Ken MacLeod
The Star Fraction (1995)
Reviewed: 1999-11-08

The Star Fraction is the first novel of Ken MacLeod, who already had gained some recognition before as a friend of fellow Scottish writer Iain M. Banks whom he convinced to publish the brilliant Use of Weapons and suggested the peculiar structure of that book.

Sometime in the 21st century. As result of a peace process gone ugly, Britain is splintered into a multiplicity of small states, and those are even further fractured into local enclaves. Every religious or political movement seems to have its own territory and milita. There are various brands of leftists, luddites, anti-luddites, the space movement, the femininists (sic), and many more. Registered terrorist organizations battle with regular and private armies, government troops and insurgents have become indistinguishable. The United Nations are a puppet of the U.S., their misleadingly named Space Defense is aimed at Earth as the ultimate weapon of terror. The Stasis secret police sends out Men In Black to suppress research into forbidden science. Just what history led to the world's state of affairs remains murky throughout the book.

Amidst this confusion we meet the novel's three protagonists. There is Moh Kohn, a Trotzkyist mercenary with a talking gun, a forgotten past, and near-mythical family ties. Janis Taine is a biologist working on intelligence augmentation when her lab is blown up and Stasis agents show up on the threshold. Jordan Browne is a talented stock broker, computer wiz, but mostly a youth escaping the oppression of the Christian theocracy ministate he was brought up in. Their fates meet in interesting times: the revolution is around the corner, the final offensive is coming, and there are signs of the dreaded Watchmaker rising from the global datasphere, the first artificial intelligence whose appearance is bound to make humanity obsolete.

The background of the novel is somewhat reminiscent of the anarchist planet Bakunin in S. Andrew Swann's Hostile Takeover trilogy, and it comes as little surprise that The Star Fraction won the Libertarian Futurist Society's 1996 Prometheus Award.

This book is somewhat difficult to read. At the beginning the author provides little background information, so much of what is going on is hard to make sense of. I also found MacLeod's writing to be difficult in itself, due to its heavy use of idiosyncratic metaphors. MacLeod is a denizen of Usenet, and there are plenty of references to the 1990s net in his novel. "Sounds like a load of serdar argic" one character utters hilariously. As part of its setting much of the book talks about leftist politics. Not being familiar with that area, it's virtually impossible to distinguish fact from fiction, extrapolation from invention. The computer tech talk is abstract enough to pass before the critical eyes of experts.

A remarkable debut.

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