I was asked by the enigmantic zungg about good stand-alone sci fi novels. I'm still in two minds about whether this is good, but it is great fun.
It's kind of hard to know where to start describing Newton's Wake. Best to begin with the idea of singularity, which I've been trying to get my head around. I think it can be described as a moment when technology breaks free from human control. But it also always seems to be about uploading yourself to a central server, and breaking free of biology. In any case, we're always assured when the singularity happens, we'll know about it.
In this book it's called the Hard Rapture. America goes to war, and its war machines are so advanced they become sentient and start uploading people using the internet while irradiating the planet. The machines/uploads then become posthuman, create a network of wormholes across the galaxy, leave a bunch of unfathomable relics a la Roadside Picnic and disappear onto a different plane of existence where, it's suggested, they've made faster than light travel possible in our universe. We're told singularities start coming thick and fast after the first one's reached.
Okay, that's just the background. The actual plot concerns interstellar Glaswegian gangsters, folk singers brought back from the dead and the political rehabilition of Leonid Breshnev. But it doesn't entirely work, and I'm not sure why. I like the focus on unusual characters, and the way he looks at the world of art and fashion as well as politics and science, but I never got the feel that this was a real universe. MacLeod's ambitious for trying to tell a big story in one normal sized book, but perhaps he does need three massive breeze blocks like Peter F Hamilton. And if you're a sucker for space communists, then there's lots to enjoy.
I've accidently started three books at the same time. Koba the Dread by Martin Amis about Stalin, on audiobook Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks and the aforementioned Roadside Picnic on my phone - something which could be very handy if I can get used to reading the little screen.