Tag Archives: Ian McDonald

2xDNF: BLOOD MERIDIAN (1985) & BRASYL (2007)

A short post on 2 books I didn’t finish, mainly because of their prose.


BLOOD MERIDIAN, OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST – Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Blood Meridian McCarthyDubbed as one of the ultimate Great American Novels by some, I looked forward to reading this, but DNFed at 30%. It’s basically a violent (anti-)Western with lots of descriptions of landscapes. I have no idea why it is included in some lists of speculative fiction.

Why did I quit? The prose didn’t click. I thought it was contrived, and convoluted because of that. Taste obviously, as lots of people seem to like its poetry, and even say it is genius. Lots of reviews on Goodreads extensively quote examples of sentences & entire passages, so take a look at those to see if it could work for you.

I also don’t buy the premise of the book – or what the general consensus seems to be on its premise – namely the fact that man is depraved. “Man” is such a generalization that statements like that are hardly interesting. True, at times some humans act in a depraved way, but the vast majority of people I know are good at heart. Then again, if I had kept on reading, I might have seen McCarthy was being ironic. Who knows?

For contrast, here’s Caryn James from the NYT on the novel in 1985: “This latest book is his most important, for it puts in perspective the Faulknerian language and unprovoked violence running through the previous works, which were often viewed as exercises in style or studies of evil. ”Blood Meridian” makes it clear that all along Mr. McCarthy has asked us to witness evil not in order to understand it but to affirm its inexplicable reality; his elaborate language invents a world hinged between the real and surreal, jolting us out of complacency.”


BRASYL – Ian McDonald (2007)

BrasylBrasyl – a near-future account of Brazil – started out good, but at 30% I still couldn’t figure out what the story was about, and the stop-start prose started bugging me: chaotic & jumbled.

I started reading some reviews on Goodreads, and came across this by Ian James:

“the description of being able to see into parallel worlds was not at all believable, and it made no sense that the poison from a frog conferred the ability to do so in humans, just because that frog’s retina is supposedly capable of detecting a single quantum of light (and is thus able to see into the quantum world). Also, just because you can see billions of parallel worlds does not mean you can predict the future, find out answers to questions in your own world, or be able to travel in time. It made NO sense, and it was not explained at all. There was some gibberish about quantum computers somehow causing a sort of gateway between parallel worlds, but this unconvincing pseudo-scientific explanation was muddled up with the hallucinogenic or mind-altering psychic power “explanation” in other parts of the book.”

I decided to cut my loses, because it is exactly that kind of stuff that bugs me these days.

I liked River of Gods & Luna: New Moon a lot, but Luna: Wolf Moon didn’t convince me to read the third Luna installment. This time McDonald failed to convince me altogether. I still have The Dervish House on my TBR, we’ll see about that one.


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LUNA: WOLF MOON – Ian McDonald (2017)

Luna Wolf MoonLuna: New Moon was one of my best reads of 2015 – a Shakespearian feud set on a near future moon that felt both fresh & glossy, and harsh & sprawling. If you haven’t read it, go check it out.

At the time we were led to believe it to be the first of a duology, but it turns out McDonald decided to write a trilogy after all.

I’m not sure that decision paid off. It’ll probably pay off in terms of total copies sold, but artistically, Luna: Wolf Moon has some problems. Not that you shouldn’t read it. If you liked New Moon, you’ll enjoy Wolf Moon too. But while overall solid & fun, it simply isn’t an as good a book. Not even close.

Writing trilogies is tricky, especially if they are one story, multiple volumes. I feel, ideally, every volume should have its own voice, or, at least, should bring something new to the table. Otherwise, the decision to go for multiple volumes published some months or years apart is only motivated by practicalities and commercial interests, not by artistic considerations.

Continue reading

RIVER OF GODS – Ian McDonald (2004)

River Of GodsThere are a few, small instances of meta in River Of Gods, Ian McDonald’s near-future novel set in India, 2047. One of those makes clear McDonald ultimately writes about our reality, and not about made up stuff.

Something it could believe it had not made up itself. It wanted the drama of the real, the fountainhead from which all story flows.

So, what is the drama of the real that River Of Gods serves its readers? A lot of things, it turns out. The book features 9 different POV characters, who are presented one by one in a chapter each. Multiple viewpoint books have a tendency to take a lot of time before the story lines start to intermingle, but this is not the case in River Of Gods: after the introductory chapters, characters soon start to interact with others – some slightly, some full on. This is a good thing, since River Of Gods is complex enough as it is. (More on that complexity later.) These nine characters all feel real, and display real feelings. Drama aplenty in this 588-page book. Some of it violent and in your face, some of it poetic, all of it human. McDonald manages to evoke emotion seemingly easily, like in the quote below, lifted from a passage about cleaning out the house of a deceased mother.

He thinks of her house afterwards, of the terrible poignancy of her clothes and shoes on their hangers and racks, all unnecessary now, all her choices and fancyings and likings naked and exposed by death.

This sentence is so brutally true – everyone who helped in emptying the house of a loved one will recognize.   Continue reading

LUNA: NEW MOON – Ian McDonald (2015)

Luna New Moon

This hammer of a book is about freedom, and its opposite. Freedom from gravity, freedom from criminal and civil law, sexual freedom. Being in enclosed spaces the entire time. The cost of air, the fear of depressurization. The crushing demands of family. Inevitability. Being bound by contracts, contracts, contracts.

Luna: New Moon is the first book by Ian McDonald I’ve read. It’s brilliant, and it urges me to read McDonald’s other books – River Of Gods, The Derwish House, Brasyl. From what I’ve read online about those earlier titles, his newest follows a similar approach: well researched near-future history. This time on the moon, obviously. The book’s projections are savory food for thought.

The world McDonald has created is stunning. The science is stunning, the society is stunning, the Corta dynasty is stunning. Luna is rich in detail and texture, and yet this novel has a sparse feel. There are no elaborate descriptions, and McDonald’s prose is direct, unforgiving and often chilling. No bullshit here. Plus sharp observations about the reality of being human. Yet, there’s still plenty of beauty to be found.

The legend is that the chair keeps Robert Mackenzie alive but one look tells the truth: it is the will that burns in the back of his eyes. Will to power, will to own, will to hold and let nothing be taken, not even his husk of a life. Robert Mackenzie stares down death. The life-support system towers over his head like a crown, a halo. Tubes pulse, pumps hiss and spin, motors hum. The backs of his hands are blotched with slow-healing haemotomas where needles and cannulas pierce the flesh. No one can bear to look more than an instant at the tube in his throat. The perfume of fern, the smell of fresh water, can’t hide the smell. Rachel Mackenzie’s stomach lifts at the taint of colostomy.

‘My darling.’

The narrative voice McDonald uses is one of a master writer: ultimate freedom here too. His flexibility with viewpoints is truly something to behold, but never feels complex or jumpy. Still, there’s a lot to take in, and McDonald does expect patience from his readers: hardly anything is presented on a silver platter.

The story is tightly plotted, and there’s a smooth balance in its layering of themes. Throughout the pages those themes are carefully, slowly mined & processed, as the minerals of the moon’s regolith. Luna is about migration, and power-politics and money, about being old and dying, about love, lust and animal instinct, about the melancholic saudade of bossa nova, about the brazen folly of youth, about fashionistas, knife fights, and about a changing new society, one on the brink of becoming civilized by swallowing pride. Or not.

Be prepared for quite some explicit sex. It’s well done, and always serves the story and the characters. Some might object to it though.

It isn’t too dissimilar from what I’ve read from Kim Stanley Robinson, albeit a bit more gritty, Shakespearian, violent and in-your-face, less technical and without info dumps. My favorite SF novel of 2015 is either this or Aurora. And I have yet to read SevenevesThe Dark Forest and Ancillary Mercy. What a great year for science fiction.

Luna: New Moon is an instant classic. I can’t wait for the sequel. And I hope the television series gets beyond being optioned.

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The  Fifth Dragon, a prequel story to the book, is available for free online, here