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The Invisible Country
Paul J. McAuley
Avon EOS Books, 310 pages

Art: Dennis Lyall
The Invisible Country
Paul J. McAuley
Paul J. McAuley was born in England in 1955 and currently lives in Scotland. He worked as a researcher in biology in various universities before going to St. Andrew's University as a lecturer in botany for six years. He's chosen to move on to become a full-time writer.

His first novel, Four Hundred Billion Stars, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award and several subsequent novels have been nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, winning one for Fairyland which also won the 1997 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel. His short story, "The Temptation of Dr. Stein," won the British Fantasy Award. Pasquale's Angel won the very first Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) in 1996. McAuley also produces a regular review column for Interzone and contributes reviews to Foundation.

Paul J. McAuley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Paul J. McAuley
SF Site Review: Child Of The River
SF Site Review: Fairyland
Paul J. McAuley Interview
SF Archive: Paul J. McAuley
Star Makers - Paul J. McAuley
Mark/Space: Paul J.McAuley

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Paul J. McAuley is a good example of something that was missing from science fiction in the eighties: The British. Eighties SF, from the cyberpunks to the eco-feminists, from the hard SF writers to the humanists, was dominated by American writers. The British SF tradition, which had ranged from H. G. Wells to Arthur C. Clarke to Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock had seemingly lost its place at the cutting edge of the field.

That's all changed in the nineties. Scotland has experienced a mainstream literary renaissance. American writers like Pat Cadigan and Tricia Sullivan have moved to London. And a good portion of the best SF of the last ten years has been written by British writers, including Iain M. Banks, Ian MacDonald, Gwynneth Jones, Stephen Baxter, and Paul J. McAuley.

The Invisible Country is McAuley's second short story collection. The stories, mostly hard SF that draw on McAuley's background in biology, are a good introduction to a writer who is both a first-rate story teller and stylist. The title story, a does-the-end-justify-the-means look at a near future world suffering from over-population and environmental catastrophe, is a perfect example. The story of Cameron and his decision on how to deal with the world he is forced to live in is engrossing, and presented in prose that recalls Lucius Shepard at his finest. Just as impressive is "Recording Angel", a far future story of what happens when the inhabitants of a world built near the edge of a black hole are visited by a woman from the distant past whose philosophy cannot help but change their way of life. Here McAuley's use of language that subtly evokes both an incredible long stretch of time and gives us a connection to our own world brings to mind Gene Wolfe and The Book of the New Sun.

Four of the stories included in the collection, "Prison Dreams", "Dr. Luther's Assistant", "Children of the Revolution", and "Slaves" are set in the same future history as McAuley's novel Fairyland. The best of these are "Prison Dreams" and "Slaves". "Prison Dreams" introduces us to Lianna, a young woman with a chip in her head, doing time as a medical worker for the crime she committed. Her duties bring her into contact with dolls, animals whose minds and bodies have been altered to enable them to do the dirty work for the citizens who inhabit the arcologies of Amsterdam. "Slaves" is the coming of age story of Katz, a young woman who lives with a band of "fringers", unemployed or out of luck people who live in the wild lands of Europe, where renegade dolls and the humans who help them are creating a strange new world. "Slaves" manages to be both a disturbing and, in contrast to its title, uplifting view of a world changing in ways that its human creators no longer fully comprehend.

Of the remaining stories, two are set in the same alternate history as Pasquale's Angel, McAuley's evocation of early renaissance Italy. Both stories revolve around the character of Dr. Pretorious, a Frankenstein-like figure whose life attracts the attention of Dr. Stein in ancient Venice, and Larry Cochrane, an investigative reporter from our own time. The other story in The Invisible Country, "Gene Wars", is a snapshot-by-snapshot recounting of a world and its people transformed by biotechnology.

The one thing all these stories share is a sympathy for what McAuley calls "the victims of technology". The viewpoint characters are people whose lives have been changed, and who are struggling to hang on and find a place for themselves in a world being constantly altered by technology. While McAuley's artistry is most evident in "The Invisible Country", he is generally careful to not let the prose get in the way of telling a good story. The result is a splendid collection of stories that also serves as a fine introduction to one of the best new writers to emerge in the nineties.

Copyright © 1998 by Greg L. Johnson

Strange But True Department: Cleaning the kitchen one evening, reviewer Greg L. Johnson found himself listening, for the first time in about a year, to Taking Liberties, a collection of singles and b-sides by Elvis Costello, including the song "Dr Luther's Assistant". The next day's mail brought The Invisible Country. Upon opening the package, the first story he saw was, you guessed it, "Dr Luther's Assistant", the title of which McAuley admits was borrowed from the Costello song. Strange, but true!

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