Diamond Age 75 (70)
July 12, 2020
One in a series of posts about the 75 best science fiction novels published during the genre’s Diamond Age era (from 1984–2003, according to HILOBROW’s periodization schema). For Josh Glenn’s complete Diamond Age Sci-Fi 75 list, click here.
Ken MacLeod’s Engines of Light adventure Engine City (2002).
The third installment in MacLeod’s epic of humans colonizing distant worlds — and discovering their true place in a vast interstellar community watched over by microcosmic gods — is in certain respects the most satisfying. Set in the city of Nova Babylonia, the greatest city of the Second Sphere (whence humankind, sentient dinosaurs, and evolved krakens, not to mention folkloric “Pithkies” and “gigants” were removed to, millennia ago), Engine City explores what happens when Grigory Andreievich Volkov and his group of renegade cosmonauts arrive in their improvised starship… and attempt to unite the placid utopia’s various species against a self-replicating octopod race offering omnipotence and immortality. We’ve met these cosmonauts, in the previous installments; we’ve also met their antagonists — a Scottish anarchist computer programmer from the year 2049, the heiress of an interplanetary mercantile dynasty, and a pot-smoking saur. The Multipliers have interfered in the lives of Earth’s species since prehistoric times — it was they who elevated the saurs and kraken; the “gods” (hyper-intelligent collectives of extremophile nanobacteria living inside asteroids) have prevented them from achieving their goals. When the alien invasion reaches Nova Babylonia, which side will win out?
Fun facts: “Inclusivity is MacLeod’s great principle,” notes Colin Greenland in his review of the novel. “Few writers acknowledge, implicitly or explicitly, so many influences: not only old masters like Wells and Olaf Stapledon, Arthur C. Clarke and Poul Anderson, but also radical contemporaries like Gwyneth Jones and Bruce Sterling.”
DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: William Gibson | Bruce Sterling | Margaret Atwood | Ann Nocenti | Frank Miller | Alan Moore | Octavia E. Butler | Iain M. Banks | Grant Morrison | Neal Stephenson | Jonathan Lethem | Charles Burns | China Miéville.
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