Tripp's Reviews > The Execution Channel

The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod
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Feb 16, 08

really liked it

An unpleasant parlor game is to wonder what the world would be like if all the nasty trends of the day were to persist into the coming decades. If this sort of thing interests you, then Ken MacLeod has a book for you. The Execution Channel is set in a unpleasant future of frequent torture, limited civil rights, environmental degradation, refugee crises, terrorist attacks and the use of nuclear weapons. The book starts off with a nuclear detonation at a Scottish air base. That attack is quickly followed by more attacks and the security and intelligence apparatuses quickly go into action.

The main question of the novel is who did it? Is it Al Qaeda, the Sino-Russian Alliance, the French, who are also flirting with the Russians, or is it an inside job by the Americans and British? The plot is a tad complex, especially for such a short novel, and readers may get confused by the multiple agendas and tweaked geopolitical arena. The ex-Commies are now Commies again, more or less. This isn't surprising given the author. MacLeod's novels tend to involve debates over which form of socialism will end up triumphing in the future. What makes little sense is the apparent state of America. While we don't get the full details, the US is in a state of near economic collapse, but is even more engaged in overseas adventures. Conspiracy theorists might buy that the US could maintain a high GDP contribution to military action, but I can't see it.

Speaking of conspiracy theorists, MacLeod serves up some fresh ideas in the book. Blogs have become more powerful and intelligence agencies spend quite a bit of time involved in old school disinformation campaigns to manipulate them. He also makes an argument that the geopolitical mess of today is systemic rather than personality driven. In his world, Gore wins in 00, launches an pre-emptive attack on AQ in Afghanistan, which sets off wars in Iraq and Iran, as well as a different 9/11. The point is that the conditions for a West vs. Islamic world war were already in place and the actual President didn't matter. While I don't necessarily agree, I like seeing this sort of analysis in scifi books, which often take a personality centric approach.

I quite liked this bleak book, up until the ending at least. While it made its own sense and was certainly set up in the book, it felt like a bit of cheat to me. It didn't by any means ruin the experience for me, but it seemed like an ending to a different story, unless of course he is taking the systemic argument further and saying that the action of these people are unimportant, there are larger forces at work.
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