Book Review: Newton’s Wake: A Space Opera

I've read and enjoyed Ken MacLeod's early science fiction novels, but somewhere along the way I lost track of his output. Perhaps because he's not as well known here in the US and his books tend to be less visible. So while this book has been out for some years now, I'm only just getting around to it.


I expect MacLeod's work to have a strong political element to it and that isn't really true for Newton's Wake. The various cultures in the book certainly have very distinct political systems but they are comparatively shallow representations and that element really takes a back seat to what is, as advertised, a space opera. That may well make this novel much more approachable for many readers than other stuff by MacLeod.

There are certainly a lot of interesting things going on in this world. MacLeod posits a human centric universe after a hard rapture has happened. His thought process being that inevitably some humans would get left behind (for one reason or another) and what would they do exactly? Turns out they don't exactly like sentient AI's very much because sentient AI's don't consider them very important. All of which makes a lot of sense and sets up an interesting backdrop for the story to play out on.

The early, and I think most interesting part of the novel takes place on the world of Eurydice which is a carefully balanced society that contains the people who fled from Earth while the rapture was going on and who have been cut off from the rest of the galaxy since then. Other people left Earth later on though and there are several powerful factions out there. The discovery of Eurydice essentially threatens the political stability between these groups.

Our focal character is Lucinda Carlyle, a member of a particularly thuggish clan who have gained control of a wormhole system. I'll admit to a bias here in that it was fun to read a protagonist who is not only Scottish but frequently uses Scots words. I'm not sure how well things like muckle or Glasgow Kiss translate to everyone else though.

As the situation on Eurydice starts to spin out of control, Lucinda travels further afield and we are introduced to the other political powers and find out more about the nature of this post-rapture universe. All of which was interesting, but less immediately so than the maneuvering on Eurydice itself.

And then in the final section... it sort of spins of in an unexpected direction and gives us... well... not really an ending at all. I mean. It ends. And technically most key things are addressed. But I was left wondering what the point had actually been.

So there's a lot of great world-building that goes on. MacLeod looks at all sorts of effects that might result from surviving a hard rapture, and the ability to clone and replace bodies and minds. The characters are engaging too. But the story it just seems to trail off. I found the satirical aspects fell flat for me too. There's a good number of them, but mostly they felt to broad or lacking subtlety

That said I enjoyed it quite a bit. I generally find Macleods work a little frustrating because he tends to be very ambitious in what he's trying to do and he doesn't hit 100% of the time, but they are rewarding reads nevertheless.

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