Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
News Books Media Book Reviews

The Star Fraction 2014

Posted by Hemos
from the more-good-sci-fi dept.
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.
The Star Fraction
author Ken MacLeod
pages 341
publisher Tor Books
rating 9/10
reviewer Duncan Lawie
ISBN 1857238338
summary Summary: A fervent, visceral, exciting venture into a 21st century transformed by inventive politics.

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.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Star Fraction

Comments Filter:
  • 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.
  • Take a look some time with a threshold of 0. Some luser with a script uploaded his fortune file into the thread. There's nothing much interesting to read.

  • ...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!

  • 2K comments!! I remember the days when 1K was first passed.. :) Oh, well, let's go home now..
  • Yeah, that sucks. 1K was passed with a genuine discussion about Iraq bombing (well at least it were not robo posts). Or, well, I need some coffee.
  • 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.
  • See Books [slashdot.org].

    They already have one.

  • 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...

  • 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

  • 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.
  • 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 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 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

  • 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]

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • gonna have to go check it out
  • Sounds like a great book, too bad it's only available overseas. Any ideas why they're not selling it here?

    kwsNI
  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • > (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 :)
  • 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...

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!)

  • ...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.
  • 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.
  • 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. :^)
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. :))

  • 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.

  • 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. :)

  • 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.
  • 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.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by Aaron M. Renn (539) <arenn@urbanophile.com> on Tuesday February 15, 2000 @07:27AM (#1274113) Homepage
    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]

  • by st. augustine (14437) on Tuesday February 15, 2000 @09:01AM (#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!

The tree of research must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of bean counters. -- Alan Kay

Working...