Beyond the Hallowed Sky by Ken MacLeod

Orbit | 2021 (25 November) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Beyond the Hallowed Sky by Ken MacLeodIt is the 2070s when a brilliant scientist receives a letter from her future self giving her the formula for Faster Than Light travel. At the same time an engineer in Scotland witnesses something that should not be possible. On Venus, an unusual spy works to make sure that an astonishing discovery remains hidden. A Cold Revolution has divided the UK and the scars remain from the conflict. It’s not something that people want to talk about. People easily defect between the two and travel is permitted but there is a distrust and competition for technology is intense. With Faster Than Light technology thrown into the mix, humanity could extend beyond our solar system. But perhaps it already has.

I love Ken MacLeod’s science fiction. It blends hard SF and wondrous things with the reality of a recognisable future, firmly set in Scotland. Beyond the Hallowed Sky begins a new trilogy and it starts it brilliantly. There are timely themes with the UK disjointed and adrift intensified by memories of a recent conflict. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There have been leaps in technology – people travel in luxurious airships, their every need is anticipated by an obliging AI, and virtual reality devices enable pilots to manouevre machines thousands of miles away from the comfort of their own homes.

Ken MacLeod brings this future into people’s ordinary lives and it all makes it seem so believable and on our own horizon. But there is much in the novel that is far from ordinary. There are space ships but space ships like no others – they are fantastic! – and wonders. This is also a tale of first contact and it’s not like one I’ve seen before. But it is here that I’m hampered as I must tell you absolutely nothing about any of it. You need to see it for yourself and experience the sense of discovery that our characters undergo.

The characters themselves are varied – to put it mildly – and all are appealing or coldly frightening. I love the use of AIs and robots in Beyond the Hallowed Sky. I love the mix of technology and human stories and, as the novel develops, the action becomes thrilling and intense. I can’t wait to see how the trilogy develops. This is very intelligent, original and engrossing science fiction, with a really strong sense of foreboding and terror. This is Ken MacLeod at his very best.

I thoroughly recommend David’s review of Beyond the Hallowed Sky at Blue Book Balloon.

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