I got this sometime back from one of the publicists from Audible sometime back but hadn’t gotten around to listening to it until this past week. Now I’m sorry that I didn’t give it a listen sooner! It was a most splendid experience.
First I was delighted to discover that, as I have a liking for near future dystopias, to discover that it was set in a Britain that has severely fractured, has suffered at least one revolution and apparently a counter-revolution, and is now a Republic under a restored House of Hanover to the Throne. (Queen Victoria was the last in that line which ruled Britain from 1714 to 1901!) But it’s even more fractured than that makes it apparent as there’s a reference to North London being an area free from the security apparatus of the US / UN which bans certain lines of research by anyone to the point of banning knowledge of what those lines are. This makes it similar to Europe in David Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn novel in terms of fractured nation-states.
Add in that the likes of Black Water mercenary group of our present day are so common that they’re all competing for contracts to go fight in low intensity wars, provide corporate security (see first note in this sentence), and personal security as well. It’s like a bad case of future shock, or as the author puts it in the American ebook edition:
History is the trade secret of science fiction, and theories of history are its invisible engine. One such theory is that society evolves because people’s relationship with nature tends to change more radically and rapidly than their relationships with each other. Technology outpaces law and custom. From this mismatch, upheavals ensue. Society either moves up to a new stage with more scope for the new technology, or the technology is crushed to fit the confines of the old society.
Ideas are fine but any novel worth reading (in my opinion) needs individuals that interesting and more than a bit sympathetic. One is Moh Kohn, a Trodkyist security mercenary for hire who has a gun he’s built into being very close to an AI (something the anti-AI faction who kill him for) that’s far more than a mere gun; another is Janis Taine, a genetic researcher looking for better memory enhancements who’s run afoul of the aforementioned US / UN security apparatus; and Jordan, a seventeen year-old hacker who’s going to get in serious trouble for going where he knew he shouldn’t go.
The final character is The Watchmaker, an AI who’s broken loose of the constraints imposed by US / UN security apparatus, and something that the anti-technologists loathe and fear at the same time.
MacLeod’s writing in this novel is very similar in its complexity and denseness to The Culture books of Iain M. Banks and the Revelation Space series of Alastair Reynolds.
Stephen Crossley, the narrator, is quite excellent. He handles technobabble and varying accents quite well. Need I say that Audible Studio did a magnificent job of production as they always do? Highly recommended for any who likes a great story.
A postscript of sorts. Most online reviewers have condemned this novel for being, and I quote one such person, as saying the novel is ‘2% science fiction and 98% politics’. It is very political as his premise is a severe fragmentation of both nation states and personal affiliations along political niches exists such as the employer of Moh Kohn which is a Trodkyist mercenary contractor LLC.
The author was a Trodkyist during the late 70s and early 80s but was against Scottish Independence, so his politics are unclear.
(Audible Studios, 2012)