Friday 1 July 2022

CBR14 Book 10: "Beyond the Hallowed Sky" by Ken MacLeod

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Official book description:
When a brilliant scientist gets a letter from herself about faster-than-light travel, she doesn't know what to believe. The equations work, but her paper is discredited - and soon the criticism is more than scientific. Exiled by the establishment, she gets an offer to build her starship from an unlikely source. But in the heights of Venus and on a planet of another star, a secret is already being uncovered that will shake humanity to its foundations.
This book was the March selection in my fantasy/sci-fi bookclub, and the book description makes it sound like time travel is a MUCH bigger part of the plot than it really is. In fact, it's only really mentioned in the prologue and then never again. I'm sure it's going to be expanded upon in future volumes of this series, but since this is the first and only book so far, and no sequels have yet to be given release dates, it's a bit difficult not to feel a bit cheated. 
There were a whole load of interesting concepts visited in this book, but none of them really came together properly, and the whole novel ended up feeling like the setup for the next story, which doesn't exist yet. Set in the near-future, when the borders of the world have changed somewhat, one of our story's plotlines is set in Scotland, where a ship's engineer sees something that shouldn't really exist and starts to ponder space travel because of it. The second of the storylines is set on a space station orbiting Venus, where an andoid reporter is investigating and possibly spying. The third of the storylines is set far away on an alien colony, where there is mysterious happenings afoot and possibly hostile alien lifeforms in sentient rock threatening the Earth colonists. It's only in the very end of the book all these storylines meet up, and by that point, I wasn't really sure I'm too bothered about reading what comes next.
This seemed to be the general consensus of the member in my book club too. A lot of people were disappointed that the book seemed to promise time travel, then there was only a brief mention of it. Some thought that the storyline with the Scottish engineers dragged too much (me included) although there is some interesting stuff about artificial intelligence that pretty much anticipates your needs. By the time you've remembered that you should buy your wife a present, your social media AI has already placed and paid for an order of the thing your wife would most like. Pretty neat, but again not really explored in enough detail.
The clearly modelled on James Bond journalist/spy andoid on the space station had a lot of promise too, but I didn't like where his arc ended up. The storyline that possibly dragged the most for me was the one on the alien colony. We never really find out which faction of humanity has discovered faster than light travel and managed to send people to the far reaches of space, they're too busy trying to figure out why possibly ancient aliens residing in the rocks are trying to attack them. By the end of the story, it seems as if more of humanity is being sent to the alien planet to colonise, including the son of the Scottish engineers we've also read about, so I'm guessing the next book will explore life in space a lot more. Whether I will be picking up book two if it ever gets written, is another story.

Giving this book two stars might seem harsh, but I really did only find it OK. I kept putting it down and forcing myself to pick it back up, and I don't see myself ever wanting to reread it, or keep on reading the series. It seems like Ken MacLeod has written a bunch a books, but based on this novel, he's not an author I'll be reading anything more from anytime soon.

Judging a book by its cover: Fairly generic sci-fi cover, really. A wormhole or black hole or some sort of space portal. A teeny tiny little space craft. The hint of what is probably an alien planet. Nothing too exciting, nothing too objectionable.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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