Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
Cosmonaut Keep (2000 UK, 2001 USA)
Beginning of The Engines of Light series
2002 Hugo Award nominee
US Tor science fiction paperback (left)
cover art by Stephan Martiniere
UK Orbit paperback (right)
Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep
(Warning! Some spoilers)
Cosmonaut Keep tells two stories in alternating chapters, one of a near future Earth (around 2050), and another of a more distant indeterminate future on a planet called Mingulay. Both plots feature protagonists with the last name of Cairns, politics, and extraterrestrials. The relationship between the two stories, unexplained at first, eventually becomes clear.
Matt Cairns is a software project manager, who coordinates AIs (Artificial Intelligences). He lives in Scotland, which is part of the communist controlled European Union (E.U.). He takes on questionable jobs, such as hacking face recognition programs. Jadey, Matt's American girlfriend, runs ops for the resistance in the Former United Kingdom (F.U.K.). She has acquired a datadisk from a Russian military officer with blueprints traceable to the European Space Agency (ESA) exploration station, Marshal Titov, where contact has been made with extraterrestrial life. The secret blueprints, which contain plans to build a flying saucer, get Jadey in trouble, and propel Matt on an adventure that leads him to Area 51, and eventually, with test pilot Camila, to the space station.
On the planet Mingulay, in the port city of Kyohvic, Gregor Cairns works with fellow scientists Elizabeth Harkness and the reptilian alien saur Salasso studying marine biology. On the cliffs above town there's a ancient pre-human castle, the so called Cosmonaut Keep. The cosmonaut families are descendants of the last known colonists from Earth. Spaceships travel to other planets such as Nova Terra and Croatan, but they are controlled by extraterrestrials -- the cryptic kraken, and the saurs who divulge little information. Humans are mere passengers, and their scientific knowledge seems to be fading. Gregor doesn't realize that his research partner, Elizabeth, is in love with him. He becomes smitten with Lydia de Tenebre, the pretty daughter of an interstellar trader from Nova Babylonia. Lydia and her family have ulterior motives in attracting Gregor's attention. They are interested in obtaining technology, especially his family's so-called "Great Work", the secret of human navigation between the stars.
MacLeod brings his seemingly separate stories together in an interesting, and satisfying manner. That Gregor is a descendant of Matt, is no surprise, but how Matt made it to Mingulay is intriguing. Cosmonaut Keep is book one of The Engines of Light series.summary written by
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly recommended
5-6 Mild recommendation
3-4 Take your chances
1-2 Below average; skip it
0 Get out the flamethrower!
U Unfinishable or unreadable
- Skipped or no rating given
Ken MacLeod – Cosmonaut Keep
Cosmonaut Keep contains a host of clever and interesting ideas. MacLeod writes of computer technology with authority, and describes the future in such convincing detail that he manages a high degree of verisimilitude. His enigmatic alien life forms are intriguing – I especially like the idea that our solar system is already teeming with alien life that we have not yet noticed. MacLeod even ties in UFOs and other paranormal lore believably, although perhaps without enough humor to make it worth the effort.
I found the story flat at times, but that's forgivable given that Cosmonaut Keep is the first volume in a new sequence of novels, and MacLeod busies himself with introducing a lot of story elements that I presume will come into play in later installments. More difficult to overlook is that the characters are bland. None of them have the feel of three-dimensional people. MacLeod’s presentation of romantic involvements is clumsy at best. The worst offender is Gregor Cairns, one of the two protagonists. His only character trait that I can discern is that he is a twit, and his potential love triangle held not the slightest interest for me.
MacLeod is a capable ideas man, and a welcome addition to the field of science fiction as such, but my impression is that he has yet to develop the skill and artistry that I have admired in some of the other current British authors such as Iain M. Banks and Adam Roberts.What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to