Thursday, September 22, 2005

Learning Curve


OK, Ken Macleod's Learning the World - the second of my scheduled book reviews.

This strikes me as a departure form Ken's usual territory of future-present stories. Although he keeps his utopian-ethnographic slant, this is a much more conventional science fiction yarn, harking back to the very cornerstone of the genre: confrontation with the alien Other.

Somehow, I have the sneaking suspicion the entire plot was built around one chapter title: Alien Space Bats! (I kid not). The story describes the Humans of Ground, evolutionary descendants of some octoped species now evolved into giant bat-people -What else could we expect from a trained zoologist - as the humans of Earth - who for millenia have settled the galaxy believing themselves alone - head toward them. We are the aliens in this encounter.

We in this instance could be described as Fabians in Space! Since humanity still has property, capital, futures markets, but a guiding principle of being peaceful and ensuring that no-one has nothing and no everyone has everything. Under tremendous population pressure, these humans are expanding and colonising the stars at a fierce rate.

I wouldn't want to give the twist away, but the arrival of the superior alien (our, Fabian) civilisation does not go the way it has traditionally done in science fiction. What is achieved, unusually is not the confirmation of power, leadership or authority that has occurred at the end of some of Macleod's other novels, nor of material interest, but a kind of affirmation of morality - a victory for it, even. That seems to be the theme that runs throughout, if you will, the essential difference from our own time.

Do read it, do, dear reader. Watch out for the ditzy nuking. Made me laugh.


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