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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Execution Channel

Ken MacLeod

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To purchase The Execution Channel

Title: The Execution Channel
Author: Ken MacLeod
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 341 pages
Availability: The Execution Channel - US
The Execution Channel - UK
The Execution Channel - Canada
The Execution Channel - India

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, slightly dystopian thriller -- that then goes for a bit more

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 10/2/2007 James Lovegrove
The Guardian . 21/4/2007 Eric Brown
Publishers Weekly . 16/4/2007 .
The Telegraph . 18/4/2007 .
The Times A+ 7/4/2007 Lisa Tuttle

  Review Consensus:

  Good fun -- and quite a twist

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)n all his novels radical leftwing ideology is the key to betterment. Hence The Execution Channel's late-stage sucker punch, a twist that lifts the book suddenly and briliantly from day-after-tomorrow thriller to novel of ideas." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "Quite apart from the superb characterisation, MacLeod's depiction of global realpolitik is convincing and disturbing." - Eric Brown, The Guardian

  • "Nothing is what it seems, however. (...) Dizzying plot twists and a variety of fascinating, believable technological breakthroughs make this perhaps MacLeod's most compulsively readable novel to date." - Publishers Weekly

  • "MacLeod's sub-Orwellian vision is so sprightly that it borders on fun, but his risky pay-off will leave you either stunned by his creative cojones or wanting him to appear as his snuff channel's first star turn." - The Telegraph

  • "This is politically engaged, speculative fiction at its finest, with a conclusion that's absolutely mind-blowing." - Lisa Tuttle, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Execution Channel is a bit of slightly alternate history, set in near contemporary times. The geopolitical alignment has shifted some, and, though written nearly a decade before the unimaginable, suicidal 'Brexit'-vote, the novel presents a Britain that's nevertheless managed to mire itself in decline, drifting to the periphery: "At some point England had simply failed itself". There was a pandemic that killed over a million, and some of the post-'9/11' conflicts played out slightly differently, but the historical shifts MacLeod proposes aren't too radically or unimaginably different from what has actually happened.
       MacLeod's alternative history actually begins in 2000, nudged ever so slightly (and quite plausibly) from the familiar course, but it's barely a ripple: part of his point seems to be that only minor differences result from what we, in the day-to-day, perceive as significant choices, while the fundamentals -- the actual tide of history -- moves inexorably on, regardless. The alternate part of history here is, for the most part, little more than incidental -- and certainly nowhere near the fore. (Nevertheless, it doesn't stop MacLeod from suggesting some amusing alternative odds and ends, such as having George W. Bush publish a book titled Out of Iraq: The Folly of Nation-Building; he's sharp, even in his asides.)
       A number of protagonists function as significant poles in the novel, as it shifts back and forth between them, but central is the Travis-trio: father James, a well-positioned and very capable spy working for the French, his daughter Roisin, a recent university graduate who has been staking out the former RAF base at Leuchars (which: "had long since been turned over to the USAF" ....) with a small rag-tag peacenik group, and his son Alec, in the army and stationed in Kazakhstan. Alec only appears second-hand -- via text, blog-postings (on his soldier-weblog, Flash in the 'shan), and TV image -- while much of the action closely follows James and Roisin, both more or less on the run from the get-go.
       Roisin spies -- and photographs -- an unusual-looking device at Leuchars -- right before all hell breaks loose. Something -- the device ? -- explodes at the base, and it appears to be a nuclear explosion. In short order, the country is hurled into even more than usual turmoil. Was it a terrorist attack ? A foreign attack ?
       With infrastructure elsewhere being sabotaged -- suspiciously often in the vicinity of James and Roisin, as they try to make good their separate escapes -- the population quickly looks for someone to take their anger out on. It's easy to blame the "Mozzies" (the Muslim population), and that leads to low-level rioting that, among other things, complicate James and Roisin's get-away efforts.
       MacLeod published The Execution Channel pre-Snowden, and so his picture of the pervasive surveillance state probably looked more ominous than it does now, when it's taken (and accepted ...) pretty much as a given. James and Roisin have difficulty staying off the radar -- though James, through his cover-job, had access to the workings of a lot of the radars, which helps -- and The Execution Channel unfolds as a cats-and-mice tale on a variety of levels.
       Amusingly -- and, again, even more relevantly a decade after it was first published -- the state is especially effective in using and spreading disinformation, and that plays a major role in the turns of the novel. Things are being covered up -- including what exactly that device at Leuchars was -- but there so many layers to the cover-act that the powers-that-be also lose some of their control over it. A small-time conspiracy-blogger working in his mom's basement in the US comes to play a pivotal role.
       The 'Execution Channel' of the title and its TV programming play (almost) only a background role -- but ominously so, with many of the chapters ending with a brief summing-up of what's on -- and the only thing that's on the Execution Channel is, basically, real-life execution-footage, culled from video coverage worldwide. The presentation is almost casual, this sort of programming what's running on the silenced TV screens next to the football at the local bar, the viewers inured to this sort of thing. (So, MacLeod suggests, a bit more of man's humanity has been lost; of course, in that it too is barely different from our actual world.)
       For the most part, The Execution Channel is techno-/political-thriller, heavy on the chasing and eluding. MacLeod handles all this well -- he writes very well, and the detail-work is good -- and, beyond the chases, the puzzles are intriguing, too. The resolution comes fast and furious -- and almost as an aside. Readers run along with James and Roisin, and some of the other characters, but as to what's behind it all, the bigger historical forces and moves, those are almost incidentally explained. That diminishes their force -- and we're talking stuff that has a very high wow !-factor -- which gives an odd feel to how the book is rounded off. There's something to be said for how MacLeod focuses on the personal, and on individual fates -- but, man, surely there's a lot to be said about that explanation he presents for what has been set in motion.
       A solid, very well-written thriller, through and through -- even as it leaves readers off-balance by under-selling the rather dramatic would-be (but not, here) central point.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 March 2017

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The Execution Channel:
  • Orbit publicity page
  • Tor publicity page
Reviews: Ken MacLeod: Other books by Ken MacLeod under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Scottish science fiction author Ken MacLeod was born in 1954.

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© 2017-2023 the complete review

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