Detonating New Shockwaves of Possibility: Alternate Histories and the Geopolitical Aesthetics of Ken MacLeod and Iain M. Banks
One of the more interesting developments in the British science fiction boom of the last two decades has been the emergence of major writers based and often setting their fictions in Scotland. Located on the contested periphery of the British nation and working in a moment when the issue of devolution reemerges to a new prominence, these writers are uniquely situated to respond to the set of cultural, social, political, and economic transformations bundled together under the concept term, globalization. Two of the most significant figures in this regard are Ken MacLeod and Iain M. Banks. While the two are best known as the authors of landmark multi-volume series, MacLeod’s The Fall Revolution quartet and Banks’s Culture series, each also published in the first decade of the new millennium examples of the preeminent science fiction subgenre of the alternate history, and in particular the practice Karen Hellekson identifies as parallel worlds stories: MacLeod’s The Human Front (2001) and Banks’s Transition (2009). Bracketing the first decade of the new millennium, the two works, especially when we read them in conjunction, have interesting lessons to teach about both the monumental global changes that occur in this period—as we move from the open historical conjuncture of the post-Cold War 1990s into the grim realities of the global war on terror, and beyond—and the role of science fiction in an emerging world.