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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Learning the World (book review)... a blog of the future

Learning the World by Ken MacLeod (2005)

Adult/High School-A colony ship full of genetically enhanced posthumans - having travelled for generations - reaches its destination only to discover that the planet is populated by batlike people at a primitive stage of technology just short of an electronic age. After millennia of expansion throughout the galaxy without having encountered another intelligent race, humans had come to think it impossible. And as for the bat people, they've always thought that space aliens could exist only in "engineering tales."

The novel unfolds over several years through the alternating stories of two young people. On the ship, Alternate Discourse Gale is a feisty posthuman; she is just now leaving home to join her teen cohort of colonizers ("Learning the World" is the title of her blog). Meanwhile, on the planet, Darvin is a graduate bat-student enrolled in the "Impractical Science" of astronomy; he discovers the approaching colony ship while mapping the heavens from a mountaintop.

The story moves rapidly, with many twists and surprises. Through action and character, the author masterfully creates an authentic sense of both alien worlds in all their complexity. Of the far-future humans and the bat people, the latter are the ones closer to humans as we are now, and the interplay of the two worlds, each with its numerous cultural and political rivalries, is engaging, rich in social commentary, and often moving, yet also playful and often humorous. Thought-provoking and entertaining, this highly original first-contact story should please any science fiction reader.

(original review in SLJ; revised and expanded)

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