)

For years I've felt the same way in the other direction. Books, movies games etc. Distributers seem to have neer gotten the hang of the modern world. Somewhere lodged in their mind they feel that a book or a movie must be released for months in one part of the world before it comes out in another. I assume that it allows them to hedge their bets as to how popular a book is. If it does crap in market a, they might not bother to release it in market b.

The mildly amusing issue is that many of us are buying our books online across national boundaries, so when the publishers of this book bring it out in the states it probably won't sell as well in the states as it would in days gone by when you couldn't easily buy it direct. So their figures will become skewed, assumptions now that a book will be very popular in say Europe because it sold a stack in the US will be just plain wrong unless the amount sold online from the states to Europe are factored in.

Its hardly relevent yet as the figures involved are still tiny in terms of the older distribution networks, but something to keep an eye on.

Maybe it will force smaller lead times on books to keep business away from amazon et al or maybe it will lead to the complete opposite where noone republishes an american book in europe or visa versa, but instead just posts the damn things around the world :-)

C.

AI Computer-bot runs amuck, takes over (2)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274101)

The idea of a life form springing from the silicon is opposed by those - both ignorant and computer literate

Geez, it that old bug-a-boo still a staple of sci-fi? I'll beleive that "scientist creates monster that turns on it's creator" when I see it; like 'consciousness', it's nowhere in sight.

CSMA/CD race driver.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

st. augustine (14437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274102)


Oddly, Tor Books, his US publisher, decided to start with "The Cassini Division" (arguably the weakest book) then follow up with "The Stone Canal".

It's not that odd, really; Cassini Division is the easiest for an American audience to digest since it doesn't have all the British leftist politics the other three do. :) Say the word "Marxist" to most Americans (yes, I'm American) and the steel Cheyenne Mountain blast doors close over the eyes and ears; ask them to accept a radical union activist as a protagonist? The US as an oppressive world government? The UN as a tool of the US government, and not the other way around? Better to let them ease into it slowly.

(P.S. IMHO, Sky Road is weaker than Cassini Division, and so are the 'past' parts of Stone Canal... but the 'future' parts more than make up for it. :))

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

st. augustine (14437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274103)

Hey, I am an American, and in my experience, most of the Americans I meet are ignorant of and somewhat hostile to other people's ideas. :)

I was being a bit sarcastic. But seriously, for a lot of Americans words like "socialism", "communism", and "Marx" seems to set off a certain, trained but still gut-level negative response that it takes some work to get past.

I would never assume that any individual American I meet isn't open to new ideas; but I also have a fairly decent idea of what works in a twenty-second sound bite (or on the back of a book cover) and what doesn't work except as part of an extended rational discussion.

I'm not claiming that Americans are more closed-minded than anyone else (though I think a case could be made that the average American is more closed-minded than the average European; possibly because the average European has been forced from an early age to deal with both European and American cultures and ideologies, and the average American hasn't).

The point I was trying to make about MacLeod's books is that they're easier to digest if you don't think that socialism is a dirty word -- which most Americans do, at first hearing.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

st. augustine (14437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274104)

your opinion is that of someone quite far left(strong socialist).

Actually, I consider myself not far to the left of the American mainstream. Certainly I believe in free markets and private ownership -- at least if the alternative is state socialism and (at least with current knowledge, skills, and technology) central planning. I also believe in trade unions and consumer protection.

From my view (centralist), while the US is right politically, there is little resistance to socialist ideals, besides dismissing them as ineffective. Communism is a very different matter, but i feel that this is rightfully so. While now is not the time to start a debate on communism,

-- agreed --

because communism is so far to the extreme the only way to maintain it is with a dictatorship. This leads to a situation much like that of fascism, which is treated very similar to communism in the US. This leads me to believe that the ideals of dictatorship are more of the concern to Americans, and not socialist politics.

No offense, but this is exactly the sort of thing I mean -- the assumption that communist == totalitarian makes it very difficult to continue to have a rational discussion once the word "communism" comes up. MacLeod's books -- plausibly or not depends on your viewpoint -- present anarcho-communism without dictatorship. (So do Iain M. Banks' -- though unlike MacLeod, Banks never uses the word.) The fact that "communism" is portrayed as a word with positive connotations even vis-a-vis "socialism" in The Star Fraction makes it, IMHO, more difficult for an American audience to digest than The Cassini Division, even though The Star Fraction is probably the better novel.

I think that you are mistaking the strong corporate lobby in the US for the ideals of the citizens and leaders, although the leaders will do much for money (this is the biggest flaw in the country).

Actually, I'm working from conversations with individuals, here -- it's hard to get the corporate lobby to read books. :)

Well thank you for making your post intellegent, it makes it much easier to have a resonalble debate on an issue.

No problem. :)

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

THB (61664) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274105)

Every time i see a post such as yours it makes me cringe just a little. As a Canadian who has lived in both Britain and the United States, as well as several other countries, i think your eyes are so closed to what is around you that you cannot see the good in Americans. You present most americans as Ignorant to other's ideas. In doing this you are closing your eyes and ears, and become the ignorant one. I do not mean to insult you, only to point out something that i see far to often on slashdot.
Please don't flame me, but rational responses would be appreciated.

Re:Available in Canada (2)

THB (61664) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274106)

He writes books that take ideas seriously, even those he personally disagrees with. This makes the man worth his weight in diamonds.

This one skill is not just valuable for writers, but for every single person. We tend to only limit our thoughts only to what we personally believe in, considering the rest as hearsay. By being able to actually see an issue from another viewpoint is what rational really is. I took a Political science course in University, and in it we were told to write an essay defending an opinion and one attacking the same opinion. In doing that i gained more insight than i ever would have only defending the position, and i urge everyone to try this before attacking someone else's opinion.

Re:Part of a four-volume trilogy ... (2)

THB (61664) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274107)

your opinion is that of someone quite far left(strong socialist). From my view (centralist), while the US is right politically, there is little resistance to socialist ideals, besides dismissing them as ineffective. Communism is a very different matter, but i feel that this is rightfully so. While now is not the time to start a debate on communism, because communism is so far to the extreme the only way to maintain it is with a dictatorship. This leads to a situation much like that of fascism, which is treated very similar to communism in the US. This leads me to believe that the ideals of dictatorship are more of the concern to Americans, and not socialist politics.
I think that you are mistaking the strong corporate lobby in the US for the ideals of the citizens and leaders, although the leaders will do much for money (this is the biggest flaw in the country).

Well thank you for making your post intellegent, it makes it much easier to have a resonalble debate on an issue.

Topics (2)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274108)

It would be nice if there was a "reviews" topic, given the increasing number of book reviews showing up here.

They're just starting to publish him here. (2)

melancholy_dane (74490) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274109)

Another of MacLeod's books, "Cassini Division" is indeed available in the states here [amazon.com] . It takes place in the same world with the same characters. I'm not sure about the order of the series but there aren't any real spoilers in the books at all. A review of the Cassini division can be found on Salon [salon.com] .

New Fiction, old bug-a-boos (2)

geekotourist (80163) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274110)

Geez, it that old bug-a-boo still a staple of sci-fi?

Writers still try the concept because it's really hard to pull off right. Describing post-singularity people / beings has to have the feel of a child describing adults- "we don't understand them, but they understand us and can predict our actions; they make arbitrary rules (Eat the Cauliflower! Don't eat the dirt!); they carry us about without much choice on our part"- with the "child" being intelligent adult humans. They aren't published that often, but when they are- Five Star Mental Dining: McLeod, Egan, Vinge, Benford (present topic, Diaspora, Fire Upon the Deep, Great Sky River...).


SF, to be SF, must be a logical continuation or extrapolation from what we know is possible given our science, or plausible given our behavior (with perhaps one suspension of disbelief allowed per universe, a coupon often redeemed for FTL travel. The best writing feels plausible and doesn't require the SoD). Post-singularity fiction usually is flavored with a mix of four events or behaviors we've experienced:

  • Country creates colony. Colony turns against it. Fight ensues, hideous results follow, perhaps even reaching country's soil. (Britain, US; France, Algeria; Belgium, Congo)
  • Person thinks up technology. Technology used in unintended and unwanted ways. (Guillotine, Westinghouse/Tesla (and the electric chair), Einstein)
  • People thinks up technology. They don't expect where it goes or how large it gets (arpa, computers, most of science and technology)
  • Child contemplates adults, adults can be good or bad.


The older-style "monster turns on master" books tend to not be this complex. They'll have the feel of only one event: Arm the barbarians, the barbarians take over civilization and ruin it. There is little sense that the new beings inhabit a word that is bigger than ours- more science, more complex interactions between beings, things happen that we can't quite understand.


So yes, its still around, although not as a "staple"- books this rich can't be done by the ordinary line chefs of SF.

Re:Too bad. (2)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274111)

Sounds like a great book, too bad it's only available overseas. Any ideas why they're not selling it here?

Book companies usually sell authors who have great appeal or who are in the business of making the book chain money. If I just start publishing something I am not likely to get Barnes and Noble to put it on their shelves.

Different Takes on Star Fraction (2)

StefZodiak (152889) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274112)

You know, its quite interesting to see someone else's different take on the 'Fast Minds' portrayed in the book. From what we gather (and this isnt a spoiler as its detailed about a 1/3rd of the way through the book) the uploaded consciousness of the 'Fast Minds' arent AI at all, but rather humans who have evolved into being so far _removed_ from humans as to be 'considered' AI. (there is AI in the form of certain robots on the 'colony' planet, but that is hardly 'emerging' at any rate :]

So from _that_ perspective its not really a book all about humanity Vs some alien threat (AI/unknown alien destroyers/Y2k) but more a look at humanity Vs humanity (also re-enforced by the Progressive Communism Vs Libertarianism Vs Fascism and also the Continuation vs Rebirth theme)

The only true 'alien' in this book (or the series of these books) is the aliens that man creates _from_ man.

StefZodiak

ps. the setting is _very_ descriptive of Glasgow
(Scotland) which is refreshing.
pps. the cassini division is probably our
favourite from the entire series. DONT miss it
out.

Ken MacLeod is the Second Coming (3)

Aaron M. Renn (539) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274113)

Ok, maybe not quite that, but Ken MacLeod is the best thing to happen to science fiction in a long time. All four of his books are unbelievably great and those not available in the US are well worth special ordering from the UK.

I've written reviews of all of them, available on my web site:

The Star Fracion [urbanophile.com]

The Stone Canal [urbanophile.com]

The Cassini Division [urbanophile.com]

The Sky Road [urbanophile.com]

Note that the Star Fraction is available in bookstores in Canada. A $10 paperback edition is also available in the US via mail order from Laissez-Faire Books [laissezfaire.org]

Do you mean "Stone Canal"? (3)

st. augustine (14437) | more than 14 years ago | (#1274114)

Isn't it Stone Canal in which the 'Fast Folk' first appear, and Cassini Division in which they become the major issue/threat/focus? In Star Fraction it's the 'Blind Watchmaker' -- the god in the machine, the Gibsonian cybernetic überverstand evolving independently out of software -- that everyone's worried about... and which by the end of the book they don't have to worry about any more. Clear the set for the Extropians -- sorry, 'Fast Folk'.

One of the things I find refreshing about MacLeod -- sort of in the way a slap in the face can be refreshing under the right circumstances -- is how casual he is about exterminating whole virtual civilizations; how callously his characters can say "consciousness is an emergent property of carbon" and deny AIs or 'uploaded' humans any sort of civil rights or social equality just because they ain't natural-born human.

The consensus in SF ever since, oh, the Blade Runner days is that a mind is a mind is a mind, and natural/artificial, carbon/silicon, wetware/software makes no difference. MacLeod's work highlights the fact that this is really just one of SF's social conventions, and just because we hold this particular truth to be self-evident doesn't mean the rest of humanity is going to... and not just the screaming anti-science mobs (has anyone actually seen a screaming anti-science mob?) but the smart, competent, and ruthless good guys, too.

And it's also damned refreshing to read something that doesn't take fin-de-millenaire corporate capitalism as the end-all be-all of human existence, for good or evil. Long live the Last International!

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