(2001) Ken MacLeod, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 292pp, ISBN 1-84149-069-5
Book two of the 'Engines of Light' series sees Matt Cairns' ship, the Bright Star, reach the planet Croatan, catching up to the de Tenebres' merchant vessel and Grigory Volkov. The Christians of Rawliston have an uneasy relationship with the heathens of the Great Vale, but peace of a sort exists. However, Volkov's plans to restructure the society could bring about bloody conflict unless Matt can intervene to save the day. At the same time they must work together to take the Bright Star out to talk to the gods, nano-aliens who are responsible for the diaspora of Earth peoples and other races throughout the galaxy. What are the gods up to, and what has become of the Earth so far away? Will the saur, Salasso, persuade his race to stop keeping advanced technology from the humans? And what will happen when the Tenebres take Volkov back to Nova Babylonia and they attempt to 'hack' the anti-aging technology that keeps him, Matt and the other old cosmonauts young?
This highly enjoyable and very sophisticated space opera is extremely engaging, very pacey and complex without being too confusing. MacLeod is obviously having great fun with his anarchist-communist debates, while creating intriguing and convincing characters who are all, in their own way, quite sympathetic. The enigmatic gods and the laconic saurs are also very interesting though, as yet, we've discovered little about the other alien races, the pithkies and gigants (I suspect we're unlikely to, but I hope I'm wrong). What the human crew discover from the gods in this installment certainly whets the appetite for future episodes. MacLeod goes from strength to strength. Recommended.
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