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Journeys
Ian R. MacLeod
Subterranean Press, 232 pages

Journeys
Ian R. MacLeod
Ian R. MacLeod was born in Solihull, near Birmingham, in the West Midlands in 1956. He decided to study law and to attend Birmingham Polytechnic. After various jobs, he ended up working in the Civil Service. When his wife Gillian became pregnant in 1990, he thought the idea of being a full-time house-husband and writer was a worthy one. His first sale, "1/72nd Scale," was nominated for the Nebula Award for the year's best novella. Other stories have appeared in the Year's Best SF and Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. His first novel, The Great Wheel, won the Locus Award for the Year's Best First novel and his second, an alternative history story titled The Summer Isles, won the World Fantasy Award as a novella. He now teaches English and creative writing part-time.

Ian R. MacLeod Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Breathmoss and Other Exhalations
SF Site Interview: Ian R. MacLeod
SF Site Review: The Light Ages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Ian R. MacLeod has had a long and relatively successful career. His stories have won multiple World Fantasy and Sidewise Awards and his novels have garnered him Clarke and Campbell trophies. His fourth collection, Journeys, provides insight into why MacLeod's work is held in such high esteem.

In many of the stories included in Journeys, MacLeod is able to take the time to flesh out a complex setting, familiar, yet quite different from the world in which we live. The opening story, "The Master Miller's Tale," takes advantage of the previously described world of two of MacLeod's novels, although the story is not dependent on the reader knowing anything about those books. Instead, MacLeod presents an evocative world around Nathan Westover and his trials as the world begins to move past the traditional manner in which his family has worked their mill by calling the winds.

Other worlds which appear well thought out and both familiar and strange are that of "The Hob Carpet," which presents a society on the verge of discovering the racism inherent in it, although not quite stepping up to the line. MacLeod's presentation of this journey of discovery is troubling to modern sensitivities which may want to see change happen all at once, but it is an acknowledgement that societal changes must happen in their own time, guided along and often lagging behind the impetus for them.

Not all of the stories in Journeys work as well. "Taking Good Care of Myself" and "On the Sighting of Other Islands" both introduce intriguing topics, but are too short for MacLeod to have fully developed. Similarly, "Topping Off the Spire" ends with a sense of ambiguity, but it successfully raises questions in the reader's mind and results in a tale of horror that nibbles on the reader long after the story is finished. These short tales show the imagination MacLeod exploits successfully in so many of his longer stories.

Perhaps the least successful story in Journeys is MacLeod's retelling of the Sepoy Mutiny in his alternate history "The English Mutiny." MacLeod's story fails not because of his writing ability or the story itself, but rather because he is unable to present his adaptation of the world, in which England is under the thumb of Moghul Conquerors resulting in an exact reversal of the actual events in nineteenth century India, in a manner which allows the reader to suspend disbelief. The piece instead comes across as a thought experiment that never quite succeeds.

Another thought experiment, which succeeds much better, is the final story in the collection. In "Second Journey of the Magus," Balthezar, one of the magi who visited Jesus at the nativity, returns to Jerusalem to witness the world the Messiah is creating. MacLeod posits a world in which Jesus's message is not as radical as it was in our own, yet still manages to attract enough followers to remake the world. Although this story also ends with some ambiguity, and therefore leaves the reader with ambiguity as they finish the book, it is the type of ambiguity that allows the reader to consider the ideas the author has be discussing.

Journeys provides a nice entrance point for readers who are not familiar with MacLeod's writing. Not as strong as some of his previous collections such as Breathmoss and Other Exhalations or Voyages by Starlight, but still indicative of MacLeod's strengths as an author and a worthwhile book to delve into.

Copyright © 2010 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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