Friday, May 11, 2007

"The Execution Channel"

This is certainly worth a review. Ken MacLeod has a new novel out, the first one of his I've read. Happily enough, The Execution Channel, defies genre: conspiracy thriller, political satire, science fiction, futuristic dystopia, spy novel, history rewritten and much else besides. What it isn't is an upbeat, whimsical, heart-warming, life-affirming flight of fancy that pokes fun at life's little foibles. That's sort of given away with the strapline embossed on the cover: "The War on Terror is Over... Terror Won".

That's roughly the size and shape of it: Terror, all day, every day, political turmoil, intelligence subventions, military repression. After 9/11, the tube bombings, and the flu pandemic, the planet isn't exactly in robust shape. Aside from the sky-high oil prices and the parlous state of the economy, there are the frequent, spectral intrusions of the Execution Channel, with its extraordinary international collation of daily state killings. What Brzezinski describes as the "global Balkans" extending from Suez to Xinjiang is aflame. American armies are marauding across the Middle East and south Asia, and the British mainland is an extended USAF base. China and Russia are furiously competing, and 'Old Europe' is moving in strange directions. James Travis has a daughter in a peace camp beside Leuchars military base and a son in the army. He is a spy, and he knows both of them are in deep shit when he hears of a mushroom cloud over the base. Meanwhile, Mark Dark, right-wing conspiracy blogger, tracks the facts and nothing but for most of his waking life. Intelligence agencies are sent into overdrive by the sudden wave of panic, and activists suddenly come under the surveillance and repression of the state. And that is when it all kicks off.

It's an ingenious fabulation, witty and sombre, and fucking terrifying. And aside from the sophisticated intrigue, which is more redolent of Le Carre than Tom Clancy, the dialogue is brilliantly observed, especially the apodictic, callous tone of a certain kind of blogger, and the sly machinations of activists meetings (which must have come from considerable experience). The whole thing is brilliantly paced, and even has a convincing bit of dirt in it, and I'm only slightly embarrassed to say I don't have a criticism of it worth mentioning. I remember a meeting at Marxism a few years back with Ken, Adam Roberts & China Mieville, about Imagined Futures. China took the other two by surprise, somewhat, by utterly (persuasively) trashing the whole notion of SF/fantasy as imagined future. So now, like Johnson kicking the rock, Ken MacLeod has responded by writing an utterly persuasive imagined future. Just don't buy it at the airport.