Ken MacLeod
The Sky Road (1999)
Reviewed: 2003-07-27

After The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, and The Cassini Division, this is the fourth in a series of loosely connected novels in the Fall Revolution universe. The Sky Road is set an uncertain number of centuries in the future, when mankind is just trying to regain access to space. Inhabited by pleasant people, this new world has a slightly post-apocalyptic and steampunkish charm to it, without the grittiness. Electronics are largely absent and taboo, the subject of vulgar superstitions, and when absolutely required this technology is handled by members of the isolated tinker caste.

The story is told by Clovis colha Gree, a young history student and summertime dock worker in Scotland, where the first spaceship is constructed since the Deliverance. An encounter with a young tinker woman steers Clovis's life in a new direction, prods him to probe into ignored parts of history, and forces him to question commonly held beliefs. Beside his personal turmoil, the investigations also reveal a potential danger to the space project out of the deep past.

It is difficult to convey the richness of the historical background MacLeod has built in those four novels, shaping a fascinating future history full of political intrigue, not a polished story, but as bizarre and haphazard as you would expect only real history to be, chaos and logical developments mixing in unpredictable ways. Much of the book's interest is in the slowly evolving picture of what the future world looks like and how it became that way. To this latter purpose, the story is interlaced with flashbacks to the time leading up to the Deliverance, the almost mythical event that would shape the time to come. This past timeline picks up after the corresponding flashbacks in The Stone Canal and centers around Myra Godwin, who was a sideline character in the preceding novels. In turn some of the bigger players from the other books keep popping up, if ever so briefly, in The Sky Road.

Some reviewers have asserted that The Sky Road presents an alternate history to The Cassini Division. Certainly the different futures portrayed are hard to reconcile, but then again they do not overlap directly and much is left to speculation. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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