2000; 336 pages. Book One of the “Engines of Light” series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Science-Fiction; Space Opera; First Contact; Romance. Laurels : Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee (2001); Hugo Award Nominee (2002, Best Novel). Overall Rating : 7*/10.
It’s 2040 AD, and the excitement level in Matt’s life have just escalated quickly. One moment he’s living a somewhat mundane life as an outlaw computer programmer (“hacker” has such a negative connotation), and a minor member of the Resistance. A moment later, he finds himself on the run: a wanted man by the government, and all because of some classified information he’s procured by practicing his craft.
He’s also romantically involved with a fellow resistance member, Jadey.
Meanwhile (and we’re using that term loosely), a couple centuries in the future and halfway across the galaxy, Gregor is trying to develop a trade agreement on behalf of the port city of Kyohvic, located on the backwater planet Mingulay.
He’s also romantically involved with the daughter of Esias de Tenebrethe, a Nova Babylonian business magnate,
Well, it doesn’t really seem like the two storylines have much in common, as Matt and Gregor are separated by hundreds of years and hundreds of light years. But the two men do have one thing they share.
They have the same last name.
What’s To Like...
Cosmonaut Keep is Space Opera at its finest, with fabulous descriptions of faraway worlds, a kewl species of sentient raptors (the “saurs”), and of course, lots of sex. The chapters alternate between Matt’s adventures and Gregor’s, with different POV’s (Matt’s: 1st person; Gregor's: 3rd-person), so there’s no confusion as to who, where and when you’re reading about. The writing is superb. This is a vocabularian's delight.
The chapters are of moderate length – 22 of them to cover 336 pages. The book has its share of cussing and sex, but we'd expect that from Space Opera stories. The Romance consists of a pair of love triangles: Matt/Jadey/Camila and Gregor/Lydia/Elizabeth. But don't worry about things getting mushy. One person in each triangle pretty much disappears in the second half of the book, leaving the remaining pair to have lots of guilt-free, weightless rolls in the proverbial hay.
Outside of the saurs, there aren’t a lot of alien critters to meet: a few gigants (an alternate word for giants), and some pithkies. All the saur characters are richly developed, and I always enjoy meeting species who are intellectually and ethically superior to humans. To boot, their limited tolerance to the effects of cannabis makes for some hilarious interludes in the story. I also chuckled at the “Scoffer’s church service” and the appreciated the smattering of French phrases thrown in.
The first half of the book was a bit of a slog and suffered from “PWP?” (“Plot? What plot?”) as well. Matt’s on the run with some secret flying saucer information (which may or may not be bogus), but his mode of fleeing is via a slow boat to America, so there’s not much tension. Most of Gregor’s problems stem from his blithely naïve approach to the love triangle.
But things pick up in the second half of the tale, when Matt makes it into outer space and Gregor goes searching for the “First Crew”. So fear not, fellow readers, Cosmonaut Keep is heavily science-fiction, with just a thin veneer of Romance.
Kewlest New Word ...
Anhedonic (adj.) : pertaining to a lack of pleasure or the capacity to experience it.
Others : Bolide (n.); Pong (n.); Bravura (n.); Noachic (adj.); Mole (n., its ‘harbor’ definition ).
“Okay,” she said. “What next?”
“I pull together a small company to investigate this thing.” I turned back to the screen. “I have a lot of good contacts for this.”
“Maybe you do,” she said. “But not tonight.”
She stared at me, then reached out and caught my hand. “Come on. I’ve had a murderously long day. Let’s go down to the bar, then I’ll take you up on the offer of a bed for the night.”
First I knew of the offer, but I didn’t refuse. (pg. 67)
The saur’s superior intelligence and honesty would make him, as any trader as experienced as this one was sure to know, unlikely to bullshit. (Salasso had once explained to her, with perfect aplomb, that the qualities of intelligence and honesty were linked: with sufficient intelligence one could see the ramifying consequences of a lie, the sheer cost in mental processing-power of sustaining it, and draw back from it. “Perhaps this relationship does not hold for the homidae,” he’d added, with wounding tact.) (pg. 139)
“The dream you guys have of treating the Solar System as raw material for orbital mobile homes, guns, and beer cans is right out.” (pg. 196)
There were a couple disappointing aspects to this book, which were directly related to the fact that Cosmonaut Keep is the first book in a trilogy. I was drooling over the trilobites, tethys, krakens, and ichthyosaurs that show up in the first couple pages, but then they leave the stage, never to be seen again. Perhaps they play a bigger role in the next two books.
More importantly, there’s the problem with the ending, or rather, the lack of one. The two storylines do finally converge (page 302), and a case can be made that the tale ends at a logical point. But none of the story’s threads are resolved, and I kinda got the feeling that the only purpose of the ending was to set up the sequels.
That may be fine if you have all three books setting on your TBR shelf, but I don’t. I found my copy of Cosmonaut Keep at a used-book store, and Books 2 and 3 weren't available there, or at my two local libraries, in any form: hardback, paperback, or as an e-book. So my options are to either fork over $7.99 apiece for the next two books in Kindle format, or wait patiently until I come across them as used books.
I don’t begrudge Ken MacLeod for writing this saga as a series or wanting to be paid his fair share for his stories, but I do expect each and every book to have a self-contained, complete story. Cosmonaut Keep doesn’t, and I was frankly surprised that it got nominated for two prestigious awards despite this.
7 Stars. Let’s be clear, this is still a well-written piece of sci-fi Space Opera, and readers looking for an entertaining book in that genre will not be disappointed. But a reader is entitled to self-contained storyline in any and every book he guys, even if it is part of a series.