Descent – Ken Macleod
Quite what is happening in this dark, twisted almost hallucinogenic novel is an opinion open to question but what is certain is that Ken Macleod may well have tapped into some post-millenium angst. Throw in a wild dash of conspiracy theories and alien lifeforms and you have one of the most interesting science fiction stories for a long time.
As one of the most respected and innovative British science fiction authors, Macleod stands tall with the great Iain Banks with this novel and there are shades of that writer throughout. This is hardly a case of plagiarism though as Macleod is at the forefront of sc-fi himself. Maybe it's a case of respect to a passing giant or maybe it's just the setting of Edinburgh that brings memories back.
Set in the near future, one which echoes shades of our now in it's history, Ryan and Calum are two friends who find themselves in the middle of what they believe to be an alien abduction. It is a time of revolution and political parties are fighting out before a new deal is arranged to set things in progress once again. It is also a time of intense social media and that feeling of being watched pervades everywhere as drone camera's float around and a glasses are used for all sorts of things (shades of Google glass and what the future may hold).
The feeling that sinks into you whilst reading this at times convoluted plot is the sheer presence of paranoia. From the early abduction scenes through to the final denouement at Holyrood and beyond you are never quite sure what is going on. Indeed, by the end you are left wondering who actually is implicit in all of this and only one semi clear answer comes through. A lot of this is do to with the rather shady Baxter who turns up in a variety of guises as either a Man in Black, a pastor or a politician.
It's not just the political implications that threaten the society in this novel, it is also a novel of relationships and how they can twist people. By bringing the novel down to this level it is almost like placing it at our own doorstep and bringing in a frisson which questions our feelings on loyalty, friendship and ultimately, relationships. Mix this in with questions of race and possible implications of what may happen in the future as regards genetic coding and you have on fine novel to get your teeth into.
If all that sounds rather heavy going there is no need to worry though as the plot runs along at rapid pace and the energetic writing sucks you into its trap. It's bright and breezy but also dark and twisted and brings to mind The Wasp Factory in parts. It's also pretty beautiful at times and scary too making this a great all rounder.
Descent is a novel to lose yourself in and then find yourself reading over and over again. It is one that may be destined to become a cult classic and certainly a favourite amongst sci-fi fans. It's intelligent, gripping and utterly puzzling but then aren't all great books? Ken Macleod has created a paranoid masterpiece for the 21st century and it may well make you thing twice about the progress of the human race and technology.