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Learning the World: A Scientific Romance
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Learning the World: A Scientific Romance

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,786 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Humanity has spread to every star within 500 light-years of its half-forgotten origin, coloring the sky with a haze of habitats. Societies rise and fall. Incautious experiments burn fast and fade. On the fringes, less modified humans get on with the job of settling a universe that has, so far, been empty of intelligent life.

The ancient starship But the Sky, My Lady! The
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Tor Science Fiction (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  1,786 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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Megan Baxter
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was pretty darn good. Not exceptional, not rocking my socks off, but solid, and interesting, and trying new ideas I'd never quite seen before. And the new ideas are subtle. The writing style is serviceable, but won't set the world on fire any time soon. It was never quite a page-turner, but wasn't hard to pick up either.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you
May 14, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
I gave up reading Ken MacLeod after three books in a row banging on in strident fashion about revolutionary left wing politics.

I was given this one after a 5 or so year gap and was a little trepiditious about it. It turns out, however that this book has no such theme. It's a first contact novel, where-in a generation ship arrives in a solar-system that has the first multi-cellular life humans have found outside Earth - but not only that - it has a civilisation just developing radio and powered
Peter Tillman
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
An exceptionally well-done comfort-read for longtime SF fans

An exceptionally well-done update to a classic SF theme: First Contact, by an enormous generation-starship full of antsy colonists, with the hitherto-unsuspected sophonts native to their destination planet. Who turn out to be (literally) Alien Space-Bats, at early 20th-century tech-levels. They're interesting folk, more human than the humans, really. Plus, they read "engineering fiction"! Both the ASB's and the high-tech human settlers
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
I believe many of the other reviewers are missing the point. This is not an adventure, nor does it have a clear story arc. It's not a page-turner. It's mostly world-building, and big ideas, both sociological and scientific. Reasonably interesting characters of both genders. And the author expects the reader to share in the task of building (and Learning!) the world. By the end most ideas and themes are clarified, but none are actually answered, none are actually fully developed.

I'd love to see
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Generation ships are nothing new in science fiction, but this does manage to do some new things with the concept. Unfortunately, while it starts off very strong, it kind of peters out by the end.

The chapters alternate between the ship, as they gradually realize that one of the planets in their destination system is occupied by the first life more advanced than algae that's ever been found, and the planet, as they gradually realize that the weird comet is artificial in origin. In both cases, the
Apr 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and subtle story of first contact in which many of the tropes traditional assumptions are twisted in interesting ways.

Employs a two stranded narrative to tell the story from both viewpoints at once; a structure that works really well.

I was left with the impression that KM had done a lot of thinking around the Fermi paradox, the principal of mediocrity, the anthropic principal and other topics that he (mostly) resisted the urge to force into the narrative.
Alan Zendell
Feb 03, 2012 rated it liked it
This book left me with sharply mixed feelings. It's an easy read, a great story that's often fun, but there were just too many things in it that felt wrong to me. Too much strange physics which might be acceptable if it was necessary to drive an otherwise tight plot, but it wasn't. The green mist in interstellar space signalling the coming of intelligent visitors and the spawning of countless new universes really add nothing to the story and and cause readers to scratch their heads.

Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
I almost abandoned this book in the early stages; it was not, initially a comfortable read. There was something quite disfunctional about it. Then, suddenly, it clicked and the pattern became obvious.
An Earth ship is approaching a distant sun and its planets as part of the expanding Human colonisation of space, when it is realised that one of the planets is inhabited. On this planet, though less advanced than the Earth colonists, scientists have also begun to suspect that there is something
Ulmer Ian
My first Ken MacLeod book, I picked it up in a bookstore and started reading and knew this was a book for me. I love first contact stories and enjoy the premise of having the Homo sapiens in the book be more alien than the aliens (like the green soldiers of Old Man's War).

It was an engaging read throughout. It was an interesting organization for the far-future civilization.

And thank goodness my local used bookstore had a British copy. What is up with the ugly Tor edition? With it's silly
May 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Two words: electric shittles.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This as an absolutely fantastic book of First Contact science fiction... which lost an extra star due to a not-very-satisfying ending. It's not a spoiler to tell you that the final chapter is a quick philosophical wrap-up that (to me at least) felt overly abrupt. I really think this book cried out for a sequel to further explore the cultural ramifications of humans meeting up with the bat-people aliens (what, you thought they wouldn't meet??). Unfortunately, the book was published in 2005 -- and ...more
Gustaf Erikson
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A generation starship approaches a system after a 400 year voyage, intent on colonising the asteroid belt and pushing off again. They are shocked to discover the first alien intelligent life encountered during humanity’s 15,000-year expansion.

A nicely done novel, especially the fact that the aliens are more “human” (closer to us) than our putative descendants. Also a good treatment of the generation ship problem: how do you ensure a stable population over a voyage spanning centuries? The answer:
Eric Lawton
Dec 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I used to read more SciFi but dropped several recently after only a few pages, but I finished this one. Raises issues of colonialism and slavery which threaten to split a human society and unify an alien one.
But not all that deep, mostly an entertaining read.
Karen Allen
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Humans, bat people
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the alien space bats more than the humans.
Jim Shannon
Nov 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandon
Couldn't get into this book.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Hard to follow some of the finer details and descriptions, but the plot is good.
gen ship & furries

Like, flying Ewoks. But carnivorous. So more like bats really. Attending lectures upside down. With a queen, coal, dirigibles and scientists investigating the aether. So cute steampunk flying furries. On collision course with a gen ship. How could this not be awesome?
The gen ship could suck. Ace weirdo furry professors and fail at people? That's SF for you.

So, Marxist commodity fetishism.
Broken economics are nothing special in SF and it's sometimes played up for comical
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: second-year-uni
I feel like I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn't had to read it for uni (and as a result, was forced to speed read it over a couple of days). Much of what was going on went completely over my head, and I struggled with the made-up language and the alienating (which I guess is the point) nature of the society/environment of both the humans and the bat-like aliens.
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
An intelligent piece of science fiction. Humanity has spread throughout most of the galaxy. They colonize habitable planets around a star then move on to the next solar system in huge spaceships. In the distant past, humans migrated to the moon and lived in moon caves. It's been fourteen thousand years since that time and humanity has slowly been fanning out into the far reaches of the galaxy. But the advancement is not just technological, humans have evovled into a much wiser, and more tolerant ...more
Ian Hardy
Apr 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I quite enjoyed this book. If anything I think I read it at the right time in that I clearly needed to read something like this by the manner in which I hoovered it up.

The premise is of a quite advanced and in some ways quite different-to-us human race, 14,000 years in the future, arriving at their 57th solar system in a huge 'generation ship', only to find that one of its planets already harbours a roughly C20th level sentient species, the first extra-terrestrial high functioning one ever
May 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of first-contact and alternate perspective stories
This was a very well-done "first contact" story, in that it presented human contact with aliens from both sides. This in itself may not sound so original, but it is literally from both sides, as if there are two separate, parallel stories in one book. I love books that tell a familiar story from a different perspective (like Star Wars: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina or Zoe's Tale), but having both in the same book is even better.

Another original twist is that we (homo sapiens) are the
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]I really liked it. I thought that it does indeed add something new to the old sf theme of first contact between humans and aliens. It takes the premise of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, a book I really didn't like at all, and does it a whole lot better - basically, the aliens on their planet have a society which feels much more like ours than do the humans in the approaching spaceship. I thought the various cultures and subcultures, ...more
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a first contact story set in the distant future as humanity is systematically colonizing the galaxy in slower-than-light generation ships and we encounter an intelligent race that is somewhere around where we were in the early 20th century. The sort-of twist here is that the aliens are easier for the reader to identify with than the distant-future humanity.
It's a fairly light read. I was a bit dissatisfied with the abrupt ending.
Sep 01, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, Learning the World is a magnificently crafted book. It is well structured and beautifully written. However, this is not a book that will please all readers.

The opening is somewhat like feeling around in a dark room looking for the light switch: It's not quite clear what's going on. This is complicated by the fact that you end this first chapter believing you know the rules of the world only to have to undergo the same process with the second chapter and the other world. It also takes
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gone is the smart political sensibilities and hyper-kinetics of his post-cyberpunk “Fall Revolution” series, or the vast, achingly distant noir universe of “Engines of Light”.

This is golden age science fiction – people in a spaceship, a new world, and a previously unsuspected alien race. Its a small book, with some good moments, but rather then the delicious disassociation that I associate with reading a Macleod novel, here he has worked hard to make the far future seem familiar and mundane.

Joseph Farand
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
After a 400-yr old journey a human generation starship arrives at it's destination. But to their surprise, this Earth-like planet has indigenous intelligent life - the first ever encountered. This changes everything and leads to a schizm between the younger "ship" generation that wants to begin colonization and the founders who want noninterference with the developing alien culture. Meanwhile, on Ground, a young astronomer and his friend, a physicist, detect an anomaly with a new comet - the ...more
Mike Dimitroff
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
A beautiful, intelligent first contact story with multiple twists that set it apart from the rest. We (SF readers) are used to contacts with both technologically superior or inferior races. But what if mankind discovered a species that is morally superior? Although we wouldn't have to worry much about what they will do to us, what will we do to ourselves as a result of the contact?

Ken MacLeod attempts to answer these questions in a very convincing technological and social settings, taking the
Learning the World is a first contact story told from both sides, that of space-faring humans who pioneer from system to system and had believed they were the long intelligent race in the universe and the inhabitant race of a planet at the approximate Earth equivalent of pre-World War I technology in the latest system the humans plan to settle. The human view point is presented in large part through the 14th millennial equivalent of a teenager's blog, while the terrestrial race (alien space ...more
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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,
“Brides and babies and strong dark men and intellectual and sensual women and the prospect of wide-open spaces to populate with humanity had always made her weak at the knees.” 0 likes
“Falling in love indicated that your genes were complementary to those of the loved one. It told you nothing about whether your personalities and sexualities were compatible.” 0 likes
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