The Stone Canal
Ken MacLeod
Shortlisted for 1997 British SF Award

Cover This is an excellent book that would have received fives stars but for the disappointing space opera ending.

The story is about Jon Wilde who is really just an ordinary man, but who precipitates extraodrdinary events. The book alternates between two different time points. the first is Jon's life befor his death. And the second is Jon's life after his death. Huh? I'll explain shortly.

The first time point follows Jon from his university days till his death. There is a strong element of the effects of different political ideaologies in this bit. It is all absoulety fascinating and not the least bit boring. How Ken has made politics interesting when politicians can't, I'll never know. The characters and the English university attitude are what drive this section. It's a lark, that encompasses the conquest of the world and its destruction. And all as the result of the unassuming Jon Wilde. I sincerely hope that the nuclear policy that Ken envisages never comes about. That's a nightmare scenerio if ever I read one.

The second time point follows events on New Mars years in the future and a lightyears away. Jon Wilde has been cloned by the robot Jay Dub to upset the political order on New Mars in much the same way he did on Earth. The cloned Jon has all the original Jons memorie right up until the point he died.

In the New Mars time point there is also a second point of view character. This is Dee Model, and is a far more interesting and important character then at first thought. Jay Dub calls her 'just a fucking machine', which is an odd thing for one robot to call another, but it all becomes obvious when the backgrounds of both robots are revealed. I won't say more as it will ruin the plot.

Oh yeah, before I forget, New Mars is a functional anarchy. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but the way it gets explained is perfectly convincing.

The only problem I have with the book is at the end just after the climax. The story makes a sudden left turn into B grade space opera for no adequately explained reason. The final bit does tie into a subplot that was running around on New Mars, but it was unneccessary and not that good. Ken would have been better just staying with the interactions between the principle active characters.

Apart from having a fascinating and complex plot the book is expertly written. ken makes beautifull use of language and style. At one point near the start I was reading along thinking there is something different about this writing. It took me two and bit pages to notice that it was written in present tense. This is not a commonly used mode as it generally grates. Ken has clear mastery over the mode as I was never once annoyed in any of the sections using present tense.

This is a damn good book for those with a cynical attitude to life.