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    Review of NEWTON'S WAKE by Ken MacLeod


    TOR, June 2004

    The war between Europe and the United States ended abruptly (although not before huge destruction) when the U.S. artifical intelligences jumped the firewalls and subsumed much of the human population. For moments, the hugely grown artificial intelligence was all-powerful, then, it vanished into infinity, too vast to be comprehended or even bothered by the petty wars and struggles left behind. Most of humanity was caught up in the 'rapture.' A few groups, though--America Offline descended from rural out-of-touch farmers, the Knights of Enlightenment--descendents of surviving Japanese and Chinese, Kemokratische Kommunistbund--northern Koreans cut off from computers by their governments isolationism, and a family of Scottish bandits (combat archeologists) who mostly control the tunnels between the stars. When Lucinda Carlyle of the Scots family stumbles across a planet settled by humans who had been on Mars at the time of the Rapture, everything changes. The inhabitants of Eurydice have access to the wormholes between the stars in a new way that puts the Carlyles to shame. But will the new variable in the equation mean war? And even in Eurydice, ancient rivalries between those who wanted to flee the solar system and those who hoped to save the humans forced into the artificial intelligence remain. Now, for the first time, it might actually be possible to realize that dream.

    Author Ken MacLeod (see more reviews of novels by MacLeod) creates an intriguing universe and populates it with authentic characters and a touch of humor. He calls NEWTON'S WAKE a 'Space Opera,' and it does contain excitement, space travel, and youthful characters attempting to survive terrible mistakes and outrageous odds, but WAKE is much more thoughtful than an old-fashioned space opera. MacLeod asks fundamental questions about humanity, our future, and the nature of our goals--and provides only hints of an answer in the context of an entertaining story. Trust me, it works.

    MacLeod is firmly tongue-in-cheek with his playwright, Benjamin Ben-Ami and his plays, including the 'Tragedy of Leonid Brezhnev,' 'The Madness of George II' and Jesus Koresh. I enjoyed the way MacLeod integrated his political beliefs into the story, unlike the more heavy-handed approach he had used in the earlier (but still enjoyable) books reviewed on this site. MacLeod is maturing as a writer, creating in layers now that make his work far more approachable, yet every bit as complex and thoughtful as his earlier novels.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 8/07/04

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