Fight the power
released 12 May 336 pages | Hardback/ ebook Author Ken MacLeod Publisher Orbit Books
Like a painter looking to add new colours to his palette, Ken MacLeod’s recent novels have seen him fusing SF with other genres. Descent, for example, featured both flying saucers and a bloke- lit narrative that could have been written by Nick Hornby.
With Dissidence, though, the first part of new trilogy The Corporation Wars, he’s firmly back in SF territory, with a space opera that imagines humanity’s expansion into space. Or, more precisely, a kind of pre- expansion phase where robots and AIs prepare exo- planets for colonisation.
Except something goes awry light years from Earth and some of the exploratory robots become self- aware. To counter this, world government The Direction sends out combat robots controlled by the consciousnesses of long- dead soldiers. These include Carlos the Terrorist, who perished years previously and is surprised to wake up in a virtual reality where he’s trained for what lies ahead.
The novel is rooted in a familiar trope of contemporary SF, the idea of machine consciousness outstripping humanity – what good is it exploring the universe if machines get there first? – yet MacLeod is far too subtle a writer to let this be a problem. The plot is as much driven by human politics as the robots’ bid for freedom, meaning the struggles for primacy aren’t just between man and machine, but different factions.
Less positively, there’s the odd info dump conversation, but there’s a caveat here. Dissidence is a novel that’s direct yet still brims with ideas, politics and memorable characters, and if the odd bit of exposition keeps things moving with the pace of an airport thriller, let’s not grumble. Rather, let’s herald MacLeod’s most entertaining novel to date. All that time adding new colours to the palette has been well spent.
MacLeod’s most entertaining novel
MacLeod says the Corporation Wars books form “a very tightly linked trilogy” intended to be “read as a very long novel”.