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    DARK LIGHT by Ken Macleod

    TOR, January 2002

    A group of ancient cosmonauts from Earth itself squabble amongst themselves and with multiple sapient races on a planet ten thousand light years from Earth. Obscure debates about the virtues of anarchy and socialism and whether a republican form of government is a step away from true democracy seem to interest them almost as much as the true meaning of the 'gods' among the asteroid belts.

    Yet the gods are real--if not truly gods. They pursue their own motives and bicker amongst themselves, even as the humans squable on the planet below. They rain gifts on some, but Matt and his fellow cosmonauts wonder whether those gifts have strings attached--strings that may involve yanking occasional light-speed ships into far-distant wars. And suddenly the type of government on this obscure planet matters a great deal. Because if the gods can send humans on a far journey to war on other species, they could also send another species to war on the humans.

    Author Ken Macleod (click here for other reviews of novels by this author) has created an interesting world with a seemingly stable coexistence between multiple sapient species and between stone age and early industrial human societies. The space-travelling families who visit worlds once every couple of centuries provide a destablizing yet progress-rich catalyst to the planet dwellers below. Fans of political fiction may enjoy Macleod's concern for the battles between socialist causes. I suspect, however, that many U.S. readers, at least, will find this portion of the novel to be slow going without any unexpected insights.

    Two Stars

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