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Monday, July 19, 2010

"The Restoration Game" by Ken MacLeod (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Ken MacLeod Website
Order "The Restoration Game" HERE

INTRODUCTION: I have heard of Ken MacLeod many years ago from his association with Iain M. Banks and I have always been eager to try his work, so when he published his Fall Revolution series starting in the mid-90's I got and read the books asap. While quite different from IM Banks work with its focus in the here and now more than in the far future, the Fall Revolution series became an instant favorite for its darkly ironical tone and it's-not-serious-but-it-is attitude, so I became a big time fan and read all his novels to date except for The Night Sessions which I avoided so far since The Execution Channel disappointed me and that one sounded similar.

But when "The Restoration Game" was announced with this irresistible blurb for me:

"There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know - she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing." ,

it automatically earned a pretty high spot on my 2010 Anticipated Novels list and after reading the book, I have to say that it quite surpassed my expectations.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Restoration Game" stands at bout 300 pages divided into two parts and 11 named and numbered chapters. There is a prologue that will give you a sense of what the book is really about sfnally and an epilogue narrated in the second person style as the prologue and continuing it, that closes the novel perfectly.

In-between, the novel is narrated by Lucy Stone, with some interludes containing various relevant documents like NKVD interrogations of the 40's as well as back story narrated by Ross Stewart and Amanda Stone.

Lucy is the daughter of academic and CIA - or maybe some other acronym - operative Amanda Stone, with several possible fathers of which current shady businessman and former left wing anticommunist activist Ross Stewart is the second main character. She was born and lived from 1985 until 1991 when it became too dangerous, in the obscure statelet of Krassnia which now stands at the contested border between Georgia and Russia.

With lots of Krassnians connections from the past also, Lucy has the typical red hair of the Vrai, former rulers of Krassnia and supposed guardians of a terrible secret that is rumored to have scared Beria and Stalin among others, though most remaining Vrai have been exterminated in the Great Terror of 1937.

In her "official" work in Krassnia, Amanda Stone "concocted" a national epic The Krassniad drawing from the local legends and the work of an ethnographer of Vrai origins who may have been her (illicit) grandfather and who was shot in 1937 and Lucy grew up with the local legends.

In the present day, Lucy's startup game company is hired - by Amanda's organization with whatever acronyms, though only Lucy knows it - to develop a fantasy game based on The Krassniad to be officially marketed as a niche game, while unofficially to be used by the Krassnians "revolutionaries" aka CIA spies to plot the next color revolution...

Of course things are more complicated than that as Lucy slowly discovers. A sfnal romp with the "same vibes" as last year's celebrated Yellow Blue Tibia, "The Restoration Game" is contemporary adventure sf at its best.

ANALYSIS: When I opened "The Restoration Game" and moved beyond the intriguing prologue which suggested several directions for the book based on "its reality", I found myself hooked by the narration of Lucy Stone and I *knew* this was the book I must read before anything else. I will give you a short example of the many lines that made me laugh out loud quite a few times and irrespective of the location where I was reading the book.

'The guilt wears off with practice.Didn't your mother ever tell you that?'
'No,' I said. 'I guess because she was too busy lying like a rug to me'
'Didn't you get it?', said Ross. 'She was teaching by example.'

As I mentioned in the introduction, the best way to look at "The Restoration Game" is as reflecting the it's-not-serious-but-it-is attitude that has allowed Mr. MacLeod to explore a lot of serious issues - how to organize society, why communism failed, the cultural heritage of the masses versus the elites, why the capitalists are nasty but tend to win - not to speak of introducing sfnal twists, in a fun and engaging way.

"The Restoration Game" sparkles with little gems that touch on the issues above and much more, while the darker stuff like the NKVD interrogation reports or the secret plots of today interweaves in the narration to remind us that "yes, it's serious"...

There is a lot of intrigue and enough action to keep
satisfied everyone looking for that and "The Restoration Game" achieved the extremely fine balance I look for in sf romps of its type.

While the final twist is reasonably predictable from the prologue, once you decide on its right interpretation, there are quite a few surprises along the way, including a major one I did not see though it was if not quite obvious, at least likely in hindsight.

"The Restoration Game" (A+) and a personal favorite of 2010 is a good introduction to Ken Macleod's oeuvre and if you enjoy it as much as I did, try the Fall Revolution series or Newton's Wake which is a space opera with the same kind of irony and context as this one.

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