Cosmonaut Keep (Engines of Light 01) by Ken MacLeod

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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.

My impressions:

Reading this one was like sifting rabble from gold. You theoretically knew there must be a gold nugget or two there somewhere but you saw just the rubble. You theoretically knew it should have been worth your while but, after a chapter or two, you were feeling bored. Yes, I mean here a book which was a 2002 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel. It somehow didn’t work for me although, once again theoretically, it should have.

Conceptually the book was interesting. It is divided into two parts, an important piece of info which makes the narrative far more understandable. The “present” timeline takes place in an alternate world where the EU is part of a larger Communist bloc (no kidding) and where alien technology, specifically a starship and drive, are being discovered. It follows one Matt Cairns as he goes from Edinburgh, Scotland to Area 51 in New Mexico to a space station and the future. The “future” narrative takes place on a world called Mingulay, which is inhabited by humans and saurs, intelligent descendants of the terrestrial dinosaurs. Everything is peppered with delicious tidbits like dice in a form of a Schrodinger’s cat and, after a while, you can spot connections of these dual timelines.

Still the characters seemed far less enticing than the whole sci-fi stuff, surrounding them. I mean here especially female characters but in reality it applies to all of them. I couldn’t connect with any of the heroes or heroines and, after a while, I stopped to care about their fate and adventures. What is worse than a bunch of characters which don’t make you feel anything? Incomprehensible pseudo-scientific babble which made itself felt particularly in the first 70 pages. Or a love triangle.

Final verdict:

I wanted to be charmed by this one but it left me sorely disappointed. Meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

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7 Responses to Cosmonaut Keep (Engines of Light 01) by Ken MacLeod

  1. blodeuedd says:

    Oh no, not meh cat again

  2. heidenkind says:

    The summary alone was enough to make me snooze

  3. Carole Rae says:

    Saurs sound weird.

  4. Melfka says:

    I find it that many of the books that were great in their times, don’t live up to the expectations of the contemporary readers.
    By the way, have you read another classic? Babel-17 by Delany? It’s not perfect, but it’s about language and might help you to cleanse your palate (mind you, it’s NOT another “Stories of your life”).

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