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Ian McDonald
Gollancz, 512 pages / Pyr, 358 pages

Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester and moved to Northern Ireland in 1965. At present, he lives in Belfast with his wife, Patricia. His debut was the short story, The Island of the Dead, in the British magazine, Extro. His work has won the Philip K. Dick Award for best original SF paperback, the Locus poll for best first novel, and several nominations for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ares Express
SF Site Review: Sacrifice of Fools
SF Site Reading List: Ian McDonald

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Stuart Carter

In which Mr McDonald tries to do for Brazil -- sorry, Brasyl -- what he did for India in the kaleidoscopic River Of Gods.

Or does he?

Whilst the two books may have superficial similarities, such as their setting in a currently underperforming, but hotly-tipped, global power, and a quite remarkable degree of seemingly authentic local colour, I don't think McDonald is doing a SF audit of potential global superpowers. To begin with, only one third of Brasyl, set in Sao Paulo in 2032, appears to be the straightforward extrapolative science fiction that River Of Gods was. There are two other narratives in Brasyl: one following Marcelina Hoffman, a producer of trash TV, living a thoroughly modern life in the Rio of 2006, and one following her seeming antithesis, Father Luis Quinn, an Irish Jesuit priest on a Heart Of Darkness-style voyage across an appalling Brazil of 1732.

In 2032 Edson is a smooth, smart operator, with ambitions that look far beyond the slums where he was born and raised. Then he meets Fia, part of a quantum computing operation on the bleeding edge of legality and reality, and, remarkably, falls in love. But which Fia is he in love with...?

In 2006, Marcelina's next big TV pitch is to find the man, the goalkeeper, who cost Brazil the 1950 World Cup -- a knife-edge moment when anything seemed possible in this impossible country -- and subject him to "trial by TV." But Marcelina's own life is on a knife-edge, as a woman who seems to be her perfect doppelgänger is causing chaos in a life that is already too finely balanced...

In 1732, Luis Quinn has eschewed the violence that marked his earlier life in favour of something more meaningful. Sent to find a megalomaniac hiding in the depths of Brazil's dark forests, he finds far more than that; discovering a cause greater and more important than anything he could previously ever have imagined...

Now, let us try to imagine a mashup of David Mitchell's much-lauded Cloud Atlas and Eduardo Galeano's soul-searingly epic history of South America, Memory Of Fire, and I hope that will give you some idea of the richness and relevance contained in Brasyl. The only fitting adjective here is, once again, "kaleidoscopic," for as the three narratives progress, allowing us to spot certain similarities between them, they then eventually converge upon the central conceit of the novel -- that of parallel worlds. And never one to mess around with small ideas, McDonald unleashes the full glory of the "many worlds" hypothesis upon us -- a true multiverse where every possible permutation of events co-exists with every other.

Brasyl isn't quite as coherent as River Of Gods was, but then its subject matter renders that just about impossible. The scintillating glory of Brasyl for me lies in the (literally) hallucinogenic taste we're given of what this hypothesis really means, and the consequences for us and for the universe. That McDonald can accomplish such a narrative feat whilst also juggling three so very different "proper" stories at once made this reviewer almost gasp in wonderment. Really -- this is exactly what I read science fiction for: to be shown dazzling new things, new worlds -- new thoughts, even; to be immersed in unfamiliar milieux and made aware of the potential wonder of the world around us, whether in a different dimension or just a different timezone.

Copyright © 2007 Stuart Carter

Stuart lives and works in London. A well-meaning but lazy soul with an inherent mistrust of jazz and selfish people, he enjoys eclectic "indie" music, a dissolute lifestyle and original written science fiction, quite often simultaneously. His wife says he is rather argumentative; Stuart disagrees.

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