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Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald(1960- )
Ian McDonald writes mostly science fiction novels, including Brasyl, River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, Desolation Road, Out on Blue Six, Chaga, and Kirinya. He has won the Philip K. Dick Award, the BSFA Award, and a Hugo Award, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award and a Quill Book Award, and has several nominations for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Here’s Ian McDonald’s blog.

Desolation Road

Desolation Road — (1988) Publisher: Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. It all began 30 years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black’s Wonderful Travelling Chataqua and Educational Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. It’s inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town’s founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with and married the same woman.

Ian McDonaldfantasy and science fiction book reviews

Desolation Road: A science fiction fable

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Desolation Road by Ian McDonald

I was reminded, while reading Desolation Road, of two authors in particular: John Crowley and Gene Wolfe. This is not to say that I think Ian McDonald was in any way aping them or merely writing some kind of amalgamated pastiche, but there were elements to his tale that made both author’s names spring to mind. I think the first one was Wolfe, largely because of the way in which McDonald made the magical seem almost commonplace (or was it that the commonplace was made to seem magical?) in a way that reminded me of the inversions of the various aspects of the world in both Wolfe’s NEW SUN and LONG SUN series, not to mention the presence of time-travelling Green Men, technological angels and various other oddit... Read More

Ares Express: This ain’t Mars like you’ve ever seen it before

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Ares Express by Ian McDonald

There’s really something special about Ian McDonald’s Mars books. McDonald’s Mars is a place I love to visit in all of its crazy, off the wall, illogical glory. I’ve rarely seen the numinous, and irrational, nature of magic so well displayed in fantasy books, let alone in a sci-fi one (the exception would have to be Sean Stewart who is also expert at such depictions, though in a very different vein). Despite the strangeness of McDonald’s Mars, I’ve rarely seen such a consistently envisioned and joyfully painted world.

Ares Express is a hell of a lot of fun and it even taught me a few things: 1) Hell hath no fury like a failed art student; 2) If something is going to run your ... Read More

Chaga

Chaga — (1995-2000) Publisher: It began in the year 2002 with strange activities on one of Saturn’s moons. Then came the meteor strike on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, followed by an alien infestation by a strange vegetative life-form known locally as the Chaga. For Gaby McAslan and her SkyNet news team, this is the story of a lifetime — and a golden chance at fame. As the Dark Continent becomes a frenzied backdrop of apocalyptic anticipation, Gaby fights to be the first to get to the truth behind the Chaga, only to come up against a wall of official secrecy. Suddenly rumors are spreading as fast as the Chaga: of people disappearing into the alien growth or being herded by U.N. troops into restricted “research” camps. Soon it becomes clear that the real story is bigger than Gaby could every imagine — a story that must be told even if it means betraying the man she loves. Is the Chaga an invasion or a gift? Does it mean destruction or evolution? Does it spell the final chapter for humanity… or just the beginning of the most amazing story of all?

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Evolution’s Shore: Fascinating SF with African setting

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Evolution’s Shore by Ian McDonald

In several equatorial regions of the earth, an alien plant has been growing. The “Chaga,” as it is called, came from outer space and destroys anything manmade that comes near it. Scientists are worried about what it might do to humans. They have not been able to kill it and it is advancing slowly but steadily each day, changing the landscape and covering villages and cities as it progresses. Not only are people’s lives being disrupted as they have to flee their homes and become refugees, but they’re also worried about what the Chaga is doing here in the first place. Is it benign? Is there an intelligence behind it? Is it a precursor to an alien invasion? Nobody knows.

The mystery of the Chaga and its effect on humanity have inspired Gaby McAslin, a feisty red-headed green-eyed Irish woman, to become a journalist so she can go to Nairobi and try... Read More

Kirinya: I didn’t get what I wanted out of it

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Kirinya by Ian McDonald

After recently enjoying Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore, the first book in his CHAGA series, I was eager to proceed with book two, Kirinya. I wanted to know where McDonald was going with the fascinating ideas he presented in that first novel. What is the goal of the Chaga, the alien evolution machine that has landed on Earth in the form of a ground-covering jungle that changes the landscape and its human inhabitants as it slowly progresses across equatorial regions? What is in the BDO (Big Dumb Object) that came from Saturn and hovers in Earth’s orbit? How will our world’s societies and cultures be affected by these otherworldly intrusions?

As Kirinya begins we learn that Gaby, the famous feisty Irish journalist, has had Shepherd’s baby. Because their daughter... Read More

Tendeleo’s Story: A companion to McDonald’s CHAGA novels

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Tendeleo’s Story by Ian McDonald

Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.

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Everness

Everness — (2011-2014) Young Adult. Publisher: There is not one you. There are many yous. There is not one world. There are many worlds. Ours is one of billions of parallel earths. When Everett Singh’s scientist father is kidnapped from the streets of London, he leaves young Everett a mysterious app on his computer. Suddenly, this teenager has become the owner of the most valuable object in the multiverse — the Infundibulum — the map of all the parallel earths, and there are dark forces in the Ten Known Worlds who will stop at nothing to get it. They’ve got power, authority, and the might of ten planets — some of them more technologically advanced than our Earth — at their fingertips. He’s got wits, intelligence, and a knack for Indian cooking. To keep the Infundibulum safe, Everett must trick his way through the Heisenberg Gate his dad helped build and go on the run in a parallel Earth. But to rescue his Dad from Charlotte Villiers and the sinister Order, this Planesrunner’s going to need friends. Friends like Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, her adopted daughter Sen, and the crew of the airship Everness. Can they rescue Everett’s father and get the Infundibulum to safety? The game is afoot!

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Planesrunner: Airships, quantum mechanics and a hero you care about

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Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

I’m a pretty big fan of Ian McDonald, so when I learned that a brand new novel by the author was on the way, I got suitably excited. Then, when I found out that the new novel would be the start of a series, and that this series would deal with alternate dimensions and multiverse-type ideas (very different from his last few books), I got really excited. And then, when I discovered that the series would be a young adult series — well, it took me a while to come down from that one.

So, here it is: Planesrunner, book one in Ian McDonald’s brand new EVERNESS series, which — based on this first novel — I hope will be a very long series of YA science fiction novels. Boy, this book was fun.

One night in London, fourteen-year-old Everett Singh is witness to his father... Read More

Be My Enemy: No sophomore slump in the EVERNESS series

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Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

Be My Enemy is Ian McDonald’s second book in his alternate-universe EVERNESS series. In this book, our hero Everett Singh confronts his most powerful enemy, himself.

At the end of Planesrunner, Everett’s father was transported into a random universe by the Known Worlds villain Charlotte Villiers. Villiers used a weapon she called a jumpgun. Everett managed to grab the jumpgun, and has used it and the map of universes on his computer tablet to send the airship Everness to another universe as well. Now, he struggles to convert the code that will make the jumpgun and his tablet play nicely together, so that he can jump the Everness to his earth to rescue his mother and baby sister, and then pursue the quest to find his missing father.

There are ten Known Worlds with portal, or gate, technology, and ou... Read More

Luna

Luna — (2015-2016) The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it’s being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon’s ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon’s near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did. As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation, Corta Helio, surrounded by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise. If the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.

Luna: New Moon: A glamorous lunar soap opera

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

I want to start this review by saying that many readers are going to absolutely love Luna: New Moon (2015) and, even though I’m not one of them, I can completely understand why they will. I admired this a lot more than I enjoyed it.

Luna: New Moon, the first installment in Ian McDonald’s LUNA series, is an epic soap opera. It’s like The Godfather, Dynasty, or Dallas on the moon. The story focuses on the Cortas, a family that lives on the moon under the head of its elderl... Read More

Empire Dreams: An excellent sampler of Ian McDonald’s work

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Empire Dreams by Ian McDonald

Over the past few months I’ve read seven novels by Ian McDonald and have appreciated his thoughtful and beautifully written stories. I admired all of them, even those that I didn’t particularly like. McDonald’s stories are unique, many have exotic settings you can get immersed in, and most have fascinating science fiction ideas while also portraying poignant human struggles.

Empire Dreams (1988) is a sampler of ten of McDonald’s short stories and novelettes that offer fans and new readers a few glimpses of the author’s brilliance and versatility. The first five were originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine and the rest are original to this volume:

“Empire Dreams (Ground Control to Major Tom)” — (Originally printed in Asimov’s, December 1985) This nove... Read More

Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

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Out On Blue Six by Ian McDonald

Courtney Hall is a cartoonist because that’s the job she’s been assigned by the tyrannical government agencies that dictate all of the details of everyone’s life — where they live, who their friends are, who they marry, what job they do. The goal of the government, which consists of such agencies as the Ministry of Pain, the Compassionate Society, and the Love Police, is to analyze every citizen’s genes and personality so that they can be assigned to the lifestyle that will minimize their pain and maximize their happiness, thus creating a populace that is obedient and compliant. The government assures that its dictates are adhered to by monitoring all activity and censoring criticism.

Most people seem content in the Compassionate Society because they like being pain-free, doing a job that they love (even if they’re not good at it) and being mar... Read More

King of Morning, Queen of Day: A fairy tale of unforgettable power

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King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald

I knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that King of Morning, Queen of Day was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check. In fact, I think the only reason I didn't discover this book earlier is that it was published in 1991, and I only started reading fantasy sometime in the late nineties.

The story begins with Emily, a bratty but endearing girl of fifteen, poised on the edge of adulthood in the early 20th century. Emily knows she is special — set apart — and when she sees the faeries in the wood by her family's home, she knows she will never be satisfied with ordinary life. Emily makes a colossal mess of things, as bratty fifteen-year-olds will do, and sets in motion events that will affect generations to come.

What follow... Read More

The Broken Land: Surreal visions of the horrors of civil war

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The Broken Land by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land (Hearts, Hands and Voices in the UK) is a book I admired more than I loved. It’s an allegorical look at the horrors of civil war caused by religious zeal and division. The story is set in a fictional country that feels like it could be in a future Africa where biotechnology has led to the development of mechanical infrastructure that is part organic and part artificial intelligence. The citizens are divided by their religious affiliation — some are Proclaimers and some are Confessors. All are subject to the Emperor who lives across the river.

Our protagonist is a young woman named Mathembe who, because of her particular convictions, decides not to speak. Mathembe is a confessor, so she is skilled in the manipulation of genetic material to create new life. When members of her family die, their heads are ... Read More

Terminal Café: An existential examination of nanotechnology

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Terminal Café (Necroville in the UK) by Ian McDonald

“’Am I a ghost in a meat machine, am I God’s little seed stored in heaven for all eternity and glued one day on to a blastocyst in Mama Columbar’s womb; has this me been recycled through countless previous bodies, previous worlds, universes?’ He pressed his finger between Trinidad’s eyes… ‘This is the final frontier. Here. This curve of bone is the edge of the universe.’”

Existentialism is a main theme of Ian Mcdonald’s brilliant 1994 Terminal Café(published in the UK as Necroville). Pyrotechnic poetry blasting from the pages, the possibilities of nanotechnology have never been related in such vivid profundity. In southern California of 2063, the dead live again in this flames-and-leather cyberpunk exploration of the meaning of life and death in a world gone mad w... Read More

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

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Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian McDonald

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is a fascinating short novel by Ian McDonald. At the beginning of the story we meet Ethan Ring, who’s feeling conspicuously tall and red-headed as he chants in a Buddhist temple. Ethan and his friend, a famous Japanese manga artist, are on a bicycle pilgrimage in Japan. Neither of them knows what kind of demons the other is struggling with, and neither does the reader at first, but as they journey on, their stories come out and even though each man’s tale is different, they realize that both of them are searching for redemption and peace.

Many stories deal with a hero’s search for redemption, but Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone is unique. The setting is a neo-feudal Japan where tech corporations are the fiefdoms and gangs of armed vigilantes threaten citizen... Read More

Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

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Sacrifice of Fools by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald grew up in Belfast, a city known for the turmoil and unrest it has endured because of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Some of McDonald’s novels allegorically explore the causes and results of a divided city. In Sacrifice of Fools, McDonald presents a vivid and lively conflicted Belfast, and then he throws a third element into the mix: aliens.

The Shian are a peaceful alien species who, upon arrival on Earth, are allowed to settle in Belfast in exchange for sharing the secrets of their technological superiority. The Shian are humanoid in appearance, but have enough biological differences that they cannot successfully mate with humans. They also have very different languages, laws, culture, and customs. While their similarities make them attractive to many humans (and weird fetishes evolve), the dif... Read More

River of Gods: A complex, foreign, unique world

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River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald’s River of Gods is a complex, multi-threaded tale that takes place in near-future India which has been split into somewhat warring states. There is a water shortage as the monsoon hasn’t come in three years, a rigid caste system is in place, and political and economic strife is tearing cities apart at the seams. While the rich get richer and designer babies are common among the elite, there is a gross gender imbalance where men outnumber women by two thirds. It’s a complex, foreign, and unique world.

McDonald’s writing at times reminded me of a mixture of K.J. Parker’s dry, cynical humor and a dash of Peter F. Hamilton’s science fiction. McDonald is incredibly descriptive, and he seems to purposefully take a “no holds ... Read More

Cyberabad Days: Science fiction at its very best

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Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald

Cyberabad Days is a fully realized vision of a near-future India — indeed, of a near-future world in which India is a major player, even more so than today. Ian McDonald’s prose sparkles, the plots of the stories are uniformly tight, but it is the imagination, the picture of the future, that really works here. If you want that “sense of wonder” that science fiction is most famous for, this is the place to find it.

Cyberabad Days is set in the same universe as McDonald’s River of Gods, a highly praised novel that won the British Science Fiction Award in 2005, and received nominations for the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. In the seven stories of Cyberabad Days, linked by setting and technology but not by chara... Read More

The Dervish House: The rise of nanotechnology in Istanbul

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The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Necdet, a troubled young man, is witness to what looks like a botched suicide bombing on a crowded city tram; afterwards, he starts seeing djinn and other supernatural creatures. Can, a nine year old boy with an amazing robotic toy — and a heart condition that confines him to a silent world — accidentally becomes involved in the intrigue. Ayse, a gallery owner, is contracted to find a mysterious and elusive relic, while her boyfriend Adnan, a successful trader, works on his own scheme to become rich. A retired Greek economist, Georgios, is recruited into a secret government think tank, and Leyla, a young social climber, tries to get involved with a promising nanotech startup.

These six narratives all take place in Istanbul, less than 20 years into the future. The city, historically a crossroads and now also the capital of the newest EU member nation,... Read More

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One

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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One edited by Jonathan Strahan

My first and foremost complaint — and this is really a quibble more than anything else — is that the title doesn't tell you what year this anthology belongs to. Which isn't really a problem if you bought it recently but in case you find in the bookstore bin several years down the line, it's nice to know what era this collection represents (in case you don't know the answer, the book was printed in 2007). With that out of the way, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One is a good collection that draws from both the fantasy and science fiction genres, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.

Personally, however, because I read a large number of anthologies in 2007, I’ve seen many of these stories before because they’ve been reprinted in numerous ... Read More

Masked: Superheroes move into the realm of prose

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Masked edited by Lou Anders

Superheroes — and supervillains — have always been problematic. They are usually all but impossible to kill, but have a single vulnerability that everyone seems to know about, and to aim for, a tradition that goes all the way back to Achilles (who was invulnerable because he was dipped in the River Styx as a baby — except for the ankle by which his mother held him when doing the dipping). Even after death, they always seem to come back in some form or another; Superman, for instance, has been resurrected quite a few times (though losing him led nearly 20 years ago to one of the best graphic novels ever written, World Without a Superman). Because they are so superhumanly strong, they sometimes appear ludicrous, fighting off impossible task after incredible burden after outrageous situation. No wonder authors have sometimes taken their creations... Read More

More speculative fiction by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonaldKling Klang Klatch — (1992) With David Lyttleton. Publisher: At 5:00 a.m. on the greasy streets of a city that never sleeps, the dolls are on the hard stuff and the transport’s about to strike again. On the news it’s all bombs and killing machines the size of tenement blocks. The only consolation for a weary middle-aged cop on his way home is a little illegal sugar and some sweet tenor sax. But that was before they found the body that looked like somebody had unzipped it then scooped out all its insides. And the three words scrawled on an alley wall. Three red words, so fresh they were still dripping. KLING KLANG KLATCH. It’s enough to knock out anyone’s stuffing. And in Toyland, that’s no joke. KLING KLANG KLATCH is set in a superficially glittering world that, if not exactly human, reflects humanity’s desires, corruption, and racism at a fundamental level. Ian McDonald’s (Desolation Road) blackly bizarre wit and David Lyttleton’s (Punch) razor-sharp eye for detail have created a unique fantasy with a delicious streak of dark humor.


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsBrasyl — (2007) Publisher: Think Bladerunner in the tropics… Be seduced, amazed, and shocked by one of the world’s greatest and strangest nations. Past, present, and future Brazil, with all its color, passion, and shifting realities, come together in a novel that is part SF, part history, part mystery, and entirely enthralling. Three separate stories follow three main characters: Edson is a self-made talent impressario one step up from the slums in a near future São Paulo of astonishing riches and poverty. A chance encounter draws Edson into the dangerous world of illegal quantum computing, but where can you run in a total surveillance society where every move, face, and centavo is constantly tracked? Marcelina is an ambitious Rio TV producer looking for that big reality TV hit to make her name. When her hot idea leads her on the track of a disgraced World Cup soccer goalkeeper, she becomes enmeshed in an ancient conspiracy that threatens not just her life, but her very soul. Father Luis is a Jesuit missionary sent into the maelstrom of 18th-century Brazil to locate and punish a rogue priest who has strayed beyond the articles of his faith and set up a vast empire in the hinterland. In the company of a French geographer and spy, what he finds in the backwaters of the Amazon tries both his faith and the nature of reality itself to the breaking point. Three characters, three stories, three Brazils, all linked together across time, space, and reality in a hugely ambitious story that will challenge the way you think about everything.


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