Sputnik Caledonia was awarded the prestigious Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award and was shortlisted for The James Tait Black Prize and The Scottish Book of the Year Award.
Robbie Coyle is an imaginative kid. He wants so badly to become Scotland's first cosmonaut that he tries to teach himself Russian and trains for space exploration in the cupboard under the sink. But the places to which his fantasies later take him are far from the safety of his suburban childhood. In a communist state, in a closed bleak town, the mysterious Red Star heralds his discovery of cruelty, love, and the possibility that the most passionate of dreams may only be a chimera...
'This is a surprisingly moving novel about the impersonal forces - be they political, quantum, temporal or otherwise - that can threaten or shatter the bonds of love, and of family life. Never has astrophysics seemed so touching and funny.' Sinclair McKay in The Daily Telegraph
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For better or worse, I often judge books by their covers, which is what initially drew me to Sputnik Caledonia. The book gets off to a great start. Robbie Coyle lives in Kenzie, a Scottish suburb, in the 70s. He has a vivid imagination and dreams of joining the Russian cosmonaut program; he also drifts off into his daydreams, has a tendency to wet his bed, and is seen as a bit of a loner, weird kid by his peers. His father is a rather cranky conspiracy theorist with Communist leanings; his mother is more upbeat, rolls her eyes when the father gets started and provides a more balanced counter to the father. This section of the book develops interesting characters and is a wonderfully written slice of life. We get hints of things being slightly awry, for example, when Robbie hears voices through an old bakelite radio.(POSSIBLE SPOILER, OR AT LEAST FURTHER DETAILS) Then come the 2nd and 3rd parts. The 2nd part jumps 'ahead' to the Installation, where a 20ish year old Robert Coyle has been recruited from the military to join this highly secret, experimental mission; even he and the other recruits are not told much about the program. This is where the science fiction/alternate reality really kicks in. The Installation is in Scotland, but very cordoned off from its surroundings; higher-ranked residents have their own vouchers instead of money, can't discuss their jobs with lower ranks, and find release, well, of all kinds at the Blue Cat. This is an alternate Scotland, where Communism has prevailed and a space program is being developed. Without giving too much away, the 3rd part shifts yet again. (END)Again, I loved the 1st part of this book. I was less enamored of the 2nd part. The alternate reality is interesting, and the parallels to stories of life behind the Iron Curtain are clear. The 3rd part leaves the reader with a lot to debate in terms of what actually has happened. These are all positive points. It just felt that the writing and the characters so wonderfully drawn and captured in the 1st part get lost in the more strident, even stream-of-consciousness latter sections. The new characters in these sections just don't have the same depth. That said, it did leave me still thinking about it for several days and wanting to talk about it with others.