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Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod

Cosmonaut Keep

by Ken MacLeod

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Engines of Light (1)

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1,0601811,956 (3.34)28
  1. 00
    Dark Light by Ken MacLeod (pgmcc)
    pgmcc: Sames series. The trilogy is more than the sum of the parts.

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» See also 28 mentions

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Another Ken Macleod novel with alternating plotlines and an assumption that the reader will be fairly up to speed with Leftist politics, though not the same factions of the Left explored in the Fall Revolution novels. The near-future plotline in this novel starts out with a Soviet-dominated EU in the aftermath of World War Three (or is it Four? People have lost count) pitched against a fairly Republican and politically active USA, and the way things get confused when the Soviets suddenly announce First Contact with an alien species. It soon becomes clear that this First Contact isn't a new event; the near-future politics get rather thrown into disarray. In the middle of this, the protagonists, an Edinburgh-based hacker, an American freedom fighter (depending on whose viewpoint you adopt) working for West Coast tech money in Europe, and an American flying saucer pilot (no, this one's all our own work) get involved with the race to exploit the new technology the aliens are bringing us.

By the way, the aliens are microbial super-colonies; and they provide one link to the other plotline in the novel.

That plotline takes place in the future, on a distant world colonised from Earth. Humans live in close relations with saurs, reptilian aliens we would identify as Greys, but who have personalities that are both alien and relatable to our sensibilities. They also have a sense of humour that we definitely relate to. Other human-settled worlds also have working relationships with the saurs and the krakens, who navigate starships between the inhabited worlds of this part of the galaxy. The colony world, Mingulay, is well-drawn (though it's fairly clear that it's a thinly-disguised Hebridean island); there are hidden Ancestors, and First Families, and a castle, and pubs, and fishermen who go out in trawlers in oilskins; it all feels very Scottish. One of the First Families has a Great Work, and that will take the humans back to the stars, if they get to collect certain techie plot tokens...

This is very much the first book in a trilogy, although it doesn't end on a cliff-hanger as such and you can read it quite happily on its own. But it's as much about world-building as advancing the plot. And there's fun to be had sorting out how the two plot strands join up. So what starts out looking like another Ian Macleod novel with Scottish socialists plotting and swapping Leftie in-jokes with each other ends as something rather different. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | May 17, 2019 |
The story alternates between a planet, Mingulay, present, and Earth, several generations earlier. On Mingulay humans, saurs, and a couple of other species of more or less the same shape, opposable thumbs, eyes front, etc. live together fairly harmoniously, having been relocated at various times by "the gods" -- a culture of microorganisms (tiny and green, really tiny) for reasons no one understands. There are also kraken on this planet, yep, giant brilliant squid and how they interface with the little greens is never even broached. Only one spaceship has ever arrived independently at Mingulay from Earth, but the saurs, who live far longer than humans and turn up immediately when it arrives and remove the cosmonauts and leave the ship in orbit. These folk have a secret, well, several secrets one of them never really explained to my satisfactions. The Earth story follows Matt Cairns, a super programmer who gets snared into a conspiracy and ends up on the space station building what seems to be an FTL engine while all hell breaks loose on an Earth which appears to have an alternate history (all of Russia and Europe are essentially run by communists). In the Mingulay story a descendant of Matt - one, Gregor Cairns, has been tapped by his family to finish their great project, rediscovering the secret of the FTL drive and getting back on the spaceship. The plot itself was pretty good, but I wasn't much convinced by the love interest side story and there were just too many "convenient" little twists and turns for me -- basically too much stuff stuffed in and definitely wayyyy over my and 99% of even a decently informed cyber-public of the geeky bits. The Mingulay side of the tale was more lively, better paced. The Earth side was just too acronymy, complexly political and geeky. It had its moments and is kind of worth reading especially if you enjoy MacLeod and super geeky stuff. I see it is part of a series -- I won't kill myself seeking out the sequels, but I wouldn't spurn them entirely either. *** ( )
  sibyx | Nov 11, 2017 |
This took forever to read, for a relatively slim book. Too much real world stuff going on, not sure I've given it a fair crack of the whip. I didn't enjoy it as much as some of his others. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
My first book by this author. It's first in the "Engines of Light saga," but, I was pleased to discover, works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel... at the end, of course, there is room to wonder "what happens next" but the characters, and their relationships, all come to a nice stopping-point.

"Cosmonaut Keep" is really 2 novels in one. There are two completely separate plotlines, and the connection between them is not made explicitly clear until chapter 18 (of 21).
In the first one, we meet Gregor and Elizabeth, two young marine biologists living on the planet of Mingulay. Here, humanity co-exists peacefully with the alien saurs (and several other spacegoing races.) Visited by spacegoing traders, the colony does not feel totally cut off... but Gregor's family is involved in a generations-long Great Work - the goal of rediscovering the secrets of interstellar navigation on their own, so that humanity will not have to depend on others for space travel. Drama erupts when Gregor develops a passionate infatuation with the beautiful daughter of a space trader, unaware that his parter Elizabeth has far more than mere friendly feelings for him...

The second plot is far closer to our own time - in a near-future, Russian-dominated EU, computer programmer/hacker Matt is given a disk of information by his dissident girlfriend, Jadey, right before she gets arrested. Matt flees to the still-capitalist U.S. The disk seems to contain specs for building a flying saucer. Right after he discovers this, the government announces that it has made first contact with intelligent aliens. Soon, Matt finds himself at the center of subversive political and scientific plots, and in an affair with the rah-rah-America test-pilot Camila...

The first plotline reminded me a lot of Anne McCaffrey - the second, more of Bruce Sterling. However, both were enjoyable, with a good mix of ideas and old-fashioned soap-opera. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Cosmonaut Keep has a peculiar structure that alternates chapters between a first-person account set in the mid-21st century on and near Earth, and a third-person narrative an unknown number of centuries later on the planet Mingualay within a remote interstellar polity called the "Second Sphere." The protagonist of the later thread is evidently the great-grandson of the hero in the earlier one. Both lines of narrative read quickly, although there is more "action" in the terrestrial one, and the alternating structure allows for the routine creation of cliffhangers and unresolved suspense. The bouncing between first- and third-person narrative voices is awkward at first, but I got used to it, and it was justified in the end.

There are many parallels between the two plot lines. Both stories concern themselves with the human achievement of interstellar travel in the context of encounters with extraterrestrial intelligences. The nature of the aliens is informed by actual 20th- and 21st-century ufological lore, and the 21st-century characters have varying degrees of knowledge about and regard for that body of knowledge. In both threads, there is a lot of attention to politics: Earth politics framed by a conflict between a Soviet-style consolidated socialist EU and the capitalist technocracy of the US, and Mingualayan politics involving different intelligent species of the Second Sphere. There is also a fair amount of love story, or at least "sex story," as the two lead characters each proceed through major amorous relationships.

Cosmonaut Keep is the first volume of a trilogy titled "Engines of Light," and it has impressively satisfying dramatic closure for the opening book of a defined series of this sort. At the same time, the novel opens up a variety of intriguing enigmas that certainly create room for its sequels.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Dec 18, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ken MacLeodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibbons, LeeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martiniere, StephanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0765340739, Mass Market Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:48 -0400)

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When Alexander Cairns made his fortune, he did some gambling - financing interstallar probes to look for other life forms. Now his son has discovered that one of them has sent back evidence of alien intelligence, and a space ark financed by a rival family is obliviously approaching the area.… (more)

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