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Dark Light - Engines of Light: book two
by Ken MacLeod
(Orbit, 16.99, 292 pages, hardback; published 1 November 2001; ISBN 1-84149-069-5. US edition: Tor Books, 272 pages, hardback; published January 2002; ISBN: 0765303027)

Engines of Light Book Two carries on, cover scan - UK editionmuch as you might expect, where Engines of Light Book One left off. Earth has been left far far behind now and we are solely within the realm of the Second Sphere, a very large volume of space a long time ahead in a galaxy far, far away. A patchwork of races and creatures - all descended from Earth forms it should be noted - co-exist pretty well inside the sphere at a variety of levels of technology (thus we're treated to a group of erstwhile interstellar astronauts, out to salvage the Sphere's only human starship, abandoning Victorian-level mass-production tech in favour of Neolithic craftsmanship for their spacesuits).

Dark Light both does and doesn't work better than its predecessor, Cosmonaut Keep.

It works better because, having established a milieu that it seems ready to stick with for a while, characters and background can be slightly better established. There's more humour in Dark Light and more cover scan - US editioninteresting and better-paced plotting. Things still bang along at rather too cracking a pace for my liking, but there is now the sense of the story progressing somewhere at a sustainable rate, unlike the wham-bang-thank-you-mam of Cosmonaut Keep. In fact, the only real reason Dark Light might be said to falter is because it's too blatantly in the middle of a sequence: characters spend sections of the book pursuing objective A so that they can then move on further (a case in point being the spacesuits) to objective B.

And the characters seem just a bit too knowledgeable at times - you can't help wondering why, if they knew or could have found out these plot points quite so easily, they hadn't further researched or found them out earlier. Perhaps this is one reason why Dark Light storms along like a hurricane. MacLeod is simply hoping to blow you along with the force of his plotting before you have a chance to look about and say 'Now, just one cotton-picking minute...!'

Dark Light will get you from Book One of the Engines of Light series to Book Three - I'm still very hopeful that it's a trip worth taking.

Review by Stuart Carter

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© Stuart Carter 5 January 2002