Cosmonaut Keep

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 16, 2002

Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod

Lori and I hosted this meeting at our house in Cedar Park. Fourteen people attended this meeting, including four first-time participants. One person submitted comments by email.

Our topic was Cosmonaut Keep, a current Hugo nominee for Best Novel. The book goes back and forth between two plotlines in different locations and times. The first is a near-future story about a computer hacker being chased by agents of several government, which leads to his eventually leaving the Earth. The other plotline involves people from Earth who have been settled on a distant planet named Mangalay for generations and are trying to rediscover the lost technology of their ancestors.

Most of us preferred the earthbound cyberpunkish story, which got going quicker and was more action-packed. This sequence was full of inside jokes about computer programmers, which all the high tech workers in our group enjoyed. There was much political discussion and speculation, which one person in our group liked, but the rest of us skimmed it since it was not relevant to the plot. After the protagonist leaves Earth he travels to a space station full of dysfunctional research scientists. Just as the book seems to be setting up a cool battle with space marines, aliens show up and do cosmic stuff.

The Mangalay plotline was slow to get going and seemed primarily to be setting up a long story that will be told over a several-volume series. Several crucial bits of exposition in this sequence were poorly written, causing several readers to be confused even after multiple readings. We liked the sentient reptilian native inhabitants of the planet, and how they fit well into the human society.

The author cleverly dropped hints about how the two plotlines were related, so we were prepared when the connection was revealed near the end of the book. We appreciated the author’s experimental storytelling technique, but did not consider it a success. A few people found the changes between threads were so abrupt that they felt they were changing genres. Several people in our group got tired of the back-and-forth and simply read the entire book in chronological order.

Overall we found Cosmonaut Keep to be an ambitious, flawed book. There are several clever concepts in the book, but the different plot threads don’t fit well together and both end too abruptly. Ken MacLeod clearly has a lot of talent and may produce a great book in the future, but most of us don’t plan to recommend this book or read its planned sequels. After the meeting, we had a wonderful dinner at Mongolian Grille.

–A. T. Campbell, III