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Learning the World: A Scientific Romance

Learning the World: A Scientific Romance

by Ken MacLeod

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Humanity has spread to every star within 500 light-years of its half-forgotten origin, coloring the sky with a haze of habitats. Societies rise and fall. Incautious experiments burn fast and fade. On the fringes, less modified humans get on with the job of settling a universe that has, so far, been empty of intelligent life.

The ancient starship But the


Humanity has spread to every star within 500 light-years of its half-forgotten origin, coloring the sky with a haze of habitats. Societies rise and fall. Incautious experiments burn fast and fade. On the fringes, less modified humans get on with the job of settling a universe that has, so far, been empty of intelligent life.

The ancient starship But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky! is entering orbit around a promising new system after a four hundred year journey. For its long-lived inhabitants, the centuries have been busy. Now a younger generation is eager to settle the system. The ship is a seed-pod ready to burst.

Then they detect curious electromagnetic emissions from the system's Earth-like world. As the nature of the signals becomes clear, the choices facing the humans become stark.

On Ground, second world from the sun, a young astronomer searches for his system's outermost planet. A moving point of light thrills, then disappoints him. It's only a comet. His physicist colleague Orro takes time off from trying to invent a flying-machine to calculate the comet's trajectory. Something is very odd about that comet's path.

They are not the only ones for whom the world has changed.

"We are not living in the universe we thought we lived in yesterday. We have to start learning the world all over again."

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British author MacLeod (Newton's Wake) delivers perhaps the finest novel of first contact since Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. When the starship But the Sky, My Lady! The Sky! enters a new star system, its crew assumes that they will seed yet another human, or rather posthuman, colony and continue on their way. It's all rather routine, a matter for financial speculation and trading in economic futures, something they've done often before. Imagine their surprise, however, when they discover that the system is already inhabited, by a batlike species who have just recently entered their own industrial revolution. Meanwhile, on the second planet in the system, a talented young astronomer has made a startling discovery: something is approaching from interstellar space, something clearly artificial. MacLeod has created a captivating alien civilization that, in some ways, is closer to us than his equally fascinating posthumans. As always with this deeply political writer, the book is chock-full of well-done extrapolation concerning the political and economic workings of his various societies. This is contemporary SF at its best. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A colony ship full of genetically enhanced posthumans reaches its destination only to discover that the planet is populated by batlike people at a primitive stage of technology just short of an electronic age. After millennia of expansion throughout the galaxy without having encountered another intelligent race, humans had come to think it impossible; for their part, the bat people have always thought that space aliens could exist only in "engineering tales." The novel unfolds over several years through the alternating stories of two young people: Alternate Discourse Gale, a feisty posthuman on the ship as she leaves home to join her teen cohort of colonizers ("Learning the World" is the title of her blog); and Darvin, a graduate bat-student in the "Impractical Science" of astronomy, who discovers the colony ship while mapping the heavens from a mountaintop on his planet. The story moves rapidly, with many twists and surprises. Through action and character, the author masterfully creates an authentic sense of both alien worlds in all their complexity. Of the far-future humans and the bat people, the latter are closer to humans as we are now, and the interplay of the two worlds, each with its numerous cultural and political rivalries, is engaging, rich in social commentary, and often moving, yet also playful and often humorous. Thought-provoking and entertaining, this highly original first-contact story should please any science fiction reader.-Christine C. Menefee, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the distant future, bio-modified human colonists blaze a trail to a new planet, whose inhabitants wonder what that new star in the sky is. MacLeod (Engine City, 2002, etc.) gives a fresh look at one of the oldest-and often stalest-of sci-fi tropes: the story of first contact. Thousands of years in the future, human beings have moved far from the barely remembered Earth. And while they are actively colonizing planet systems throughout the galaxy, they've never come across another intelligent life form. Humans have made innumerable advances (there are now centuries-long life spans and computer uplinks that can be hardwired into brains). Things like war are part of a forgotten past. For hundreds of years now, a massive exploration vessel filled with thousands of human passengers has been trundling toward a new planet, which is occupied by an alien species. Roughly human in form, but winged, the aliens are as technologically advanced as 20th-century humans had been, with war about to break out between two of the bigger nations. MacLeod flips back and forth between stories of the humans and aliens, avoiding the usual pro-human slant and presenting both sides as equally complex. And as humans advance on their planet, the aliens are beginning to wonder why their slave race, the "trudges," is starting to act uppity. The conflicts between and within the two races are handled with an uncommonly sharp alacrity, with weighty philosophical issues addressed in a manner that doesn't hamper narrative flow.
From the Publisher
"Ken MacLeod's novels are fast, funny and sophisticated. There can never be enough books like these."

—Kim Stanley Robinson

"Far more fun than deep space drama has any right to be…Just read the book. Then read it again. It's even better the second time."

SFX on Newton's Wake

"MacLeod's inventiveness, verbal playfulness, and bloody-minded irony never flag for a moment."

Locus on Engine City

"Ken MacLeod doesn't just create believable futures—he breaks them down to explain what makes them tick."


"Stylish, witty, and engaging!"

San Diego Union Tribune on Newton's Wake

"Science fiction's freshest new writer…MacLeod is a fiercely intelligent, prodigously well-read author who manages to fill his books with big issues without weighing them down."

Salon on Ken MacLeod

"Ken MacLeod brings dramatic life to some of the core issues of technology and humanity."

—Vernor Vinge

"For my money, Ken MacLeod is the current champion of the very smartest kind of New Space Opera: a relentlessly engaged thinker about nitty-gritty political-economic-social matters who also operates on the Romantic end of the genre by imagining worlds that offer vast (and even godlike) possibilities for humankind."

Locus on Ken MacLeod

Entertainment Weekly

"Highly entertaining."

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Meet the Author

Ken MacLeod holds a degree in zoology and has worked in the fields of biomechanics and computer programming. His first two novels, The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal, each won the Prometheus Award; The Cassini Division was a finalist for the Nebula Award; and The Sky Road won the British Science Fiction Association Award and was a finalist for the Hugo Award, as were his next two novels, Cosmonaut Keep and Dark Light. His most recent novel is Newton's Wake. Ken MacLeod lives near Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife and children.

Ken MacLeod is the multiply award-winning author of many science fiction novels, including the Fall Revolution quartet, the Engines of Light trilogy (Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light, and Engine City), and several stand-alone novels including Newton’s Wake, Learning the World, and The Restoration Game. Born on the Scottish isle of Skye, he lives in Edinburgh.

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