Newton’s Wake

September 21st, 2006

Clearly subtitled “A Space Opera,” the first MacLeod book that I’ve read outside the “Fall Revolution” tells it like it is; Space Opera is the word, and the word is fun. Like Stross’ Singularity Sky, MacLeod is spinning an adventure yarn with lots of borderline silly speculative technology in a post-Singularity human-dominated galaxy consisting of occasionally outright silly extremist socio-political constructions. Newton’s Wake is peopled by powerful Glaswegian gangsters, theatrical producers whose works shake whole societies, incomprehensible and insane superhuman AIs, and a couple of misplaced folk singers from the 21st century, just to keep things at an…um, “Earthy” level… In the world of Newton’s Wake, humanity dances a fine line with its technology, always pushing its limits as best it can without setting off another Singularity event like the one that occurred in the middle of the 21st century, sometimes referred to as “The Hard Rapture.” In that event, the Singularity enveloped all of humanity that it could, assimilating their consciousnesses into itself as it accellerated out of control, but eventually it stopped, or disappeared, or went mad, leaving high-tech relics scattered about Earth and elsewhere. One of those relics, discovered by an entrepeneurial displaced Scot on Mars, was a web of wormholes connecting (mostly) human-habitable worlds across the galaxy, with many of them already visited by post-Singularity entities leaving their own high-tech detritus behind. The Carlyles, discoverers of the wormhole system, leveraged salvaging these technologies and new territories into a vast fortune and business empire. Opposing them in the sphere of Galactic-level powers are Zen Technocrats, loosely allied nation-worlds ascribing to a version of Chinese “communism,” and the Neo-Luddite farmer colony society absurdly named “America Offline.” Lucinda Carlyle, a youngster of that clan leading her first exploratory mission through an uncharted wormhole, discovers a unique artifact on a world with more wormhole gates than any ever before discovered, but the artifact is not dead, and nor is the world she has found. It is instead populated by a long lost colony of Terran seperatists. After inadvertantly waking vicious war machines, she’s taken prisoner by the locals for the crime of imprisoning a recorded human consciousness, a common practice where she comes from. In introducing the new world to the galactic society it is surprised to find exists, and in escaping from her captivity, she meets a variety of people ranging the entire spectrum of farmers to individuals obsessed with the Singularity and more machine than human, falls out of favor with just about everyone but the people she formerly despised, dies, is reborn, and has to learn her lessons all over again. Like the other MacLeod books I’ve read, one of the themes of overarching importance is what it means to be a human being, or not, given the seemingly inevitable enhancements to our minds and bodies the future will offer as opportunities and pitfalls. Of less importance than in the “Fall Revolution” books is the political structures that might survive worlds where ubiquitous computing is a reality; although the theme is still present, it’s approached with much more of a sense of fun than the serious business it is portrayed as there. Although it’s characters are occasionally pompous and absurd, if you like Space Operas you’ll know that those are not necessarily drawbacks, but are often characteristic to the genre. If you don’t like Space Opera and gee-whiz, tech-filled, fun, adventure yarns…well, what are you doing reading this far into the review anyway?

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