A trait of the late Iain M. Banks that had many readers gravitate toward his work was the balance of elements in a Sci-Fi novel. Many of the genres novelists fail when they allow the intelligence of the world they’ve constructed to distract from a story’s drama. Some of the world’s greatest Sci-Fi writers take simple plots and set them in complicated worlds. All in the hope that the intelligence of that manufactured universe would distract from the blandness of the story being told. But thanks to the unforgiving Sci-Fi reader, they don’t succeed.
No matter the genre, best sellers are built on the emotion of the characters dealing with difficult plots, set these within complex worlds, where the ultimate balance between all three has been achieved and success will be waiting for you. Iain M Banks knew that quality made Sci-Fi the most challenging genre to tackle and fellow Scotsman Sci-Fi writer, Ken Macleod, certainly follows that tradition.
In his new addition to the Corporation Wars Saga, Macleod takes us to a feared bleak future that many of us, after such a brutal year of political change, are dreading as a destiny for our civilisation.
The company, it’s fast becoming the god that governs. In his series, Colony spanning corporations fight over galactic ownership of resources hundreds of light years from human habitation. Using AI controlled drones and soldiers to conduct their fighting and dirty work.
It’s pretty clear from the first three chapters that Macleod has drawn inspiration from the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and etched a stencil for the companies from the corrupt elite houses found in Frank Herbert’s Dune. The planet in the book, SH-0, feels more like what Antarctica is vastly edging toward, as more countries and companies lay claim to regions of unexplored areas. The AI element of the story is not dissimilar to Michael Crichton’s Westworld, referring to self-awareness as a virus. This tips one to see the humans of the story as the antagonists. According to Jonathan Nolan, the man at the helm of the latest TV series of the same name, becoming the “Bad Guy” is the next chapter in our human evolution.
Ironically, that bleak outcome is what makes Insurgence a rapid page-turner. Best read between the hours of 10pm and 11pm. Chances are, you’ll start shortly after 10.30pm, but that’s ok. It’s all right to check your Facebook, get all of that FOMO out of the way, because you’re about to get lost in a highly subversive story. On many occasions, I started at 10pm covered a few chapters then looked at my watch. It was suddenly 1am. This will happen a lot of the time, as the book plunges you into a time vacuum.
Macleod writes with all of the balances set out above in check and delivers a well-weaved story that takes place in many different locations, none of which are overly drawn out or explained, allowing the sci-fi lover to build that world with their own vast imaginations. Crowning Ken a master at plate spinning.
It’s a fun addition to the saga. All Sci-Fi fans will discover elements of the story that they’ll love and if any fans of Banks are reading this, rest assured. It will have everything inside that you came to love about the late great author, offering up questions and insights galore.
Insurgence is published by Orbit and available to buy from Amazon and all good bookshops.