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The Restoration Game
Ken MacLeod
Pyr, 259 pages

The Restoration Game
Ken MacLeod
Ken MacLeod was born in Stornoway, on Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1954. Since graduating zoology at the University of Glasgow, he worked as a computer programmer and has found time to complete a Masters thesis in biomechanics. He's been married to his wife Carol since 1981, and has two children.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Human Front
SF Site Review: Newton's Wake
SF Site Review: The Human Front
SF Site Review: Cosmonaut Keep

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Ken MacLeod's The Restoration Game is a techno-thriller, though it's more precisely a geek-thriller (have I just invented a new subgenre?) in that the first person narrator, Lucy Stone, is an online game developer for a company called Small Worlds (one of number of jokes underpinning the novel's plotline). However, Lucy isn't so much a geek as a "chicks-kick butt"-styled heroine who is usually the smartest one in a room full of clueless testosterone. The real geeks, or at least the stereotypical depiction of "real" geeks, are mostly on the sidelines as good-natured objects of humorous derision.

  "…so we looked for some way to get Romans on Mars…No seriously," said the ponytailed guy. "We worked it all out…the upshot is you get the Industrial Revolution about AD 30 instead of AD 1800, except there's no AD of course, and space flight AD 500 at the earliest, but realistically ha-ha a bit later and anyway even on worst-case assumptions you can easily have Roman astronauts fighting rogue AIs on Mars in what would be our sixteenth century. Hence, our game…"
pgs. 146-147

Fortuitously, Lucy overhears this conversation and points out a flaw in logic that would prevent the premise from turning into a marketable game. In one of numerous strings of coincidences and seemingly happenstance encounters, this leads to her employment at the start-up gaming company, which in turn leads to her adapting a game model to the legends of the Krassniad (yet another one of those jokes), a collection of folk tales that originated in an obscure region in the former Soviet Union called, you guessed it, Krassnia.

You needn't Google "Krassnia" in the oft chance MacLeod might not be offering up a humorous signifier of the legion of thrillers that take place in some made up province that sounds like it would belong somewhere in Eastern Europe, because he tells you right up front it isn't a real place. Or rather, Lucy does.

  There is no such place as Krassnia. If you were to draw it on a map, right where the borders of Russia, Abkhazia, and Georgia meet, and then fill it in, you'd need a fifth colour. On the other hand, Krassnia is a real place. I know because I've been there; heck I was born there.
pgs. 16-17

Lucy is eminently qualified to write an obscure game based on the equally obscure country and its mythology (that may or may not exist) not only because she was born there and has some proficiency in the language, but because her mother asks her to. Why would her mother do this? Because Lucy's mother is an anthropologist whose own mother had something to do with the man who originally collected the Krassniad. A victim of Stalin's Terror, the large scale persecution and purge of the disloyal to the Communist dictator, this man's execution may have less to do with disloyalty to the Fatherland than a secret uncovered by the Krassniad that can't be allowed to get out. And because Lucy's mother is also a CIA operative whose underground Krassnian connections hope to use the game as a surreptitious virtual meeting place for dissident plotting.

Lucy must entangle these connections not only to figure out her place in all this family history, which includes determining who among a number of possible candidates on both sides of the Cold War is her father, but also what potentially world-changing secrets the Krassniad may be hiding.

Although MacLeod tips his hand as to what this is ultimately all about in the prologue (probably intentionally as the premise is hardly ground breaking; in fact, it is a cliché at the level of stranded astronauts turn out to be Adam and Eve), the fun here is the unfolding of the jigsaw puzzle that comprises Lucy's parentage, her love life, and her reality which ultimately serves up the classic espionage and Dickian parable of who are the real good guys, if there are any, and who is manipulating whom and to what real purpose. All the while taking pot shots at the conventions of the spy and science fiction genres, as well as Lovecraftian horror, Tolkien-inspired role playing, leftist politics and damsels resolving distress.

Those who read SF novels solely for ideas might be disappointed here as the ideas are hardly original. However, that isn't the intent. Anyone interested in a mash up a bunch of well-trod ideas that winds up being pretty entertaining should find this a game worth playing.

Copyright © 2012 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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