Volume 16, Number 4, Fall, 1998

Cydonia

By Ken MacLeod

Orion Children’s Books Ltd., London, 1998;
Reviewed by Alberto Migardi

I cospiratori di Cydonia, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milano, 1998 (Italian translation)

It was a pleasure finally to read in Italian (my own language) one of Ken MacLeod’s books. I was in touch with MacLeod on the net and he became later, e-mails later, a friend—if you “can really know anyone on the Net” (as he writes in Cydonia).

MacLeod had kindly sent me his beautiful novel The Stone Canal, one of the few books I’ve read completely in English—not without problems and over a very long time (a great experience I think at first because it is a beautiful book, and at same time increased my slim English vocabulary). But, reading a book in your own language and

without opening every page of the dictionary makes it easier to understand a book.

Cydonia is a “juvenile” novel published under an imprint called “The Web,” an interesting experiment in which famous SF writers like MacLeod, Pat Cardigan and Stephen Baxter write short novels for young people set in the web.

Cydonia is the story of some teenagers who live in the 2020’s Web and specially in “Cydonia,” a place like the 1998’s alt.conspiracy, for example, created by a generation for which Mulder and Scully from X-Files are myths, and who like playing wargames on the Net.

The main character is Dave (whose nickname is “Links”), the son of a socialist former Ulster citizen who at the time of the novel lives in Scotland because he had married a Catholic woman; in the new, United Ireland after the civil war there’s no space for “mixed” (Catholic and Protestant) families.

Dave’s best friend is Tim, “Akay” on the Net, a strong American, Young Republican/Libertarian, who cites as quickly as possible the Second Amendment and is a friend of the “ARM”, a paramilitary agency that is fighting against a Washington which is now controlled by fascists (extremely meaningful is Dave’s remark, “It’s the Free World, not the United States!”).

At the novel’s beginning, Dave views Tim as a fool, an extremist, althought still a friend. But Dave’s view changes during the novel. The first spark of this change is the character of Bill MacReady, a man that in the Ulster’s civil war had combatted against the new Ireland, who Links first sees as an enemy and who’s now a friend of the “ARM”.

But, after a “campus” in which MacReady explains to young wargamers that the real war is not a game, Dave starts speaking frankly with him. It’s an epiphany: Mac is not the cynical, mad partisan that Links believed he was, but now a totally normal person, who lives in Canada and who loves freedom, not the blood, and tries to persuade “militias” (which, he says to Dave, are composed of men “like us,” who love freedom but are making mistakes remaining on the road to the violence) to acquire not only “gun control” but “self control” too, paraphrasing J. Neil Schulman.

Cydonia at first seems to me an example of anti-libertarian fiction. But during the course of the novel the situation changes, page after page, culminating in an unusual drink with Dave’s father, the socialist Alan (who dislikes totalitarian communism) and the libertarian “Mac,” perhaps the dawning of a common path to freedom and peace.

It is a nice story in which you’ll meet Weaver, Louise, Yvonne, Hal, Metabele and the misterious Relay. All this makes Cydonia a nice “juvenile” present to your young friends or children, but a fun novel for yourself as well.

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