Descent, by Ken MacLeod, Orbit, RRP£19.99, 416 pages

As a teenager, Ryan Sinclair has a close encounter with a UFO. When he returns to the scene, however, evidence of the incident is gone. Ryan then experiences alien-abduction dreams and a visit from what appears to be a Man in Black. All this sparks a fascination with the UFO phenomenon and related cover-ups, which wanes until adulthood when he again meets the Man in Black, now a rightwing politician.

Set in a near-future, post-independence Scotland, Ken MacLeod’s 15th novel weaves deftly through thickets of conspiracy theory, drawing in surveillance society, high-tech aviation materials, and the Neanderthals’ racial legacy. Though sagging slighting in the middl, Descent is politically engaged, brimming with smart ideas and shot through with a mordant wit. The novel is dedicated to the memory of MacLeod’s friend Iain M Banks, and one feels that the future of intelligent Scottish SF is in good hands.

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