The Sky Road
by Ken MacLeod
Tor, 2000, ISBN: 0312873352
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is the second MacLeod book that I've read; the first was The Cassini Division. I picked up Cassini in hardcover almost immediately because so many people were raving about it, and it left me completely cold. A perfectly adequate book, as to plot, world-building, writing, etc., but absolutely nothing about it engaged me sufficiently to really overcome the fact that the protagonist is the villain of the piece, and she's not all that interesting a villain. I preferred to see her be defeated, but I never worked up any great concern even for that. It was only the New Mars section that really seemed to me to reward the effort of bothering to read it.
Given this reaction, it will probably surprise no one that I did not rush out to buy The Sky Road. I ignored it for months, and eventually picked it up at the library in a burst of idle curiosity about why MacLeod inspires such enthusiasm.
I can't say that I'm a convert, but I do rather wish I'd read The Sky Road first. Not only did I find it far more engaging and enjoyable than The Cassini Division; I think I'd have enjoyed The Cassini Division more if I'd read this first.
I'm a little hazy on MacLeod's future chronology, so I can't really say whether this book is set before or after Cassini, although my money would be on "before". A few centuries after the Deliverance, humanity is once again building a spaceship, its first attempt to return to space since the Deliverer turned all the satellites and habitats in Earth orbit and at the Lagrange sites into so much space junk in her attempt to remove one particular danger. A young scholar who hopes to research the life of the Deliverer is approached by a tinker who, after seducing him, tells him of her fears that near-Earth space may be filled with space junk, and recruits him to help get access to the Deliverer's files, which might answer the question. The scholar, Clovis, agrees, and he and the tinker, Merrial, head off to Glasgow to do a little not-quite-illegal research.
Over the next few days, his life and his worldview get pretty thoroughly smashed to bits. Nothing is as he believed it to be, including Merrial, and including himself.
I found Merrial, Clovis, and their world and their problems a lot more interesting and worth my reading time than Ellen May and hers. If that's not quite the ringing endorsement that those who better appreciate MacLeod's work would make, at least I'm more likely now to pick up another of his books, and see if his virtues as a writer become further clarified for me.