|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The Financial Times called it 'politically engaged, brimming with smart ideas and shot through with a mordant wit.' From a newspaper on the other side of the class struggle, Matt Coward in the Morning Star says: 'MacLeod’s fiction is always — above all else — humanist and this vivacious and constantly entertaining novel strongly suggests that we would all do better learning to recognise love and friendship when they are staring us in the face, rather than getting ensnared in the ultimately barren webs of the conspiracy mongers.'
SFX: 'A big-hearted, richly comic and, for all it often plays scenes for laughs, deeply moral and serious novel.'
Niall Alexander at Tor.com (and reprinted, if that's the word, at The Speculative Scotsman): 'In both senses—as a skiffy conspiracy thriller and an approachable coming-of-age confessional—Descent is a success in large part thanks to its fittingly conflicted central character ... [rendered] so exceptionally that readers will root for him to come good rather than hope to see him suffer for the sometimes disgusting things he does in service of his obsession.'
Edinburgh blogger Tychy: 'Descent is in fact an ambitious comic novel. It deserves to be thrust before the general reader, rather than being fostered upon a certain clique or market ... a lavish satirical novel, and dazzling in the scope of its moral application.'
SF critic Paul Kincaid at Bull Spec: 'The biggest book of the month has to be Descent by Ken MacLeod (Orbit). Like his previous novel, the Clarke-shortlisted Intrusion, it’s a near-future political novel about the intrusion of shadowy authority figures into ordinary life. This time it starts with what seems to be an encounter with a UFO, but it soon becomes more about issues of belief and control. It has to be said that I don’t think this is anywhere near as good as Intrusion, but as is typical of Ken MacLeod it is a gripping story that forces you to think about some very complex issues.'
Book-bloggers, whether individual or collaborative, have become important enough to actually get sent review copies. One lively and wide-ranging collaborative site is Upcoming4me. They often ask authors to give 'the story behind the story' and mine is here. Their review is here: 'In fact, this is not a novel about alien abductions but about the mystery of Ryan and his fall into confusion. Hence, the descent.'
For Winter Nights has a similar take: 'Ryan enthusiastically embarks on his descent into confusion, dark corners and suspicion. Luckily, his path is much more entertaining for us than it is for Ryan.'
Other online reviews from A Universe in Words, Kafka's Cage, Nudge (also at The Forgotten Geek), The Earthian Hivemind, Concatenation ('This is X-Files meets William Gibson doing a Kim Stanley Robinson; a very much hard to beat combination. Recommended.'), student newspaper York Vision ('It's political sci-fi, and good, original political sci-fi for that matter.'), and that by my friend and fellow Scottish SF writer Jack Deighton, are all in various ways insightful about the story and (to me) gratifying to read.
I was asked about the book and much else in an interview at The LA Review of Books, which was so wide-ranging and well-informed that I could use it as a FAQ. I've also talked about the book in podcast interviews conducted at Galactic Chat by Helen Stubbs and The Scottish Book Trust by Ryan Van Winkle.
Just in, and to wrap up, long-standing left-wing blogger Phil writes: 'Ken's exploration of a world in foment as it segues from neoliberal depression to Keynesian expansion is absolutely flawless, and everything ties up with a little bit left to the reader's imagination.
Near future fiction is a tricky genre to pull off because real world developments habitually threaten speculation. Yet Ken's novels, even the stuff he published in the 90s, remain endlessly contemporary and just slightly beyond our time; out of reach but all the more tantalising for it. Descent is an excellent novel and an excellent way into Ken's works.'