Ken Macleod’s The Stone Canal opens with the story of the young Jonathan Wilde and the major happenings of he and a fair-weather friend as they grow up in near-future Scotland. Getting drunk, chasing girls, and arguing politics, they eventually split due to personal differences as post-humanisn spins everyone’s lives in crazy directions. Easing back on the throttle (aiming at ‘mere’ purposeful humanism), Macleod’s 2014 Descent uses a similar character setup, but keeps its agenda more closely tied to the here and now. Purported UFO sightings, government and commercial conspiracy theories, speciation, and subjective reality abound, the story of Ryan Sinclair successfully extends the personal struggles of Wilde into more relatable and eerie Orwellian near future. Featuring the tightest technique of the author’s career, some may argue it is Macleod’s best yet.
Where Ian Watson’s Miracle Visitors plays with the psychological, cultural, and sociological aspects of UFO visitations, Descent looks into the ____________ aspects. To fill in that blank would spoil the story, but suffice to say Macleod uses existent concepts on the pinboard of UFO theorists to paint what he would see as the empirical reality of the situation. From government conspiracy to neuroscience, the underpinnings of urban myth to street drugs, the strange objects people—some of whom consider themselves rational beings—see in the sky are looked at in mysterious/thriller-esque style. As the front cover copy says, seeing is not always enough to believe.