Fiction Reviews

The Stone Canal

(1996) Ken Macleod, Legend Books, 5.99, pbk, 322pp, ISBN 0-09-955901-3


This book just fizzes with ideas, moving between our present, including the Worldcon in Glasgow, the new century and the far future on another planet. In between it dips into a post Great Power world where you can buy nuclear war insurance from the operators of the remaining nuclear stockpiles. (Someone zaps you, we zap them), a real global American empire, interstellar probes, the experience of being the software operating a machine constructing a space station, feral robots, commercial justice, machine liberation and a lot more.

The book is about anarchism and what a true anarchist society would be like. Should an android sex-toy which has become autonomously aware remain the property of her original owner? What is murder if after death the victims personality will be downloaded into a newly grown clone body? What rights do/should robots have?

In amongst all this are real people trying to cope. The writing is, to quote SFX, 'elegant, deceptively simple and extremely vivid.' Strongly recommended.

Jim Walker

Meanwhile Tony Chester provides a second review of the first edition below.

(1996) Ken MacLeod, Legend, 15.99, hrdbk, 322pp. ISBN 0 09 955891 2

Following his debut novel, The Star Fraction, everyone pretty much agreed that MacLeod was 'the man to watch', but the promotion (with helping hand from friendly Iain Banks) left some people cold. Now I felt that the first book deserved a lot of praise, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but, for me, it did suffer from the hype (not, I suspect, that that harmed sales any), and one wonders if this book might not sell as well, impaired by any disappointments that readers may have had.

For my part, I love the richness of the landscape of The Stone Canal: the clone of 21st century anarchist Jonathan Wilde, looking for payback for the death of the 'original'; the simulacrum Dee Model, trying to be human while throwing off ownership; the transcendental AIs known as the fast folk; New Mars and the detailed backdrops. None of this is new in conception, but it feels new in execution, and that's the strength of MacLeod. Much more so than the so-called cyberpunks, MacLeod has taken the shiny and new and made it familiar and worn in some way that evokes an intimate memory of "the way the future was" when looked at from a '90s perspective.

Tony Chester

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