The Stone Canal


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Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod.

MacLeod The Stone Canal

I took a year’s breather between reading Ken MacLeod’s first novel The Star Fraction and this sequel The Stone Canal. In this one, he was already experimenting with many of the techniques that I enjoyed in his later Engines of Light series: changes of narrative person, parallel plot-lines that turn out to be nested, and multiple centuries of setting. It covers a time-frame both preceding and succeeding the one in the previous volume, and is definitely in a shared narrative continuum, with at least one point of explicit character contact, as well as many shared events in what was then (when it was written in the 1990s) a conjectural near future. At the same time, I think this volume would make a fine starting point, and that readers could really appreciate it fully without having read the first book.

Politically, the book’s protagonist is raised by splinter-schismatic ultra-leftists, enters adulthood as an anarchist, and develops more socialist sentiments late in the course of events. The villain–a far more sympathetic one than in the previous book, but still quite detestable–goes from disillusioned socialist to the figure presiding over an extra-terrestrial “anarchy” in a most revoltingly capitalist manner.

Like The Star Fraction (and Engines of Light, for that matter), The Stone Canal is very much animated by the author’s political concerns. To these is added a level of more science-fictional politics concerning the ontological status and social rights of post-human (“artificial”) intelligences. In this respect, and with its attention to the dilemmas surrounding nanotechnologically-driven resurrection of the dead, this book reminded me more than a little of Ian MacDonald’s Necroville, which had been published the year before. At the same time, it also covers a lot of the ground of space exploration and singularity exploitation that would later be treated in Charles Stross’ Accelerando.

I don’t think I’ll pause as long this time before tackling the next book in the series, The Cassini Division.