Volume 15, Number 01, Winter, 1997

The Stone Canal

By Ken MacLeod

(Legend 0-09-955891-2 15.99, 322pp, hc) October 1996.
Cover by Chris Moore.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
March, 1997

Rarely has a new writer emerged as polished and inventive as Ken MacLeod. Envy and awe are two emotions that flow strongly when reading The Stone Canal, MacLeod’s follow-up to his Prometheus Award-winning novel, The Star Fraction. This is only his second novel, but The Stone Canal shines throughout with superb writing that places it far along the bright edges of modern sf.

Set in the same universe, Canal is not so much a sequel as it is an expansion. If you read The Star Fraction and found it difficult to top, as I did, this novel is like a symphony in the same theme following a piano piece.

The narrative follows two threads. Both center around Jonathan Wilde, an individual anarchist we met in The Star Fraction. Yet while the former novel focused tightly in time and space on Norlonto, the anarcho-capitalist enclave in London, Canal spans centuries and light years. We see Wilde’s original life, and that of his clone on New Mars, whose own first memories are of his death. The two lives unfold in alternating chapters, converging. The reader, though aware of this, certainly couldn’t foresee the details of the convergence.

The style and pace of the novel complement each other exceedingly well. MacLeod writes with a crisp, economical style that bristles with hi-tech gloss, yet not one ounce of it superficial or done just for the effect. MacLeod creates an elaborate and political biography of Wilde that rings true for any libertarian who experienced the 1980s. On New Mars, light years from earth, MacLeod creates a believable society, wonderously exotic, yet also familiar.

Throughout Wilde’s life we can feel his passion and force of will. He is not a superman who liberates the world; indeed prospects for liberty seems ever-shrinking on earth, even in Wilde’s time. The fate of Norlonto may surprise some diehards, but then nothing ever is static.

This is not so much a novel with libertarian elements as it is a libertarian novel. The message is buried with the story, integral to plot and character. The characters are brilliantly realized; they grow and change as we do, filled with hope, cynicism, disillusionment, love, liberty. To say the least, The Stone Canal is impressive fiction.

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