liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
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Author: Ken MacLeod

Details: (c) Ken MacLeod 1996; Pub Orbit 2002; ISBN 1-84149-060-1

Verdict: The Stone Canal is a good story which is also thought-provoking.

Reasons for reading it: I read it just over 3 years ago, and promised myself at the time that I would read it again, because I enjoyed it but found a lot of it confusing.

How it came into my hands: [livejournal.com profile] lethargic_man gave it to me for my birthday in 2002, when we first started going out.

I liked The Stone Canal a lot better on second reading. Or maybe I've just forgotten how much I liked it, but since I did resolve to reread it I think I must have expected to like it better a second time. I think part of it is that I'm more familiar with the sort of modern SF ideas that it's playing with than I was when I first read it, and partly that it's a very, very dense book and a second reading allowed me to get much more of a handle on it. Also, I think it benefitted from the fact that I'm rationing my reading at the moment, so I read it rather slower than I usually read, and therefore took time to absorb the ideas and emotional impact.

But yeah, on this reading, just about everything about it worked for me, and very strongly. It's a very exciting story which never drops the pace, and the background and world-building and general incluing are just there in a way that you don't even notice you're learning about how things work. But on stopping to think, it's really clever world-building. The characterization is superb, which is what carries such a complex book and motivates the reader to put in the effort needed to follow all the tangled threads and clever ideas.

The first four or five chapters are absolutely superlative. I think the later part of the book is slightly weaker, perhaps because it just gets too confusing and tangled and there are too many ideas to see the underlying structure clearly. But the whole is still very, very good. I generally don't get on well with non-linear narrative, but the structure of The Stone Canal is one of the things that really succeed about it. At first it feels as if it's just jumping about randomly between the far future on New Mars and 1970s Glasgow, but as the connections gradually become clear it all falls together in a really impressive way. And the structure is not just clever for its own sake, but an important part of what makes the book so exciting, because it allows information to be revealed at just the right pace. There are loads of incredibly cool twists, which work precisely because it's non-linear.

And the political and SF speculation is very, very cool. The book is almost never didactic, you just pick up all these cool ideas and philosophical questions almost without noticing, while reading a very exciting story. There are still some bits I don't entirely understand, but that is almost a good thing because it gives me a reason to read it a third time. Actually, I liked it so much on this reading that I think it's up there with the books I reread just because they're that good.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-07 08:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Whereaboooots: New Mars

*giggle*

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-07 10:26 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
Have you read MacLeod's other Fall Revolution books?

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 04:47 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
Since you liked The Stone Canal, I'd recommend the rest of that quartet (they aren't a series, but they're set in connected places/worlds). The others are The Star Fraction, The Cassini Division,, and The Sky Road.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 07:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
I was very favorably impressed with Ken MacLeod with the first thing I read by him (Cosmonaut Keep) - I've now read several more things by him, and was somewhat disappointed that many of his other books use the same idea in very much the same way. It's a good idea and everything, but could profitably be changed around a bit more, I think.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
Well, of the books of his I've read: Learning the World is an entirely different idea, and quite well done; I thought. I didn't like The Sky Road, which appears to be related to The Stone Canal nearly as much as Cosmonaut Keep. The two books which follow CK in the Engines of Light sequence were (IMHO) less impressive than CK, but probably slightly better than The Sky Road.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 04:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
Blah. That comment went horribly wrong. I blame several days working with electronics for frying my mind. It's the smell of heated silicon... for clarity, insert 'I liked' before Cosmonaut Keep in the second sentence.

I meant in general to suggest that those were my preferences, so if your taste is similar to mine you might want to try those. I haven't, however, read The Stone Canals or either of the other same-timeline works.

I found that Sky Road really failed for me because it was set out in quite a coy fashion, almost as if intended to be a mystery, but the combination of having read CK and scientific literacy meant that I'd worked out pretty much the whole thing by somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 way through the book. That made the coyness irritating.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 09:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I think a problem you had is reading the last of a four-part series first. The Sky Road builds upon knowledge the reader has gained from reading the other ones. Myra Godwin we already knew from The Stone Canal. Near the beginning somebody accuses her of going back on everything she ever stood for. Since in The Stone Canal she was a sympathetic character (though we didn't get to know her well), the reader is meant to assume that she had her reasons for doing as she did. The gradual revelation of what the real situation is (he says, speaking vaguely so as not to spoil it for [livejournal.com profile] livredor) affects the reader who has read The Stone Canal in a way it would not one who has not.

The Sky Road is an alternate history to the other Fall Revolution books; it starts out in the same universe, but then forks—"the die cast, the cat dies"—and that too has repercussions on what the reader experiences: It hit me hard, for example, when I realised that in this history, Jon Wilde really did die forever in Myra's arms at the roadside on the Kazakh border.

As for figuring out what was going on, bear in mind that this book was written before Cosmonaut Keep—so perhaps [livejournal.com profile] livredor should read the Fall Revolution books before the Engines of Light ones. (Brief aside for [livejournal.com profile] livredor: the first Fall Revolution book, The Star Fraction, is IMO the weakest. I suggest you read The Cassini Division next, in which we follow up The Stone Canal's views on libertarianism by contrasting an anarcho-capitalist society with an anarcho-communist one.)

What you referred to in your posting in re working it out is not unprecedented in the series... but the history is so different to The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division that I wasn't expecting it. (Also, the reader ought to get something different out of how they react to Merrial booting up the Windows machine on second reading.)

Another thing which you won't get unless you have read the rest of the series: this is the only book in the series that does not end with <rot13>n trabpvqr bs NVf</rot13>, but from what we see instead, maybe it would have been kinder if it had.

Even without having read the rest of the series, there are things in there that I thought cleverly done, for example the way when Merrial and Clovis meet at the very start, she greets him as if she already knows him, and he has the feeling he already knew her; and it's not romantic pre-destined love or anything like that; both of these turn out to have very good reasons.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
This makes sense. My reaction to The Sky Road was definitely conditioned by having read Cosmonaut's Keep in a way that the author couldn't have anticipated, given that he hadn't written the latter yet! In my own defense, I can say only that the copy of TSR that I got didn't make any obvious mention of it being part of a series. After [livejournal.com profile] livredor's review, I'll keep an eye out for an earlier book and see if I like that better.

(no subject)

Date: 2006-05-08 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Well, suffice it to say I lent [livejournal.com profile] livredor The Stone Canal first for a reason. :o) (Actually, several reasons.)

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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