Beyond the Reach of Earth

I really enjoyed Beyond the Hallowed Sky, so when the new book in the series arrived on my Kindle I dived straight in. Beyond the Reach of Earth kicks off immediately from the end of the previous book, with the existence of FTL travel having become public knowledge, not to mention the potential threat from the beings known as the Fermi. John Grant and his crew have just made themselves heroes, which is probably just as well given the likely political fallout of their having developed their own FTL ship outside of government control. Things seem liable to kick off in a big way.

And of course they do, so some extent. The three major world governments all express complete surprise at the existence of the Black Horizon conspiracy, even though two of them were supposedly partners in it. Politically, it is a mess. For the people on Apis, it may be a career-ending disaster. But for humanity in general, a whole universe of opportunity has just opened up. Or at least it would have done were it not for the Fermi.

Part of this book, then, is development of the existing plot. Various members of the cast, including the useful but inevitably treacherous android, Marcus Owen, go off to communicate with the Fermi. Or at least try to. Others are much busier trying to save their own skins.

The other part of the book is more for hard-core Ken MacLeod fans. Being who he is, MacLeod cannot resist unwrapping the political implications of the international incident that he has created. That involves government bureaucracy in the Alliance, swift military intervention in the Co-ord, and equally swift para-military intervention from the revolutionary cadres within the Union. It is the sort of thing that leaves you thinking that all forms of government are equally bad, which is perhaps what MacLeod intended in the first place.

Something that I think I noticed in this book, but may have imagined, is a slight shift in the way that AIs are portrayed. Owen is much the same, but it is clear that, despite his obvious success in passing for human, he’s very much a creature of his programming and will do seemingly crazy things when he gets orders to do so. It will be interesting to see how he develops in book 3 now that he’s on the run and therefore somewhat out of Alliance control.

We don’t see much of Smart-Alec, and We-Think is so far behind the software curve that it doesn’t seem part of the argument. Iskander, the Union’s AI, however, is still very much involved. And it seems to be operating independently of both the cadres and of the government. Given the current concern over supposed-AI software, it will be interesting to see where MacLeod goes with this.

And of course there are the Fermi. No spoilers, but there are major plot developments. Certainly I wasn’t expecting what happened. And now I’m very interested to know why there will be a book 3, and what will happen in it.

book cover
Title: Beyond the Reach of Earth
By: Ken MacLeod
Publisher: Orbit
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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