MacLeod, Ken 1954-
MacLeod, Ken 1954-
Born 1954, in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland; married, 1981; wife's name Carol; children: Sharon and Michael. Education: Attended University of Glasgow and Brunel University; has master's degree.
Home—Scotland. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Worked as a computer programmer.
Prometheus Award for best libertarian science-fiction novel, 1996, for The Star Fraction, and for best novel, 1998, for The Stone Canal; British Science Fiction Association Best Novel, 1999, Hugo Award for Best Novel nomination, World Science Fiction Society, 2001, both for The Sky Road; Nebula Best Novel nominee, 2000, for The Cassini Division; Hugo Award for Best Novel nomination, World Science Fiction Society, 2002, for Cosmonaut Keep, and 2006, for Learning the World: A Scientific Romance.
The Star Fraction, Legend (London, England), 1995, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
The Stone Canal, Legend (London, England), 1996, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The Cassini Division, Orbit (London, England), 1998, Tor (New York, NY), 1999.
Cydonia, Dolphin (London, England), 1998, published as part of The Web 2028 (anthology omnibus), Millennium Books (London, England), 1999.
The Sky Road, Orbit (London, England), 1999, Tor (New York, NY), 2000.
The Human Front, PS Publishing (London, England), 2001.
Newton's Wake: A Space Opera, Tor (New York, NY), 2004.
Learning the World: A Scientific Romance, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2005, 2nd edition published as Learning the World: A Novel of First Contact, Orbit (London, England), 2006.
Giant Lizards from Another Star (includes Cydonia, The Human Front, four short stories, poems convention reports, essays, and other writings), Nesfa Press (Framingham, MA), 2006.
The Highway Men, Sandstone Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.
The Execution Channel, Tor (New York, NY), 2007.
The Night Sessions, Orbit (London, England), 2008.
"ENGINES OF LIGHT" TRILOGY
Cosmonaut Keep, Orbit (London, England), 2000, Tor (New York, NY), 2001.
Dark Light, Tor (New York, NY), 2002.
Engine City, Tor (New York, NY), 2003.
Ken MacLeod is a former computer programmer who turned to writing and developed what Andrew Leonard described on Salon.com as "a breath of fresh air blowing through the all-too-formulaic genre niches of science fiction." According to Leonard, who also referred to MacLeod as "the greatest living Trotskyist libertarian cyberpunk science-fiction humorist" and "a fiercely intelligent, prodigiously well-read author," MacLeod's fiction fuses leftist political concerns with futuristic elements. Leonard added that MacLeod's novels "postulate different possibilities for future political organization against a backdrop of personal intrigue, exploding technological change and good old sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."
MacLeod's first novel, The Star Fraction, details the escapades of a communist mercenary who provides services to hundreds of small states constituting the United Kingdom. The Stone Canal, MacLeod's following work, concerns a cloned male who travels to another planet and renews former romances and old animosities. Library Journal contributor Jackie Cassada described The Stone Canal as "high-impact … adventure." In his third book, The Cassini Division, MacLeod relates the exploits of a 200-year-old woman charged with defending the solar system from invaders who have already established colonies on Jupiter. Andrew Leonard wrote on the Salon.com that The Cassini Division is "simpler, less psychologically rich" than MacLeod's preceding novels. In a Salon.com interview, MacLeod conceded that The Cassini Division possesses "a less complicated structure." Booklist contributor Roland Green was among those critics impressed with the novel, which he summarized as "a well-told tale."
In the Salon.com interview, MacLeod traced his political beliefs to his student days, noting that he "became a left-winger … through the same process as a lot of my friends did at high school, via our rather marginal involvement in youth counterculture." He added: "It may seem ridiculous that a bunch of teenagers in Greenock, Scotland, should be reading Marcuse and Malcolm X and George Jackson, R.D. Laing and Timothy Leary …, but that's how it was."
The Sky Road continues MacLeod's reflections on politics, economics, and society via his science fiction. In this tale, Western democracy has ended and Western countries now practice different forms of socialism, libertarianism, or anarchism. The novel features Myra Godwin-Davidova, a former American who leads a socialist state against a takeover attempt by another nation that wants to conquer the world. She may have to use nuclear weapons but risks destroying the world. Meanwhile, many centuries later, Clovis colha Gree lives in a utopian society that shuns technology but nevertheless is about to embark on space exploration. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted the author's "complex plotting, crisply delineated military action, well-drawn characters and trademark byzantine radical politics."
Cosmonaut Keep is the first book in the "Engines of Light" trilogy. It begins the story of Matt Cairns, living in Europe in 2040, and of his descendent Gregor Cairns, who lives in a type of utopia centuries later but with the catch of being constantly monitored by aliens. Roland Green, writing in Booklist, noted that in addition to excelling at developing his two main characters, the author also creates interesting supporting characters. Green went on to note that "the worlds of both [main characters] are depicted in abundant, vivid detail and with unsparing realism." In Matt Cairns's story, the computer whiz has important information from aliens concerning the ability of humans to potentially travel through solar systems, but soon finds the Earth's geopolitical balance deconstructing after aliens contact a space station. In the future, Gregor Cairns is looking for the crew of the original human starship to reach the planet of Mingulay and, in the process, makes a surprising discovery about a connection between the past and his present life. "Rarely does a book demand so much of the reader—and then deliver," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, adding that the novel is "densely written with a remarkable depth of cultural texture."
Dark Light is the next book in the series and features Matt and Gregor Cairns both alive at the same time because they are immortals on the planet Mingulay. Along with two other immortals, Matt and Gregor fix Matt's old spaceship to fly off to the planet Croatan to begin trade directed by humans instead of the aliens, who have been the only ones allowed to have spaceships. However, once the ship arrives on Croatan it is impounded by the local government, which oversees a plant varying from Stone Age-type people to capitalists who are also Christians. In the meantime, Matt is trying to contact the Powers Above, which are entities the size of bacteria, about the reason for humans being brought to Mingulay and the Second Sphere. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted the author's "fascinating analyses of human and alien motivations." Writing in Booklist, Roland Green concluded: "Not only for genre fans, this is finely crafted sf about intelligent alien life."
"The Engines of Light" trilogy concludes with Engine City. The inhabitants of the Second Sphere, which include humans and various aliens, have learned from the bacteria-like supreme intelligences that an invading force is on the way. Matt Cairns and a group of comrades set out to meet the aliens before they invade and find that they are not hostile after all. The aliens, in fact, are called the Multipliers and have an amazing ability to synthesize anything from a molecular level. They can also create nano-sized offspring who can enter humans and make humans immortal. In the process, the humans also receive much of the Multipliers' vast eons of memory. "Rich, inventive, intelligent, and fascinating: so unorthodox is MacLeod that it often seems as if he's pursuing complexity as an end in itself," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Writing in Booklist, Carl Hays noted that the author "continues to dazzle readers with vividly rendered landscapes … and fascinating … visions of humanity's future."
A war between artificial intelligences (AIs) and humans breaks out on earth in Newton's Wake: A Space Opera. The AIs were created by humans but have evolved to possess God-like powers and, in the war's aftermath, humans are living throughout the galaxy. The result is three empires, one is agrarian based, another is committed to technology, and the third is a Communist-like group intent on settling other planets. All three groups' way of life, however, is threatened when entrepreneur Lucinda Carlyle uncovers an alien artifact. "With brash dialog and witty characters, MacLeod intersperses humor with science while offering a female protagonist who speaks in a Scottish dialect," commented Ginger Armstrong in Kliatt. Noting the novel's allegorical nature, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "MacLeod slyly entices Americans to see ourselves as others see us—not a flattering picture at all."
Learning the World: A Scientific Romance tells a story of the first human contact with aliens. The starship But the Sky My Lady! The Sky! is traveling through space establishing human colonies for trading when a species of bat-like aliens is encountered. The aliens are experiencing an industrial revolution in their society. At the same time on another planet, a scientist discovers that an artificial life form is approaching from deep interstellar space. "Thought-provoking and entertaining, this highly original first-contact story should please any science fiction reader," wrote Christine C. Menefee in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Learning the World "is chock-full of well-done extrapolation concerning the political and economic workings of his various societies."
In his 2007 novel The Execution Channel, MacLeod starts with the premise that the war on terror has ended and that the terrorists have been victorious following a serious of catastrophic events, including a nuclear explosion in Scotland. Although the novel's past is based on the current war on terror initiated by the United States and Great Britain, The Execution Channel works off of the premise that Al Gore won the 2000 election. Nevertheless, the war on terror came to fruition and in the modern world government intelligence workers and bloggers manipulate the Web to disseminate disinformation. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that the author presents "a frighteningly familiar world, where electronically-distributed information is easily distorted." Furthermore, reality television consists of executions on The Execution Channel as the world teeters on the verge of apocalypse. Paul Kincaid, writing on the Strange Horizons Web site, noted that the author "brilliantly" depicts the escalating war and its toll on society. "The constant corner- of-the-eye glimpses of burning corner shops, of mobs, of haggard Moslem women peering out from army buses build up into a vivid picture of a nation fracturing with doubts and suspicions and fears." Library Journal contributor Sara Rutter wrote that the author presents "an intriguing theme … [about] how information is synthesized to create knowledge and how … knowledge changes as it is compromised."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Analog Science Fiction & Fact, November, 1999, Tom Easton, review of The Cassini Division, p. 134; June, 2000, Tom Easton, review of The Stone Canal, p. 133; June, 2002, Tom Easton, review of Dark Light, p. 133.
Booklist, July, 1999, Roland Green, review of The Cassini Division, p. 1930; September 15, 2000, Roberta Johnson, review of The Sky Road, p. 222; April 15, 2001, Roland Green, review of Cosmonaut Keep, p. 1542; December 1, 2001, Roland Green, review of Dark Light, p. 636; January 1, 2003, Roland Green, review of Engine City, p. 861; October 15, 2005, Carl Hays, review of Learning the World: A Scientific Romance, p. 37; May 15, 2007, Carl Hays, review of The Execution Channel, p. 30.
Bookseller, December 9, 2005, review of Learning the World, p. 34.
California Bookwatch, June, 2006, review of Giant Lizards from Another Star.
Entertainment Weekly, December 9, 2005, Ted Rose, "Sci-Fi 101: All Politics Is Interstellar," p. 92.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Dark Light, p. 1588; November 15, 2002, review of Engine City, p. 1663; September 1, 2005, review of Learning the World, p. 947; April 1, 2007, review of The Execution Channel.
Kliatt, November, 2005, Ginger Armstrong, review of Newton's Wake: A Space Opera, p. 20.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of The Cassini Division, p. 143; January, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of The Stone Canal, p. 168; September 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of The Sky Road, p. 118; June 15, 2004, Jackie Cassada, review of Newton's Wake, p. 65; May 15, 2007, Sara Rutter, review of The Execution Channel, p. 83.
New Scientist, July 4, 1998, Elizabeth Sourbut, review of The Cassini Division, p. 48; November 18, 2000, review of Cosmonaut Keep, p. 55; April 7, 2001, review of Cosmonaut Keep, p. 49; July 31, 2004, "Tangled Wormholes," p. 53.
New York Times Book Review, October 1, 2000, Gerald Jonas, review of The Sky Road, p. 24; July 18, 2004, Gerald Jonas, review of Newton's Wake.
Publishers Weekly, June 21, 1999, review of The Cassini Division, p. 62; September 4, 2000, review of The Sky Road, p. 90; April 9, 2001, review of Cosmonaut Keep, p. 55; June 4, 2001, review of The Star Fraction, p. 62; December 24, 2001, review of Dark Light, p. 47; December 9, 2002, review of Engine City, p. 67; May 10, 2004, review of Newton's Wake, p. 42; October 3, 2005, review of Learning the World, p. 51; April 16, 2007, review of The Execution Channel, p. 36.
Reason, November, 2000, Jesse Walker, "Anarchies, States, and Utopias," interview with author, p. 62.
School Library Journal, May, 2006, Christine C. Menefee, review of Learning the World, p. 166.
Fantastic Fiction,http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (November 30, 3007), list of author's awards.
Infinity Plus,http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (November 30, 2007), Ken MacLeod, "Science Fiction after the Future Went Away."
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com (July 27, 1999), Andrew Leonard, "A Trotskyite Libertarian Cyberpunk?" and "An Engine of Anarchy," interviews with author.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (November 30, 2007), Beth Gwinn, "The New British Catastrophe: An interview with Paul Raven."
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (June 4, 2007), Paul Kincaid, review of The Execution Channel.