Bewildering Stories

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Book Review:
Ken McLeod, Newton's Wake

by Jerry Wright

Newton's Wake
Author: Ken McLeod
Publisher: TOR
Mass Paper: 352 pages
Price: $7.99
Ken McLeod is one of the "Mad Scotsmen of Science Fiction" and Newton's Wake certainly confirms THAT! This is a rip-roaring Space Opera with all kinds of twists and turns. The novel starts with Lucinda Carlyle leading her crew of Carlyles (a sort of 24th century Scots mafia) through a wormhole gate onto a new planet. Lucinda is young and arrogant and leading her first assault in a search for any sort of post-human tech that can be stolen. Yeah, back near the end of the 21st century, military AIs fighting a war between Arabified Europe and America broke through their firewalls and achieved what was called the "Hard Rapture". Everything changed. The Earth was badly damaged by the rampaging intellects which cared very little, or not at all for the humanity that had created them.

These AIs soon achieved the Singularity, became way more than human, harvested human minds, and took off for parts unknown, leaving behind a skein of wormholes from planet to planet, and sundry pieces of improbable tech. The chunks of humanity left behind include the Carlyles, who discovered and now control the skein, "AO" America Offline, a bunch of farmers who disdain tech, the Knights of Enlightenment, a Japanese consortium who utilize the AI tech primarily by reverse engineering it, and the DK or Demokratische KommunisteBund (or something akin to that) primarily North Koreans and others who weren't directly in the line of AI fire.

Oh, and the planet where Lucinda finds herself? Euridyce, a remote planet settled by humans. But not just any humans. Just before the war, a desperate band of scientists had scanned millions of humans into digital storage and run away in a ship that had been infected by a post-human AI, and had FTLed them to their new home where they were restored to human form.

And that is the canvas upon which McLeod paints his picture. Wild and crazy, funny and sad, with some intriguing characters who will remain with you after the story is over. Winter and Calder, the 21st century folk singers who have been revived (again) this time to help playwright Ben Ben-Ami create his new Space Opera. By the way, Ben Ami loves to steal Shakespeare's plots and even writing occasionally as he comes up with such opuses as "The Madness of George II" and "The Tragedy of Leonard Breznev,Prince of Muscovy" and of course an even wilder amalgam: Jesus Koresh: Martyred Messiah, with "a mild-mannered and modest but strong-willed hero" and "gloating psychopathic villains, the Emperor Reno and the Empress Hilary."

I loved such conceits as the Search Engines, giant tanks fitted with powerful armor and weaponry, allowing them to ravage and steal from various posthuman relics.

McLeod's politics are also here, but well utilized as a scalpel, skewering both right and left. Anyway, Newton's Wake is full of charm and brio, and well worth your time. Beware though, if Charlie Stross's Accelerando left you cold or confused, this one may do the same. My only complaint is the same one I had with Stross's Iron Sunrise. Frequently the language is harsh and full of unnecessarily vile obscenties. At least unnecessary to ME.

Copyright © 2006 Jerry Wright and Bewildering Stories

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