The Cassini Division

Another retro review and another series I need to get back to.

This one is from August 7, 2000.

Review: The Cassini Division, Ken MacLeod, 1998.Cassini Division

Post-humans. Uploaded human minds inhabiting the robots and computer networks of a civilization in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Sneering at those still living in the “meat”, they bombard the inner solar system with computer and “mind viruses.” They brought on the Collapse, the destruction of man’s computer-dependent civilization, and ushered in the age of the Solar Union, a socialist anarchy.

But some in the Union have had enough of the post-human threat, namely the Cassini Division, self-appointed cold warriors manning their version of the Berlin Wall on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. They want to wipe out the Jovians once and for all with a cometary bombardment. And they aren’t listening to any arguments from “appeasers” or those who think the Jovians are sentient and deserve to live or don’t pose a threat.

Ambiguity, irony, and philosophical debate make up a lot of this book, but it’s not a dry tome unlike the many utopian and dystopian novels that supply several of Macleod’s chapter headings. Macleod keeps the arguments short, the action coming, and shifts the scenery frequently from a pastoral London inhabited by the few die-hard capitalists to Callisto and, eventually, New Mars, man’s sole outpost beyond our solar system.

The narrator, Ellen May Ngewthu, is engaging, fun, witty, and hard-edged. She’s given herself the job of wiping out the Jovian post-humans, and she’s willing to go to a lot of trouble to finish the job. She gets into a lot of arguments in the book: about the virtue of socialist anarchy versus the capitalist anarchy of New Mars, the sentience of those beings with uploaded minds, and whether the universe has any moral rule other than doing whatever you can get away with.

Macleod explores some of the implications in the ideas of Vernor Vinge’s Singularity and copied, uploaded, and indentured minds familiar to readers of Phillip C. Jennings. This is a short book. The superscience isn’t as astonishing as Peter Hamilton’s work, but Macleod keeps his tale interesting and knows how to write a philosophical tale that moves.

Readers of George Zebrowski and Charles Pellegrino’s The Killing Star should especially like this, another novel where genocide is shown to have an unplesantly rational aspect to it.

This is the third book in a series. I haven’t read the first two since this was the first published in America. But I had no trouble following the story or assimilating the background.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.


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