Beyond the Hallowed Sky by Ken MacLeod (Books 2021, 28)

Ken posted about this on his blog, along with a link to the first chapter on the publisher’s site. I read the chapter and instantly ordered the book from my local bookshop. Finished it on New Year’s Day, so it counts as 2021.

He describes it as ‘the first volume of the Lightspeed Trilogy’, and adds that ‘the second volume is well underway.’ Which is fine, but I usually make it a rule not to start unfinished serieses. So not so much a rule as a preference, let’s say.

This particular book ends in a way that is satisfactorily complete, but open enough for the followups to go in all sorts of directions. Plenty of unanswered questions, but none so burning that the wait should be annoying.

It’s set in 2070, after that initial chapter which is three years earlier. Humanity is about to develop lightspeed travel. Or it already has. What intelligences will be waiting out there? Some people think the answer is ‘none’, because of the Fermi Paradox.

The political situation is interesting. The countries of the world have largely coalesced into three blocks: the Alliance, which is the Anglosphere minus Scotland and Ireland, but including India; the Union, which is most of Europe including Scotland and Ireland; and the Coordinated States, which is Russia and China. We don’t hear anything about Africa or the Middle East. There has been (or is ongoing) an event called the Cold Revolution.

Also artificial intelligences are commonplace, including androids that are essentially indistinguishable from humans.

And if you need to build a starship, obviously you’re going to add the FTL drive to a submarine. And where do you build such ships? On the Clyde, of course. A lot of this is set in places from my childhood, which is fun for me.

Newton's Wake: A Space Opera, by Ken MacLeod (books 2008, 7)

A scorching, searing cyberpunk space opera. It has _everything_ in it: FTL starships, uploaded minds, nanotech, the Singularity, wormhole gateways... Absolutely stunning stuff.

Though on the downside, I did find it bit hard to follow some of the plot twists and turns. Specifically, it wasn’t always immediately obvious to me why some of the alliances and disputes between the various factions happened. I expect a more careful reading, or retracing of my steps, would have resolved those difficulties. But such was the pace of the plot that I didn’t want to.

I loved some of the terminology. Travelling faster than light, for example, is called ‘fittling’ (from FTL). The technological singularity is called the ‘hard rapture’. I especially like that Ken has grabbed the term ‘Rapture’ from the weirdo fundamentalists christians who believe Jesus is going to come back and sweep them all up to heaven. The Googleplex (for example) becoming self-aware and sucking up everyone’s mindstate is far more likely, if you ask me. Which is not saying a lot about its likelihood…

One of the groupings of humanity that have survived through the hard rapture, and remain players on galactic stage, are called the Carlyles. They started out as a Glasgow gang, basically. They were based in something called ‘The Castle on the Clyde’, which I’d like to hear more about. Then there’s AO: America Offline. They didn’t get uploaded because they weren’t connected to the net.

This means that the two main dialects of the language everyone speaks are called ‘American’ and ‘English’; but the ‘English’ is rendered partly in Scots. Good fun.

I haven’t read any of Ken’s stuff for a while (aside from his blog, obviously). That’s a situation I need to put right forthwith. But first I think I should go back to the start, and dig The Star Fraction out of the attic.