The Restoration Game, Ken MacLeod
The Restoration Game, Ken MacLeod
Orbit, 303pp, £18.99
Where does the end of a story belong? At the start of a book or, well… does it belong at the end? If the narrative is the journey to that end, should the story open with the destination? Isn’t the thrill of exploring new places one of the reasons why people read novels? But is it the journey, or the destination, which provides the narrative impetus?
Ken MacLeod’s latest novel, The Restoration Game, opens with a prologue which effectively explains the secret driving the plot of the novel. The book’s premise is hidden in plain sight. Which is where The Restoration Game, like MacLeod’s previous two science fiction / thriller mashups, The Execution Channel and The Night Sessions, both succeeded and, to some extent, failed. For a thriller, the authorial sleight of hand which puts the book’s premise in disguised form in front of the reader, before the story itself starts, only adds to the finale. To the science fiction reader who speaks the language of sf, it dilutes the premise and turns the book’s resolution into more of an intellectual exercise than the expected gosh-wow world-redefining climax.
Which is not to say that The Restoration Game is a bad book. On the contrary, it’s a very readable and thought-provoking novel. It’s well-written, pacey and an interesting read. More: it’s an extremely likable novel. In fact, that’s its strength. It generates this likability through its narrative voice, that of Lucy Stone, a young Scottish woman who works for a small computer games company in Edinburgh.
Lucy was born in the ex-Soviet (and fictional) republic of Krassnia, while her American mother was working there. Her mother also has ties to the CIA. Lucy isn’t sure who her father is – there are several suspects for the honour. When her mother asks Lucy to use the company for whom she works to create a MMORPG world based on Krassnia, it is purportedly to help those in Krassnia who want to create a more democratic government. But there’s a secret buried in Krassnia’s history, a secret which once allowed the aristocratic Vrai to keep the Krassnian peasants in their place. Any clues to this secret were destroyed during Stalin’s pogroms, although a handful of references claim it was enough to scare Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Soviet secret police and Stalin’s chief hatchetman. Lucy becomes increasingly suspicious of her mother’s motives, bolstered by the claims of a man who might be her father. So Lucy and her father travel to Krassnia, where Lucy witnesses a revolution, uncovers the secret of the Vrai, and learns who really is her father.
The secret is not actually as earth-shattering as Lucy’s researches suggest – not in a science-fictional sense, although certainly as far as it affects Lucy and her world. But then, the secret is revealed in the prologue, as mentioned above. It’s the ramifications of the secret, however, which gives the ending of The Restoration Game its weight. That MacLeod then has to reinforce this in an epilogue feels slightly unnecessary – although it does provide a more fitting cinematic ending. Happily, while the epilogue may feel like an obvious signpost to the novel’s premise, it’s not because that premise is so prosaic it needs to be painted in dayglo colours. What The Restoration Game says is interesting and thought-provoking, and the novel provides an extremely readable discussion of its central idea.
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