01/03/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: TOR/Forge. 640 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $19.95 (US), $21.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2068-1).
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
When an author is published for the first time, the print run is often small. The editor may have faith in them but the financial department sucks in breath through its collective teeth, shakes its head and mutters, 'I don't know...'
A few books down the line, the author has proved their commercial value, profitable sales, good reviews and award nominations. Then the buying public decides they want to read the first books but, surprise! surprise!, they are no longer in print. The canny publisher doesn't just reprint the early volumes but re-packages them. This is what has happened here.
Ken Macleod's first four novels are connected, set in the same universe and with some characters in common with some of them. In his introduction, Macleod suggests that the books can be read in any order. This is possible, but the nuances are clearer if read in the order published. This volume, 'Fractions', contains 'The Star Fraction' (1995) and 'The Stone Canal' (1996).
The first of these two novels, 'The Star Fraction', sets up the events from which the other three in the sequence are a jumping off point. Society in Britain has disintegrated into factions. Different groups of people believe that they know how to run an ideal society. The problem is that children born into the community do not always agree with their parents. Jordan Brown lives in Beulah City which once had been part of Islington. He works at a centre that deals in the commodities market. Brown is good at his job but is frustrated by the social strictures of the area. Then two things happen. He is offered a lot of cash to carry out a couple of very routine transactions by an entity he identifies as the Black Planner and his parents find his stash of political and philosophy books. He takes the money and runs for the free trade area of Norlonto (North London).
Moh Kohn runs a security outfit. One of their current jobs is to protect a research facility in which Janis Taine has been working on memory enhancing chemicals. He thwarts an attack by a Green faction only to discover it was a diversion for the real raid. Moh is helped in his work by a gun with an AI built into it. It becomes clear that someone is after Janis' work and want it and her destroyed.
The Black Plan is a legend but seems to have reality as both Jordan and Moh, via his gun, discover. As it comes out into the open, it is clear that the political situation is rapidly changing with the ANR looking to re-unify Britain and the US/UN faction trying to keep the status quo. Mixed up in the machinations is a group that sees that space holds the key to the future.
'The Stone Canal' takes place long after the events of 'The Star Fraction' although the events of the first novel is the trigger for the latter. Jonathan Wilde wakes up beside a canal. He remembers dying. An AI known as Jay-Dub explains that he is on the planet of New Mars, 10,000 light years from Earth and that the inhabitants got there via a wormhole. Two stories run in parallel. The events on New Mars follows one strand, the other is Wilde's life up to the point where the colonists entered the wormhole. In his youth, Wilde was part of a group of political activists, another of whom was David Reid. They lived through the Fall Revolution (detailed in 'The Star Fraction') and took the longevity treatments that were developed shortly afterwards. Reid, now the most important man on New Mars, looked outwards, building the wormhole in Jupiter's orbit, while Wilde remained on Earth, gaining power and influence almost by accident.
Both of these novels stand up well to the test of time. As a first novel, 'The Star Fraction' is very accomplished with a complex structure and well-defined characters. In some respects, it is a study of political systems with each area of the country experimenting in methods varying from communism to tyranny. The only real problem lies in the roots of the system, which is more clearly delineated in 'The Stone Canal' where the main characters when they were at college in the 1970s. In another ten years, time will have caught up with them. This will be a shame as both will still be very fine novels.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA