When I was eight years old, I found a book in my brother's room about nuclear war. In it was a map showing the likely British targets of a Soviet nuclear strike as circles. I grew up in East Anglia, surrounded by American air bases, so everywhere for miles around was such a solid mass that you couldn't even see the individual dots. This so terrified me that I made excuses for years to avoid going into the nearby city of Cambridge, I had such a vivid picture in my head of roasting alive as the air caught fire.
A two-week school visit to Russia just before the fall of the USSR gave a glimpse of the grim and tawdry reality of the Soviet system (brown fruit juice, anyone?) but the idea of communists as terrifying bogeymen has never really left me. I've had a strange fascination, an impulse to understand how people ended up in such a twisted state, that's led me to read up on the early Soviet era, especially Stalin's particularly demonic rule. As I've got older I've also tried to understand what drove well-intentioned people to support terrible actions, and the humanistic resistance of others like George Orwell.
That all left me a prime audience for Ken Macleod's Fall Revolution series. I first came across Star Fraction by accident, but was immediately captured by a very British near future, inhabited by people I recognized. Trotskyite militants battle the Animal Liberation Front, a quasi-Richard-Dawkins summons familiars to attack enemies from his Seastead, and a combined UN/US 'peacekeeping force' has suffered the ultimate mission creep and runs the world from its space weapons platforms. Running through the book is a Communist conspiracy theory that blows the tired Templar myths out of the water because it's based on historical templates that actually happened. Communists truly ran effective underground organizations for decades and otherthrew governments, so for someone with Macleod's knowledge of the movements (here's his take on Orwell in context) there's rich material to choose from.
In case this sounds too stuffy, it's fundamentally an adventure story that has pleasant echoes of Neuromancer, it's not heavy reading. The only thing that has surprised me is how little attention it ever received, people seem far more focused on later books like his Cosmonaut Keep series. Star Fraction was one of those novels that stuck in my head, and since my paper copy is still in storage in the UK, I've been hoping for an ebook version so I could justify buying it again. When I saw Ken announce that one of his more recent books had just been released electronically, I went back to search for a copy of Star Fraction and finally found one for the Kindle, bundled with The Stone Canal as Fractions: The First Half of the Fall Revolution. I'm now a few chapters in and it's every bit as good as I remember, popping with wild ideas and a refreshingly different angle on the world.
Since I didn't see the news appear on Ken's blog, and he didn't know about it when I hassled him on Twitter a few months ago, consider this a public service announcement: Star Fraction is available as an ebook! If you find the idea of Communist Conspiracies in Space at all intriguing, buy it now, you won't be sorry.