I have not read any of Ken McLeod's other books, and it is not clear from anything on the cover that The Sky Road is part of a series or that is necessary to have read any of its predecessors. So, if my review seems uninformed by the other books, that's because it is.
The Sky Road was on the ballot for this year's Hugo Award, which merely reminds me that last year was a relatively week year for novels (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won the Hugo for Best Novel, to a quite enthusiastic reception at the Millennium Philcon where it was announced.)
The Sky Road is an awkward and somewhat arbitrary combination of near-future and far-future history. The near future is set in the middle of the 21st century, after some (to me, at least) unspecified worldwide paradigm shifts that have left the capitalist world in a shambles, the United States a relatively toothless beast, and a handful of space visionaries trying to execute some kind of coup, presumably to put themselves in power. The protagonist is Myra Godwin-Davidova, an American-born potentate in the "International Scientific and Technical Workers Republic," a tiny statelet in what was once the Soviet Union and is now again more than a collection of "former Soviet states" and not quite an empire.
Myra's chapters alternate with those of Clovis colha Gree, a part-time history graduate student and part-time laborer on a spacecraft, centuries in the future, after Myra (known to posterity as "The Deliverer" for her mythical destruction of evil capitalism). Clovis, a Scot, is working on his dissertation about Myra. He is approached by Merrial, a fetching female member of a loose freemasonry called the Tinkers, people who have maintained technical knowledge since The Deliverance destroyed much of the high tech of the 21st century. Merrial is fearful that the Deliverance, which destroyed almost everything humanity had in Earth orbit at the time, left so many fragments in orbit that the ship Clovis is helping build during breaks from his studies, will be threatened. She wants him to help get information on the Deliverance from his university. But how does she know that information is there?
This is a very interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying book. It isn't until the near end that the reader understands the exact nature of Myra's "deliverance" and how it bears little resemblance to what Clovis and the people of his time think it was. Nor does Clovis really find out at the end, which is a bit of a shame. The end comes too quickly - a very common if unfortunate occurrence - as if the author were in a hurry to finish. I didn't particularly appreciate the anti-Americanism, but that's probably just my own small-minded patriotism.
Where The Sky Road succeeds is in painting a portrait of a near future that actually seems plausible. McLeod dispenses with the "expository lump," for the most part (or perhaps the narrative of how we get from here to there takes place in one of the preceding novels). Other than a few misspellings ("spetznatz" instead of "spetznaz" for special paramilitary police troops, for example) and a few other minor inaccuracies about Soviet matters, he has a lot of the history and politics correct. His near future is not a utopia (nor is his far future), and the people are not paragons. Myra is vain, proud of her own mini-state, unwilling to suffer defeat, suspicious, and a bit self-righteous. Clovis is gullible, easily led, provincial, and too much of an easy mark for a pretty face. Merrial, the Tinker girl who both loves and gulls him, seems almost too perfect to be true.
The Sky Road is an engrossing read; paradoxically, it seemed to me too short; I'd have appreciated enough pages so that the end did not rush at me. There wasn't enough build-up to the climax, nor almost any description of the aftermath. Clovis never does learn the full truth, at least not in the pages of the novel.
McLeod can think and he can write. The Sky Road is worth your while; but I'm sorry, it's really not Hugo-caliber.