Why do I read writers who frustrate me? I find Ken McLeod's novels flawed in execution and reasoning. So, why did I pick up The Star Fraction? Well, Borders was closing earlier than I realized it did and I didn't want to leave empty-handed. There was no Maureen McHugh in the sci-fi Ms. I espy a known name. Grab book. Race to checkout counter. When I get home and sit down in the oak rocking chair with the novel, I realize I've bought a book by a writer who has frustrated me in the past.
What McLeod attempts to do in his novels — blend political theory and the science fiction — sounds enterprising. But, in my opinion, his schemes often fail. The worst of his attempts I have read so far is The Star Fraction. It is the first in the four books that make up a series about the theories of futurist and philosopher Jonathan Wilde. The book revolves around three ideas. Oops! I mean characters. Actually, the characters are more ideas than people. Moh Kohn is a security mercenary who has inherited more than he knows from his brilliant software engineer father. He represents libertarianism with socialist inflections. Jordan Brown is a youth who will escape the Christian fundamentalist enclave he has grown up in to become a leader of a more capitalist form of libertarianism. A research scientist who will take her belief in an unstructured, 'barbarian' society into space, Janis Taine, finishes the triumvirate.
The plot is simple, despite misleading twists and turns. A computer directed shadow government has been waiting to overthrow the regime that rules Britian and much of Europe for decades. Under the Settlement, control is in the hands of the Hanoverians, who follow a capitalist model we would recognize, but allow enclaves to opt out — as long they don't challenge the larger power. There is an impasse in regard to space exploration. Though there are asteroid mining operations, access to space is strictly limited. Furthermore, big guns guard the skies from space, ready to wipe out both any computer-generated viruses that might threaten Space Defense or solid weapons that appear to be a threat. The goal of the Black Planner, an artificial intelligence, is to break the power of the Hanoverians and their allies all over the world. It also wants to end the reign of Space Defense. Those objectives will be achieved by using Moh Kohn as an interface between machine intelligence and the minds of men.