Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod

July 24, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment
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I had a pretty tepid reaction to Macleod’s first novel, The Star Fraction, but this book, while still not worthy of the adulation the author receives in some quarters, is definitely a step up. This time around, in a format faintly reminiscent of Use of Weapons, the book is spends half its time in the “present” situation and half its time in its sweeping biography of the life and times of its main character, Jonathan Wilde. Although this is a sequel it is my preferred kind of sequel…set in the same universe but not just an extension of the previous book’s story and characters. Wilde, if I remember correctly, was mentioned a few times in Star Fraction but that was it. The events of the first book are referenced but so nebulously they won’t at all be spoiled. As for Stone Canal, it ably employs nearly every trope of the cyberpunk genre but the world building isn’t quite as strong as in the first book…it covers too much ground in time and space to flesh everything out. Fortunately, the character work makes up for it. As before, just about every character (the self-proclaimed apolitical anarchist main character included) are so political they seem like another species. It’s a strange effect here because their politics has very little to do with anything. That, I think, is why Macleod gets away with putting so much politics in his books…all of his characters are such extremists the reader can’t believe the author would hold these beliefs (not to mention how many different political philosophies are represented) so it never seems like preaching. The biggest problem with Stone Canal is the central conflict isn’t too much of a conflict and in the end is resolved extremely easily. After 250 pages of buildup the story is resolved in a couple pages. It was all much too abrupt for me.

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