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Learning the World

de Ken MacLeod

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8241519,685 (3.63)28
The great sunliner 'But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky!' is nearing the end of a four-hundred-year journey. A ship-born generation is tense with expectation for the new system that is to be their home. Expecting to find nothing more complex than bacteria and algae, the detection of electronic signals from one of the planets comes as a shock. In millennia of slow expansion, humanity has never encountered aliens, and yet these new signals cannot be ignored. They suspect a fast robot probe has overtaken them, and send probes of their own to investigate. On a world called Ground, whose inhabitants are struggling into the age of radio, petroleum and powered flight, a young astronomer searching for distant planets detects an anomaly that he presumes must be a comet. His friend, a brilliant foreign physicist, calculates the orbit, only to discover an anomaly of his own. The comet is slowing down ...… (més)
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I gave up reading [a:Ken MacLeod|108281|Ken MacLeod|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1283522468p2/108281.jpg] after three books in a row banging on in strident fashion about revolutionary left wing politics.

I was given this one after a 5 or so year gap and was a little trepiditious about it. It turns out, however that this book has no such theme. It's a first contact novel, where-in a generation ship arrives in a solar-system that has the first multi-cellular life humans have found outside Earth - but not only that - it has a civilisation just developing radio and powered flight.

Cue the usual political contentions between and within both species. We get points of view from both species. I found the aliens more interesting than the humans, despite an intriguing social order prevailing in order to make a generation ship work. This was mainly because the alien characters were much more likeable than the humans. So far, so good. There are enough interesting ideas to make an SF cliche work for the umpteenth time - just like time-travel stories, it's always possible to find something new in first contact if you apply enough imagination - and imagination is something MacLeod has never been short of.

So why only two stars? Because lots of the ideas are under-explored. Quite how the human generation ships work, both physically and socially is under explored and the lack of sympathetic characters makes things worse. The story quietly builds to a tense and complex situation only for the denouement to be terribly anti-climactic and the aftermath gets rushed through, with explanations for it that seem either unconvincing or hasty.

I've never payed for a MacLeod book and I'm not planning to start, even though this proved a considerable improvement on my previous experiences. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
Takes a bit of time to take of, but overall a not too bad depiction of a new encounter between 2 civilizations. Not quite sure I like the ending explanation... ( )
  Guide2 | Aug 13, 2019 |
A wonderful book that balances the advancing human civilization with an alien species that is just starting its industrial revolution. We see the questions asked by the humans on how to approach the aliens, while the aliens see the human ship approaching, calculating trajectories.

There are a few rough spots in this book - namely in the last third of the book, dealing with the beasts of burden used by the aliens. I went back and forth on how I felt, and decided it wasn't just a gimmick, but clumsily written plot device. It makes sense with the story.

I especially liked how human and alien the aliens were. Ken Macleod makes a huge effort to make the aliens seem humans, but when the story ends, the aliens are truly alien...

This is a great story. I highly recommend it. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Apr 16, 2013 |
This was my first MacLeod novel. The book offers a reasonable number of original and intriguing ideas which initially seem to promise quite a bit of potential. In the end, though, I found Learning the World to be light on resolution and heavy on serving up mild platitudes. Indeed, it’s hard not to read this as a watered down Young Adultish version of Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Not that there’s anything wrong with YA scifi, but it’s not particularly my cup of tea.

I found the world / society / race building consistently the best thing about the book (both for the surprisingly human aliens and for the surprisingly different-from-human homo sapiens colonists who come visiting). Not the deepest perhaps and at times leaving me feeling that I had missed some logical leap, but interesting enough to keep me reading and keep me thinking.

On the other hand, the characters never did much for me. Our human protagonists Atomic Discourse Gale and Horrocks Mathmatical had clever names, but not much else to recommend them. I found the alien protagonist Darvin somewhat more sympathetic, but generally too good to be true, and smack dab in the middle of far too many amazing events to be particularly plausible.

As we approach the climax of the book, the human people all act like thirteen year olds (whether sixteen, of sixty, or three thousand), the alien people all act with a wisdom beyond any explanation, and the readers are thrown a big curveball which somehow makes everything work out ok.

I could see this being quite satisfying for a young reader seeking validation of their opinions that (1) they are wise beyond their years, and (2) old people are dumb. ( )
1 vota clong | Nov 6, 2010 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Ken MacLeodautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Gibbons, LeeAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Harris,JohnAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Population will mightily increase, and the earth will be a garden. Governments will be conducted wih the quiettude and regularity of club committees. The interest which is now felt in politics will be transferred to science; the latest news from the laboratory of the chemist, or the observatory of the astronomer, or the experimenting room of the biologist will be eagerly discussed ... Disease will be extirpated; the causes of decay will be removed; immortality will be invented. And then, the earth being small, mankind will migrate into space, and will corss the airless Saharas which separate planet from planet, and sun from sun. The earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all the quarters of the universe. Finally, men will master the forces of Nature; they will become thmeselves architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds.

            Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man, 1872
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To James, Jess and Eilidh
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The world is four thousand years old. I was eight years old when I found that out for myself.
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The great sunliner 'But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky!' is nearing the end of a four-hundred-year journey. A ship-born generation is tense with expectation for the new system that is to be their home. Expecting to find nothing more complex than bacteria and algae, the detection of electronic signals from one of the planets comes as a shock. In millennia of slow expansion, humanity has never encountered aliens, and yet these new signals cannot be ignored. They suspect a fast robot probe has overtaken them, and send probes of their own to investigate. On a world called Ground, whose inhabitants are struggling into the age of radio, petroleum and powered flight, a young astronomer searching for distant planets detects an anomaly that he presumes must be a comet. His friend, a brilliant foreign physicist, calculates the orbit, only to discover an anomaly of his own. The comet is slowing down ...

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