Review: The Restoration Game

Posted: November 16, 2011 by in Books that are Mediocre (3/5 single_star) Meta: Ken MacLeod, Science Fiction

Sadly I think I can write up this review for Ken MacLeod‘s THE RESTORATION GAME (Amazon) in one, short sentence. Ready for it?

Too little, too late.

I’m gonna write my review. I’m gonna tell you a bit about the story and various other things, but everything you need to know is right there. This book was hard to get through (and it was only like 250 pages), and while there was some very cool stuff that happened (really really awesome stuff that I think deserves more attention than it got here), it happened too late in the story and honestly most of the story didn’t seem to lead up to the conclusions.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with a recap of the story shall we?

There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up game company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy’s mother, Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s. Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the 1930s and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore, and who perished in Stalin’s terror. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family’s past, the darker secrets of Krassnia’s past—and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in THE RESTORATION GAME…

I took that right off the back of the book and really it fits well. If that sounds like your type of book, then by all means dive right in and enjoy.

The problem I have with it is that there’s really no mention of anything remotely Science Fictionish about it. Sounds like a political thriller doesn’t it? I have news for you, that’s what this is. About 225 of the 250ish pages are devoted to a political thriller type of story. There are plots and schemes and revolutions and more factions and groups of people than I could keep track of (literally—I was very lost in who was working for whom and double agenting for what). The other 25 pages deal very briefly on some very interesting science fiction ideas, almost all of which occur at the end after I’ve already slogged through the rest of the book.

If you’ve liked Charles Stross’s near future thrillers (HALTING STATE and RULE 34) then I think THE RESTORATION GAME is up your alley.

As political thrillers go does the book work? I honestly don’t know. I don’t read a lot of them. I prefer SF (that’s kind of why I review them). There were moments that I enjoyed and even parts of it that I was engaged in, but more often than not I was trying to bull through it hoping that it would turn around.

As far as the SF stuff at the end, well, I liked it a lot. There were some very cool ideas. Ideas that made me think, ideas that I would like to see explored some more. But in the end those ideas seemed rather tacked on to the political story. I think I would have preferred a much shorter story (novelette perhaps) with the same SF, but a more streamlined version of the rest of the story.

Maybe this is your cup of tea. I’ve seen some good praise for the book out there. Honestly this could be a case of just being the wrong book for the wrong reader. If you’ve liked Charles Stross’s near future thrillers (HALTING STATE and RULE 34) then I think this is more up your alley.

  • Recommended Age: 14+ because of the complexity of the factions, a bit of language and sexual innuendo
  • Language: Very little. Only one specific reference I can think of.
  • Violence: Moderate. There’s language but it isn’t extreme.
  • Sex: None


  • Liviu says:

    The prologue clearly indicates that the novel is sf with the twist that our world is a simulation in another human timeline which is “more advanced”; the rest is the realization of that idea in the context of our present and while I agree that it reads more like a political thriller than anything, the known sfnal twist and how it is slowly understood by the main heroine made a big difference for me; now i am a huge Mcleod fan and read and enjoyed almost all his sf to date (10+ novels)…

    • spike the surf dog says:

      That is a cool twist. And I loved it when I got to it in the end of the book, but I didn't see that going into it and I wished there would have been more sfnal stuff around, just hints and things to keep that in mind. Glad you like MacLeod though. I enjoyed Learning the World by him quite a bit.

  • Liviu says:

    Loved this paragraph; summarizes well our culture

    “So,” you summarise to the shame-faced scientists, the Alexandrian experts, the top people in the field, “you have brought those poor creatures to the brink of disaster. Nuclear war, ecological catastrophe, and what else? Oh yes—cultural calamity, as they discover that they are in a simulation. How long will it take for that to dawn on them?”“Blame the SPs for that,” says Andrea Memmius, certified sage of Alexandria. Her tone is sulky. “They used an off-the-shelf navigational package as the basis for their extrasolar astronomy simulation. Naturally it is Ptolemaic. They were not to know—”“That their virtual creations would one day send probes to the edge of the solar system? That they might just notice that the galaxies are spinning too fast? That the underlying physics of their world are inconsistent?”“So far,” says Caro Odoma, the other Alexandrian, “the sim-people have shown remarkable creativity in rationalising these…dark matters!”

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