|Series:||Book 1 of Engines of Light|
Matt Cairns is a 21st-century outlaw Programmer who takes on the shady jobs no one else will touch. Against his better judgment, he accepts an assignment to crack the Marshall Titov, a top-secret orbital station operated by the European Space Agency. But what Matt will discover there will propel him on an extraordinary and quite unexpected journey.
Gregor Cairns is an exobiology student and descendant of one of Terra Nova’s first families. Hopelessly infatuated with a lovely young trader’s daughter, he is unaware that his research partner, Elizabeth, has fallen in love with him. Together, Gregor and Elizabeth confront the great work his family began three centuries earlier-to rediscover the secret of interstellar travel.
Ranging from a gritty near-future Earth to a distant alien world, Cosmonaut Keep is contemporary science fiction at its highest level, a visionary epic filled with daring individuals seeking a place for themselves in a vast, complex, and enigmatic universe.
Like a British—specifically, Scottish—counterpart of Bruce Sterling, Ken MacLeod is an SF author who has thought hard about politics and delights in making unlikely alternatives plausible, grippingly readable, and often downright funny.
Cosmonaut Keep swaps between two timelines whose characters share the ultimate goal of interstellar travel. In an uncertain future on the far world of Mingulay, human colonists live in the title’s ancient, alien-built Keep—coexisting with reptilian “saurs,” trading with visiting ships piloted by krakens, and hiding their laborious “Great Work” of developing human-guided navigation between the stars.
Meanwhile, alternate chapters present a mid-21st-century Earth whose EU is (to America’s horror) Russian-dominated with a big red star in the middle of its flag. Rumors of alien contact abound, and computer whiz kid Matt Cairns finds himself carrying a data disk of unknown origin that offers antigravity and a space drive.
Clearly, the later storyline’s Gregor Cairns is Matt’s descendant. There are ingenious connections and surprises, with witty resonances between their wild careers, their travels, and their bumpy love lives. The foreground action adventure points to a bigger picture and a master plan known only to the godlike hive-minds who built the “Second Sphere” of interstellar culture, and who regard traditional SF dreams of unlimited human expansion through space as precisely equivalent to floods of e-mail spam polluting the tranquil galactic net.
Cosmonaut Keep opens MacLeod’s new SF sequence, Engines of Light. It’s highly entertaining and intelligent, promising more good things to come. —David Langford