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Newton's Wake
Ken MacLeod
Tor, 320 pages

Newton's Wake
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, Sharon and Michael.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Human Front
SF Site Review: Cosmonaut Keep
Ken MacLeod Tribute Site
Ken MacLeod Novel Synopses
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Adam Volk

The term space opera has become something of a misnomer of late. Gone are the days of buxom space maidens, bug-eyed monstrosities, and the obligatory ray-gun wielding hero. Instead, writers such as Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, and Ken MacLeod have revolutionized space opera, transforming traditional SF tropes into an entertaining and thoughtful new genre. In Newton's Wake, Ken MacLeod (one of the mad Scotsmen of the space opera revival) proves yet again that he is at the top of his game, blending cutting edge technology with action, insight, and a darkly satirical view of humanity itself.

The novel follows the misadventures of Lucinda Carlyle, a hard-bitten combat archeologist and member of the infamous "bloody Carlyle's"; a group of renegade explorers who have managed to gain control of a network of wormholes known only as the Skein. On her first tactical command, Lucinda leads her motley crew to the uncharted -- and supposedly uninhabited -- planet of Eurydice, only to discover the descendants of long forgotten group of human colonists who fled the Earth centuries ago during the chaotic period known as the Hard Rapture. To further aggravate Lucinda's problems, the Carlyle's initial landing has reawakened a horde of deadly alien war machines buried in the stone innards of an ancient monolith.

The situation on Eurydice becomes even more dangerous when other human survivors of the Hard Rapture begin to appear in faster-than-light starships. Humanity it seems has spent the centuries divided into fragmented factions strewn throughout the galaxy. There are the agrarian Americans Offline, the Japanese based Knights of Enlightenment and a scattering of Chinese-styled communist DK collectives. As each force arrives to claim Eurydice's resources for its own, the colonial government responds by approving the release of stored human consciousness. The consciousnesses have been held for centuries in a massive digital containment unit and through advanced technology can be reconstituted into biological bodies. Among the consciousnesses that are restored are the Returners, a resistance force dedicated to overthrowing the renegade AIs which gained control of Earth during the Hard Rapture.

As rival powers vie for control of Eurydice, the story follows the disparate cast of characters, including two reconstituted 21st-century Scottish folk singers; culminating in a frenetically paced conclusion with all sides teetering on the brink of chaos.

Ultimately, Ken MacLeod has produced a brilliant novel with Newton's Wake. It is well written, well plotted, and is filled with rich, believable characters that are both endearing and despicable at the same time. Newton's Wake is essentially a brilliantly crafted amalgamation, embracing traditional SF elements even as it creates new ones. In particular, MacLeod once more delves into the thematic exploration of the Singularity, and humanities continued evolution towards an unknown future.

The novel is also perhaps the first of MacLeod's works that reads as a stand-alone rather than part of a series, and in this sense it is a welcome introduction for readers unfamiliar with his writing.

In the end, Newton's Wake is without a doubt Ken MacLeod's finest work to date. It has all the depth, substance and action of his previous novels, while displaying a new level of maturity and artistic growth. This is a book that is destined to become a classic, proving once again that space opera is alive and well.

Copyright © 2004 Adam Volk

Adam Volk may or may not be a zombie cyborg. He is also an editor with EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (, a freelance writer, a comic book creator and a regular reviewer for the Silver Bullet Comic Books website (

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