Thursday, 5 April 2007

'The Execution Channel' - Ken Macleod

Thanks to George Walkley (Orbit Books) for sending me this book.
The world of (not too long after) tomorrow lurches from one crisis to another. War is rife in the Middle and Far East as the oil supplies run dry. America is covered with refugee camps as it suffers multiple climate-change disasters. Conspiracy theories abound, most of which are spread by government agencies of misinformation, and killings from around the world are broadcast twenty-four hours a day on the ‘Execution Channel’.
Roisin Travis is a protestor at a US Airbase in Scotland; she receives a coded message from her brother (serving in Afghanistan) to leave the area immediately. Minutes later, a mysterious object, on the airbase, detonates with the force of an atomic bomb. Her father, James Travis, has troubles of his own. His cover (as an agent working for the French Secret Service) has been blown; he also sees the coded message and makes for Scotland and Roisin. Events reach their conclusion as both Roisin and James Travis fight to stay free of various agencies trying to track them down for the information they carry. No one can be trusted and the price of failure is a guest slot on the Execution Channel…
There are speculative elements in this book but at heart it’s a good old-fashioned political thriller. I don’t read these very often (and have never read anything by Ken Macleod who’s more well known for his science fiction works) so was interested to see what it was like. On the whole this was an entertaining book to read and Macleod certainly ticked all the right boxes with regards making this a book that I wanted to finish. Macleod treats all his characters equally in that each one of them is as well rounded as the next. This effectively means that there are no supporting characters, each of them has something valid and important to add to the plot. The plot itself is also (for the most part) handled well in a book that is only 306 pages long. The scene is set and the plot progresses to its conclusion in a well-ordered fashion with no unnecessary meandering along the way.
However, for me, the shortness of the book is also its greatest downfall. Macleod packs a lot of information into a short space and sometimes this means that plot points which need expanding (in order to make sense in the context of the book) are cut short. Oblique references to Heim theory don’t really connect to the rest of the story and this robs the climax of some of its power. Perhaps Macleod’s attempts to play off conspiracy theories against each other merely result in the story itself being swamped.
A good premise that maybe needed another hundred pages to make a great book.

Five out of Ten

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