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Cosmonaut Keep

(Engines of Light #1)

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  3,141 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Matt Cairns is a 21st-century outlaw Programmer who takes on the shady jobs no one else will touch. Against his better judgment, he accepts an assignment to crack the Marshall Titov, a top-secret orbital station operated by the European Space Agency. But what Matt will discover there will propel him on an extraordinary and quite unexpected journey.

Gregor Cairns is an exobi
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 7th 2002 by Tor Science Fiction (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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 ·  3,141 ratings  ·  115 reviews

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Peter Tillman
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Another fine thinking human's space opera

I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying that Cosmonaut Keep is a variant of the old Elder Races Rule the Universe shtick -- in this one, Fermi's Paradox is enforced by stern Galactic Gatekeepers, and woe to junior races who run afoul of the gods. They *hate* spam -- and care about due process about as much as you do when you spray Raid on an anthill.

MacLeod's writing just keeps getting better, and I'll happily put up with his hothouse politics
Althea Ann
My first book by this author. It's first in the "Engines of Light saga," but, I was pleased to discover, works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel... at the end, of course, there is room to wonder "what happens next" but the characters, and their relationships, all come to a nice stopping-point.

"Cosmonaut Keep" is really 2 novels in one. There are two completely separate plotlines, and the connection between them is not made explicitly clear until chapter 18 (of 21).
In the first one, we meet
Jun 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Conceptually an interesting book. I won't repeat the plot summary, but, to read, a very frustrating book. The author chops between the two stories in an abrupt manner that does not serve either character development or exposition. And there is an overuse of organisational acronyms that is truly baffling. I gave up trying to sort through which faction or organisation was which. First and last names are also confusingly used. In such a short story with such an array of ensemble characters it was t ...more
Peter Cowman
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adults and Mature Teenagers who enjoy thinking as they read
Shelves: sci-fi, favourites
First of all, I want to make it clear I am newish to Sci-Fi so will not be comparing it to other authors of the genre.

This book is quite extraordinary for me. It has an unusual style in the it has two story lines running side by side, one revealing the history of the characters on Earth, and one moving through the present in Space. The different narratives alternate between chapters and I found this to be infuriatingly effective. The plots were fascinating to me and so my attention was held by h
Storyline: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 2/5

Never judge a book by its cover. I know the adage, but still, I let the cover set the expectations. The danger in putting such an awesome cover illustration on a book is that it will prove better than the text. Illustrator Stephan Martiniere, whom I'm now a fan of outshone Ken MacLeod, whom I'm coming to expect less and less from.

Superficially the book presented so many of the features I look for in science fiction. It was enigmatic, prom
Jul 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf, trans-humanism
Cosmonaut Keep is the first in a new series by Ken MacLeod, who wrote The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division. As in those earlier works, this novel skillfully interweaves the personal and the political in a tapestry of transcendental posthumanity.

MacLeod again uses two narratives spanning an unknown amount of time to tell his story, and this conceit (while a bit confusing at first, at least in this novel) works. The "present" narrative takes place in the near-future, albeit in an alternate wor
Perry Whitford
MacLeod's patented political stew of socialists vs capitalists in space, with a Scottish techo-nerd caught in the cross hairs.

Matt Cairns is the resourceful geek, a freelance software manager in Soviet-annexed Scotland around the year 2050. Hnds up with a data disk containing the blueprint for a spectacular piece of machinery.

In a second storyline set light years away, human colonists of another solar system coexist with intelligent extraterrestrial lizard people with a taste for weed, giant sq
Oct 15, 2017 rated it liked it
So this is an interesting book that I enjoyed reading quite a bit. It`s a split narrative book, that opens in 3rd person, in a fascinatingly constructed setting that is clearly quite distant from modern day. The 3rd person sequences focus on marine biologists discovering their family`s business and unpeeling some layered local and regional history. The other thread is a 1st person narrative much closer to the current world, where an algorithm wrangler in a communist Scottland exfiltrates some se ...more
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thing that makes Cosmonaut Keep interesting is the amount of detail the author put into the universe in which it takes place. Throughout the book, the universe's extensive history and intricate political setting is gradually explored, giving the reader a good overview by the time the time they reach the end.

At times, the universe exposition seems to take priority over the plot. The characters often feel more like historical figures in the universe's history, rather than, well, characters. A
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm almost out of Iain M. Banks SF to read, so I thought I'd move on to his friend Ken MacLeod. MacLeod isn't the genius Banks was, but this is entertaining and interesting enough. I would have liked a lot more development and explanation of a lot of aspects of the plot and setting and I honestly could have done without most of the "romance" (or at least it could have been done much better), but there's enough cool stuff to keep me interested: a far future Epicurean quasi-religion (which I find ...more
Interesting, and a worthwhile read, but it didn't knock my socks off. It was well-crafted, with alternating chapters taking place in two different times and locations, only slowly letting the reader see how they are connected. Clues for understanding what was going on in one area were given in the other, which was clever, but I found the corresponding changes between first- and third-person a little jarring. The near future is thoroughly detailed and felt like a believable world, but the politic ...more
I love the way this starts out, which is in second person POV -- only very briefly, though. After that, the chapters alternate between a world that is not Earth, and a world that is Earth but way in the future. It took me a while to realise how the stories were linked -- Ken MacLeod once again threw me in at the deepend about the socio-political situation, but in this trilogy I picked it up quickly -- and I didn't care for the alternation of first person and third person, which happened every ch ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm on a MacLeod kick lately. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy his writing, but I loved this! Two interwoven plots taking place centuries apart, a Stalinist EU, the IWWWW or "Webblies", a Trotskyist faction organizing a coup on a scientific space station, flying saucers, paranoid X-Files-ish black helicopter conspiracy, and his usual in-jokes for lefties, i.e. pretty standard Ken MacLeod.
Matthew Reads Junk
Jan 22, 2014 rated it liked it
A bit confusing at first until you clue in that the author is switching between present and future with alternating chapters. Mostly the book is just prologue, it feels like setup for later stories. 350 pages and nothing much happens aside from pushing a button and finally starting a ship.
Jeff Raymond
Not sure when I got recommended this one, but it never really got around to catching me and I ultimately got frustrated and put it down. Not sure what it was that irritated me, to be honest, especially with the accolades it received.
Jan 14, 2015 rated it liked it
It was interesting, but anti-climactic. I picked up the sequel from a charity book stall, because it looked good, and that's why I ended up reading this. But, because this one left me a bit cold, I haven't been in a hurry to read the next one.
Not finished, very slow, tedious and any other number of words I can pull from a thesaurus...

May try later, not feeling it now.
Aug 07, 2015 marked it as could-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Lost interest, started reading another book, and just never went back to it.
Mar 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I have little to no clue what happened in this book and I think that's fucking terrific. It's been a long time since I read anything that withheld so much
Pedro Pascoe
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Cosmonaut Keep AKA Commie Stoners In Space!

Part 1 of the Engines of Light Trilogy, and for pretty much the first half of the book, I was wondering whether I could maintain the interest to push through the trilogy, or whether Book 1 would be as far as I went. It took me well into the second half of the book to get somewhat invested in the storyline and follow the plot enough. The previous reads of Ken Macleod were both stand-alone books (Newton's Wake, and Learning the World), which I enjoyed wit
Michael Whiteman
This is slow to get going, spending a lot of time establishing potential relationships and the two settings – a near-future Earth dominated by a communist Russia/EU in conflict with the USA and a far-future planet in the “Second Sphere” of terrestrial expansion into the universe. Once everything is in place and the intertwining plots become more clearly connected, it became a lot more engaging.

As the parallels come into focus and we see both generations of Cairns and their companions attempting
John  Mihelic
Mar 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This was recommended to me at some point on Twitter as a science fiction book that was explicitly sympathetic to leftist ideas. Reading the reviews gave me pause, but it was good enough to make me want to take a flier on the first of the series.

Ultimately, the plot is interesting. Macleod tells two divergent stories, on in the recent future from when he was writing, and another in the far future on a planet somewhat like ours but populated with space fantasy creatures. What makes it not work is
Adam Mikolajczyk
Nov 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
It's a rare day that I don't finish a book. This is one of those days. I have a lot of tolerance for some really bad books, but after I was one third of the way through this, absolutely nothing happened. As others have mentioned, it's two stories in one, alternating every other chapter with different narratives. No problem with that, you can't take me a third of the way through a book, using a lot of in-world jargon and references and not deliver one sliver of narrative drive or payoff. If you k ...more
Samuel Lubell
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf, book-club
This book is a little confusing as there are two plotlines set in two different time periods and the chapters lack indications of which time period the chapter is in. One is set in a human colony, with giant holes in their knowledge of the past, with fairly low levels of technology and living by the sufferance of the larger alien civilization. The second plotline is an early 21st century cyberpunk rebellion which eventually ties into the other plotline by showing how the launch of the human spac ...more
Keith Beasley-Topliffe
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy-sf
This book was nominated for a Hugo award back in 2000 when it was published. Time has not been kind to it. Part of the book is near future and the last 17 years have diverged significantly from the book's world. The other part of the book is far future and far away. But that points to the second problem: the book contains two story lines centuries apart unfolding in alternate chapters, so it feels mostly like reading two short books at once. Both stories are sort of interesting, but the switchin ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I can barely remember anything about this book which might be an indicator towards its impact. The mystery is not clever enough to justify the massive buildup and the characters only become interesting once they start doing things. The story becomes better towards the end, but it wastes a lot of good will on the way there.
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
This novel’s predictable plot is equally limited by overly esoteric writing style.

Why create anything new when you can rearrange the characters, change the setting, and just drag out the same old pacing? And to make it even easier to discard this, add a writing style that twists and turns for no reason other than … boredom?

This novel needs a serious editor.
Elise Rogers
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm on a MacLeod kick lately. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy his writing, but I loved this! Two interwoven plots taking place centuries apart, a Stalinist EU, the IWWWW or "Webblies", a Trotskyist faction organizing a coup on a scientific space station, flying saucers, paranoid X-Files-ish black helicopter conspiracy, and his usual in-jokes for lefties, i.e. pretty standard Ken MacLeod.
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mesmerisingly good sci-fi, I was hooked from the beginning, and despite predicting the conclusion rather early on it was still gripping to read. The worldbuilding and characters are generally good, the female characters being the exception as they are written fairly one-dimensionally.

In conclusion, Space communism good, badly written female characters not good.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Addictive yet aimless - the story point is? Unknown. Needs direction.
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Ken MacLeod is an award-winning Scottish science fiction writer.

His novels have won the Prometheus Award and the BSFA award, and been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He lives near Edinburgh, Scotland.

MacLeod graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in zoology and has worked as a computer programmer and written a masters thesis on biomechanics.

His novels often explore socialist, c

Other books in the series

Engines of Light (3 books)
  • Dark Light (Engines Of Light, #2)
  • Engine City (Engines Of Light, #3)

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