Ken MacLeod's The Sky Road

Clovis colha Gree is a historian. A scholar spending the summer term as a labourer in the space ship yard because he didn't quite manage to secure sponsorship for his continuing studies at the University. The staff of the ship yard work hard during the day and play just as hard at night, and it is in the town square, looking for a dance and a drink and perhaps a warm embrace for the night that Clovis first encounters the mysterious Merrial.

Merrial is a rare beauty, but more surprising than her looks is her easy confidence and her manner with Clovis, behaving more as if she had known him her entire life than as if they were strangers who had just met.

Clovis' friends are uneasy with his new acquaintance, and he soon learns why. Merrial is a tinker. An engineer. A member of an insular caste of people who work in a field in which the common folk fear to tread. Tolerated and, from a distance respected, because they are the children of the Deliverer, protected by her pronouncement: "When you take the cities, spare the scientists and engineers. Whatever they may have done in the past, you need them for the future," the tinkers do not often associate with the village locals, and Clovis is about to enter a new world and a new way of looking at it through his association with Merrial.

Cut to a time pre-Deliverance when one time revolutionary and current state leader Myra Godwin is preparing to attend the funeral of her ex-husband while simultaneously searching for a way to protect her small and failing workers' republic from the advancing hordes.

Ken MacLeod's The Sky Road swings effortlessly back and forth between the adventures of Clovis and Merrial, trying to assure the success of their future by uncovering the truth of their past, and that of Myra, struggling to atone for the sins of her own past and trying desperately to hang on to the remnants of her crumbling dream.

Just who are the tinkers? And who is the Deliverer? Why has her true story been hidden from the children of the future, and, if the future cannot remember the truth of the past, is it doomed to repeat it?

MacLeod has created two distinct and integral worlds in his visions of pre and post socio-technological collapse Earth. Both are fascinating paintings of alternative societies as well as dire warnings of our own possible futures. We have an exciting and dangerous path ahead of us, and The Sky Road asks some poignant questions concerning that path.

Part science fiction, part political intrigue and part social commentary, The Sky Road is an intelligent read, fascinating in scope and poetic in language.