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SFF Author: 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.



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

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.


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Desolation Road: A science fiction fable

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,


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

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.


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Out on Blue Six: Really bizarre

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,


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

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,


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

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.


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Terminal Café: An existential examination of nanotechnology

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).


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Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A fascinating pilgrimage

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,


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Evolution’s Shore: Fascinating SF with African setting

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.


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

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?


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

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,


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Sacrifice of Fools: Aliens in Belfast

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.


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River of Gods: A complex, foreign, unique world

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.


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Cyberabad Days: Science fiction at its very best

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,


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The Dervish House: The rise of nanotechnology in Istanbul

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.


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

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.


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Be My Enemy: No sophomore slump in the EVERNESS series

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.


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Luna: New Moon: A glamorous lunar soap opera

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,


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Luna: Wolf Moon: Fighting over dust and sunlight

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

Luna: Wolf Moon (2017) continues the saga Ian McDonald began in Luna: New Moon, which explored the power struggles between the Five Dragons, five powerful families controlling certain areas of influence on Earth’s moon. Each family, in turn, adheres to a national identity which dictates how they do business, what sort of business they do, and who they’re most likely to (figuratively and literally) stab in the back at the nearest opportunity while simultaneously marrying their offspring to one another in attempts to gain influence or construct gossamer-thin alliances.


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Luna: Moon Rising: Everything is negotiable — everything

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

Ian McDonald concludes the LUNA trilogy with Luna: Moon Rising (2019), finishing many of the stories begun in Luna: New Moon and continued in Luna: Wolf Moon while leaving the futures of his characters and the Moon itself open for rampant speculation. This review will contain some inevitable spoilers for the ending of Luna: Wolf Moon, in particular, but I’ll try to make them as brief as possible,


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Time Was: Gorgeous prose kind of compensates for the flaws

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was (2018), a novella by Ian McDonald, is billed as a time-travel love story, but really, there’s not a lot of depiction of either in this slim work, and while it’s often linguistically/stylistically beautiful, in the end I was more disappointed than not.

Emmet Leigh is a used book dealer who specializes in WWII. He comes across a 1930’s book, Time Was, with a letter inside from Tom Chappel to his lover Ben Seligman dating from the war.


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SHORTS: Corey, Gilman, Vaughn, McDonald, Bisson

Our weekly exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we’ve read that we wanted you to know about.

The Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey (2015, $2.99 Kindle, $4.95 audio)

I haven’t read or watched THE EXPANSE yet, but I purchased some of the related novellas when they were on sale at Audible. The first one I read was The Vital Abyss and I loved it.


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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume One

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,


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Masked: Superheroes move into the realm of prose

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,


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Old Venus: An over-long, narrowly-themed anthology

Old Venus by Gardner Dozois & George R.R. Martin

George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s themed anthologies are some of the most popular on the market these days. Soliciting the genre’s best-known mainstream writers, selecting highly familiar themes, and letting the length run to 500+ pages, RoguesWarriorsDangerous WomenSongs of the Dying EarthOld Mars,


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Next SFF Author: Carole McDonnell
Previous SFF Author: Ed McDonald

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