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Cosmonaut Keep
Ken MacLeod
Tor Books, 300 pages

Art: Stephan Martiniere
Cosmonaut Keep
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.

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A review by Peter D. Tillman

Like most of Ken MacLeod's books, Cosmonaut Keep is told in two alternating timelines. By far the most interesting story-strand is set on the planet Mingulay, in a complex society of humans, saurs, krakens and other sentients. The world-building and back story unfold very, very nicely here, in ways that would be unfair to reveal -- much of what's best in Cosmonaut Keep lies here, and I'll bet you'll have as much fun reading it as I did.

By contrast, the near-future alternate Earth, featuring a Red Europe and a reactionary America, gets off to a slow start, and is likely to irritate non-political readers. But this stuff is at least intelligently done, skimmable, and -- about 50 pages in -- finally starts to rock. But I would have liked to have spent more time on Mindulay, the Second Sphere, saur society, kraken ways -- and, I imagine, more of this will be coming soon.

I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying that Cosmonaut Keep is a variant of the old Elder Races Rule the Universe shtick -- in this one, Fermi's Paradox is enforced by stern Galactic Gatekeepers, and woe to junior races who run afoul of the gods. They hate spam -- and care about due process about as much as you do when you spray Raid on an anthill... Did I mention the Galactic Zoo cum Rescue Mission part?

Ah, here's a quote I can't resist, from Thomas Wright, the discoverer of galaxies, written c. 1750 (courtesy of Freeman Dyson):

"In this great celestial creation, the catastrophe of a world such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature than the most common accident of life with us. And in all probability such final and general doomsdays may be as frequent there as even Birthdays or Mortality with us upon the Earth. This idea has something so Cheerful in it that I own I can never look upon the stars without wondering that the whole world does not become astronomers..."
If this didn't influence MacLeod in writing Cosmonaut Keep -- well, it should have!

Other readers see Poul Anderson influences in Cosmonaut Keep -- what I saw were David Brin touches, and explicit references to Hans Moravec who, come to think of it, was a major inspiration for the AI Wars in MacLeod's first four novels. And there's a welcome scattering of short quotes from Golden Age classics -- a nice touch for the well-read.

Cosmonaut Keep is the first of a new series, Engines of Light. This first volume comes to an adequate resolution, with plenty of hooks to prime you for the next installment, Dark Light (UK edition due out in November 2001). MacLeod's writing just keeps getting better, and I'll happily put up with his hothouse politics to get to the amazing inventions in his spectacular new universe-playground. Highly recommended.

And I should mention the wonderfully atmospheric cover art, by new-to-me artist Stephan Martiniere, of the Nova Babylonia trader starship landing at Kyohvic port, Mingulay. Bravo!

Copyright © 2001 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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