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July 13, 2010

The Restoration Game - Ken MacLeod

For the first fourty or so pages, after the prologue, I had a nagging feeling that The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod reminded me of someone else: hints of wannabe Nick Hornby maybe? Not quite. Shades of Douglas Coupland? Not really. Then it hit me: Iain Banks, some of his older mainstream fiction, with one big downside, it wasn't as good.

The prologue to The Restoration Game is a big signpost, heavy handedly setting up the novel. It might have been brilliant if the novel had wanted to be Science Fiction, but it doesn't, it wants to be a post-cold war political intrigue thriller. It wants to be Frederick Forsyth or Robert Harris. The wrapper of Science Fiction, is to me, a thin bubble and an attempt at sleight of hand. I can foresee the disagreements, one could argue that the SF premise is at the heart of the novel, but it never felt like that to me. And unfortunately it doesn't do enough to satisfy as a spy thriller: not enough action to compare to Ludlum, not enough intrigue for Forsyth, not enough slow burning espionage for Deighton. It's compromised by pretending to be something else.

Instead we get the story of a woman who grew up in the ex-Soviet backwater of Krassnia. Whose mother worked for the CIA. Whose father could be one of three people, all mixed up with political espionage. Who works for a videogames company. The espionage elements aren't handled too well either, with large infodumps, including finding an old dossier that just spells everything out for us.

It's different from The Execution Channel in that, without the SF element that book still hands up as a decent near future take of terrorism and war. The SF element takes it to another level, because it's so unexpected and joyous. All the SF in The Restoration Game is spelt out in large letters, modern culture referenced obviously, clues chucked out in big buckets. Yeah, yeah, it's Turtles all the way down. Hasn't this all been said before? And better?

The Restoration Game is the third of Ken MacLeod's novels which begin with "The". It's clear now that they are not a trilogy despite the naming and the similar red and black artwork on the covers. The links between them are weak and nothing more than the fact that they are near(ish) future, on Earth. And, The Restoration Game is by far the weakest of the three. 


I feel the urge to read the amazing Star Fraction again....

1 Comment

Agreed - to a point. Finally managed to get down my thoughts on this one this afternoon and, as I concluded, it's definitely lesser Macleod, but even lesser Macleod is still a treat compared to most of the garbage passing itself off as SF out there.

Then again, I'm based in Scotland too - perhaps I'm being a bit sentimental. Certainly it's not one I can see myself going back to...