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Archive for January, 2009

The Star FractionOne of the quotes on the cover of this book is praise from Iain (M) Banks, one of my favourite authors, so, although I don’t go in for science fiction novels so much, I thought this might be pretty decent. It had its good points, but overall it didn’t do too much for me.

Set maybe two or three generations in the future, the novel is all about a fractured society. The big picture is a jigsaw puzzle with various pieces missing, so it can be quite confusing, but it’s possible to put together some idea of how this fractured society has been shaped. Germany, once again, tried to conquer Europe; Britain is therefore ruled, mostly, by the ‘Hanoverian’ regime, but northern Britain is still under the control of the previous, and now rebel, Rebublican government. America has co-opted the UN and the two are generally referred to as the ‘US/UN’ (much like unionists in Northern Ireland used to say ‘Sinn Fein/IRA’). Even within the Hanoverian-controlled areas of England there are a multitude of political fiefdoms – greens, Christians and so on. Hanging above all like Damocles’s sword is Space Defence (which may be independent, or may be under US/UN control, I’m still not entirely clear) which can rain down nukes on anyone it doesn’t like.

All of these forces – and more – come into play in The Star Fraction – which gives you an idea of how complex a picture is painted in the story. It’s overly complex, really. Ken MacLeod may have a solid idea of the world he’s created, but bringing it to life in an intelligible way is another thing entirely. The ambition of it is admirable, as is the absence of spoonfed infodump, but it feels like there’s simply too much subject matter here – which I think is a typical first novel problem.

At least the number of characters is manageable: there are four protagonists – a cynical mercenary, a scientist, a computer specialist (and escapee from a fundamentalist Christian enclave), and another mercenary. By gender, they’re, respectively, male, female, male, female – and they form relationships in that order, too, which is maybe a little too pat (although one relationship doesn’t end exactly happily).

Apart from the complexity of the background, the plot and characters move along perfectly functionally, but the whole thing never really excited me much. Another problem is that it’s, to quite a large degree, exactly the same story as William Gibson’s seminal Neuromancer, which is a) the original and the best, and b) much better written.

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