The Cassini Division
Ken MacLeod

Cover 'The Cassini Division' begins a few years after 'The Stone Canal', but is from a totally different perspective. As such it can be read by itself without having read 'The Stone Canal'. 'The Cassini Division' is the story of the Earth side of the Malley Mile, whereas 'The Stone Canal' was the far side, 10,000 light years away.

It begins a few years after Jonathan Wilde returned through the Malley Mile (a wormhole) from New Mars. The main character is Ellen May Ngwethu, she was the first person Wilde contacted when he exited the Malley Mile. After this initial introduction Jonathan has nothing else to do with the story.

Ellen is part of the Cassini Division. The Division is an elite military (or as close to military as you can get in a totally socialist/communist society) group stationed around Jupiter. Their mission is to watch the Malley Mile and destroy anything the Fast Folk (gestalt machine intelligences from upload people that went nuts) send up from Jupiter.

A constant stream of computer virus' have been coming from Jupiter ever since the Fast Folk entered the atmosphere, shattered Ganymede and created the Malley Mile. All of which were achievements that seriously put the wind up the ordinary Earth folk, hence the creation of the Cassini Division to make sure nothing ever got of Jupiter again.

The Division has noticed artificial structures forming in Jupiter's atmosphere in recent months. This has them worried. They are afraid the AI's on Jupiter have evolved beyond their artificial realms and are moving back into the physical. Ellen embarks on a mission to save them, if their fears are realised. This is where the book begins.

Ellen goes to Earth and meets with Jonathan Wilde to ask for the trajectory to enter the Malley Mile and come out at New Mars. Jonathan tells her to sod off, forcing her to resort to the backup plan which is to find Dr Malley, the mathematician and physicist who developed the theory which the Fast Folk used to create the Malley Mile.

This may not seem like much of a plot, but finding Malley is not as easy as first thought, neither is getting his co-operation or the results of his co-operation. However I can't go into that without giving away the true essence and point of the book.

'The Cassini Divison' is Ken's third book and is excellent. As with the other book of his I've read it is let down slightly by the ending, which is why it only gets 4 stars instead of 5. If Ken can maintain such quality in his writing he will become a major and widely recognised author.

The writing is clear and concise. In a world with thickly padded fantasies at every turn this is a refreshing change. The best aspect of the book is the social and political commentary, the analysis of how and why people are like they are, and how they would be different under different circumstances. Ken's books look at extreme variations of societies and how they interact. The capitalist/anarchic society of New Mars versus the communists/socialist society of Earth. And where Ken differs from the majority of authors is that he makes no judgment about which is the better system. He simply describes both and how they work and interact.

Some people might find the book a bit dry as it has a few places of philosophical reflections on the different types of societies. They didn't bother me as they were well written, but also well illustrated by the characters and their actions. At no point does the book become a dull sociological text.

I guess the book could be summed up as a hard social SF action adventure story. It only took me a couple of days to read and I'd highly recommend it. I'll certainly be reading any other books Ken writes.