Book Review – “Cosmonaut Keep”

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.

General Information

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:


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
, 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.

High Point

“Perhaps irrationally conservative.”

Low Point

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

The Scores

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
of 6.

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.

5 replies on “Book Review – “Cosmonaut Keep””

  1. I have read a few of his books in the past
    I have both The Sky Road and The Cassini Division. I really like The Cassini Division but could just not get into The Sky Road. Maybe it also takes six chapters to get into.

    Once the summer comes around and I am though finals I plan to restart this first series that Ken MacLeod wrote. When I first got The Cassini Division I didn’t realize that it was the thrid book in the series. And I guess the Sky Road is an alternate ending to the series, so I feel as if I should read the first two books and maybe the last two will make more sense.

    Then I want to read Cosmonaut Keep and Dark Light, hopefully by then Engine City is out.

    • Re: I have read a few of his books in the past
      I guess that first series of books was called the Fall Revolution, not whatever I said before.

  2. the series does really rock
    I bought cosmonaut keep on a whim one day and decided i should probably wait before buying dark light. I was wrong i felt really gutted when i couldnt start reading the second book as soon as i had finished the first. And the pain of waiting for Enigine City is almost becoming unbearable.
    Now to read McCleod’s other books.

  3. Great author
    I started on him when Slashdot did a review of The Star Fraction (and feeling old – it was 3 years ago!). And, like probably everyone else, loved it. I’m constantly amazed how he can take two disparate stories set in two disparate times, and weave them together. I _still_ haven’t gotten a copy of Star Fraction yet – haven’t seen one, and I’d rather not order from Europe. But Cassini Division/Stone Canal/Sky Road is an amazing set of stories, more so for covering a group of people through all of them.

    Who else in this vein would you guys recommend? The only ones I can think of that I’ve enjoyed that much lately are James Alan Gardner and L.E.Modesitt, J.R.

    • Re: Great author

      Who else in this vein would you guys recommend? The only ones I can think of that I’ve enjoyed that much lately are James Alan Gardner and L.E.Modesitt, J.R.

      As I said in the review, it reminded me of LeGuin’s The Dispossessed in a good way. That novel also has politics and interweaved timelines. I highly recommend it, and will get around to reviewing it at some point. (I’ll also review anything else suggested here that I happen to have.)

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