I’d strongly recommend reading this book. However, if you’re a student, don’t pick it up until after you’ve written your finals.
Title: Cosmonaut Keep
Author: Ken MacLeod
Series: Engines of Light (Book One)
Original Publication Date: 2000
ISBN (UK): 1-84149-067-9
ISBN (North America): 0765340739
Cover Price: My copy only has the UK price of 6.99 pounds. The links
are to the North American printing.
Buy from: Amazon.com
The less you know about the story, the better. Suffice it to say that
it has a narrative structure similar to Ursula K. LeGuin’s The
Dispossessed, and that it’s packed with all sorts of ideas that
aren’t terribly popular. I don’t think anyone agrees with every idea
and viewpoint put forward here, but they sure are fun to think about.
The cover says it’s book one of the Engines of Light series.
I picked up a copy of book two (Dark Light) yesterday, and
its cover advertises book three (Engine City). I don’t know
if there are or will be more than three books in the series, though,
and the official website
listed on the back cover keeps giving me timeouts.
“Perhaps irrationally conservative.”
It took about six chapters to really pick up. The early chapters set
up the characters, but I’m not sure I’d have pressed on if it weren’t
for all the pro-Linux jokes in the even chapters.
Chapter seven started to turn that around, by the way. Once I’d
finished chapter eight, I was sold on the series, however long it will
This is a very original series. From the origin of saurs to
the world political structure to the nature of the gods, it’s loaded
with ideas and concepts that I’ve never thought of or heard of
before. The unoriginality of the somewhat typical love triangles gets
completely overshadowed and is easily forgiven as a result. I give it
6 out of 6.
The imagery in the early chapters is perfectly clear, and
sometimes just overbearing in the first few chapters. Once the plot
kicks into high gear the imagery takes a lower priority, but is never
really lacking (apart from an indescribably alien sequence near the
end, but that’s understandable.) I give it 5 out of 6.
The story in the first third is nearly absent. It kicks into
gear around the chapter seven mark, and just keeps right on going.
The narrative structure is a subtle way to draw important parallels,
too. It’s well plotted, and gives a sense of closing a complete tale
without cutting off further stories. I wouldn’t have known there were
more books in the series if it wasn’t printed on the cover, but the
sequels have some very natural directions to take, too. The first
third holds it back, but not by much. I give it 5 out of 6.
The characterization of individuals and races is very good.
I’m particularly interested in the ramifications that certain events
have had on characters. In some cases we see the character growth,
but in others we simply see the end results of that growth; both cases
work very well. The main cast has two major characters, and about ten
or so important secondary characters, but they’re all well defined.
Only the tertiary characters come across as one-dimensional
caricatures, which was probably necessary given their limited time in
the spotlight. I give it 5 out of 6.
The emotional response, like several previous categories,
didn’t take hold until chapter seven or so. (Chapters 2, 4, and 6 had
some good laughs, though, including a certain maniacally laughing
penguin.) Once it had me, there was no getting out. I give it 5 out
The editing is the only category that starts to slip at the
end as well as the beginning. The early pages could have been trimmed
a bit in the descriptions. The later pages had typographical
problems, such as “…he saw recognized a man…” and some spelling
errors. Normally I’d give it a 3, but considering the difficulties
present just holding this narrative structure together, I’ll give it a
4 out of 6.
Overall, it’s a great read. The politics are almost as deep
as in Herbert’s Dune, but they don’t drag as Herbert’s did in
places. (I think this is because politics were usually related as
part of a heated argument rather than introspective thoughts that
seemed designed to explain the world to the reader rather than the
thinker.) The science fiction core has some wonderful ideas there
that’ll keep me thinking for a while. I’m sold on the series. I give
it 5 out of 6.
In total, Engines of Light book one: Cosmonaut Keep
receives 35 out of 42.
Additional Notes and Comments
As always, you can check this list of
possible upcoming reviews and e-mail me if you want to read a
review of something in particular. This is the first book review I’ve
written since going through my library and adding everything that I
haven’t already reviewed, so if you looked at it more than a week ago,
it’ll look very different now.
Priority goes to the items that have been requested by the largest
number of readers, so the next fiction reviews in the pipe (at the
moment) are The Silmarillion and Cryptonomicon. I
don’t expect to start reading everything until I’m done my finals two
weeks from now, though.