Archives » Ian McDonald

I’m on the Map!


Despite me not having a piece of fiction published for a few years – and only ever one novel – I’ve been included on this map of British SF and Fantasy writers. (If you click on the map it will lead you to its creator’s website, where copies can be purchased):-

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Map

I’m humbled by this. Imagine me being on the same map as Alasdair Gray, Iain (M) Banks, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Eric Brown, Arthur C Clarke, J G Ballard, George Orwell et al. Not to mention J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon.)

Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

Everness Book III, Jo Fletcher, 2014, 397 p.

 Empress of the Sun cover

The airship Everness has jumped, more or less blind, through a Heisenberg Gate into a parallel world. Unfortunately it seems Everett Singh has made a mistake in his calculations as it is in immediate danger of crashing. “Yellow lights flashed. Horns blared. Balls* rang, klaxons shrieked.” The damage sustained means the airship and its Airish crew will be marooned for a while on a strange two-thirds gravity world peopled with lizard-like creatures. It is only when Everett recognises that the sun is descending straight downwards, not in an arc, that he realises the source of his miscalculation; they have jumped to a discworld, constructed from all the material orbiting its sun. Here the Chicxulub meteor never hit Earth and the dinosaurs have had millions of years to evolve and reconfigure the system. These inhabitants, who call themselves Jiju, are warlike, though, and periodically almost wipe themselves out. They are still knowledgeable and powerful enough to manipulate the sun: it moves through a hole in the middle of the disc, so that it illuminates either side of the world sequentially. Only Everett, in an explicit reference to Terry Pratchett, thinks of it as a discworld. To the Plenitude of Worlds it’s known the Wheelworld, but such are the dangers of the Jiju, contact has been avoided. Till now.

Everness’s crew is instrumental in allowing a Jiju, Kakakakaxa, to win her battle with her sister to be heir to their mother, the Empress of the Sun. In a fateful step Everett feels he has no option but to surrender his Infundibulum, which controls the Heisenberg Gates, to the Empress.

Meanwhile the deliciously vicious Charlotte Villiers is still scheming to procure Everett’s Infundibulum so that she will have dominance over the Plenitude of Worlds and elsewhere the Thryn Sentience-enhanced Everett M Singh from Book II tries to eliminate the traces of the Nahn he has brought to Earth 10 from E1, all the while pretending to be the original Everett, befriending Everett’s friend Ryun and forming an attachment to classmate Noomi. It is only in this third of the Everness series that McDonald begins to address the sexual politics and uncertainties of adolescence that have been latent in his scenario, but it’s done with sensitivity and as ever with YA fiction this does not interrupt the copious action to any great degree. There is too a cautionary note about how easy it is to be misled by superheroes. “… the real problems aren’t like that. You can’t solve them by hitting them. The real supervillains were ….. people in suits who met in rooms and decided things. ” We also get a sly nod to McDonald’s background with the phrase, “‘The Sunlords’ adversity may be the Airish opportunity.’”

What gives the Everness series a unique flavour is the Palari argot the Airish use, a light note amongst all the world-threatening plot happenings. I note both Everett and Everett M come to dislike the extremes they have been forced to by the exigencies of their situation, what those actions have turned them into, what they reveal about themselves, which is a timely metaphor for the journey into adulthood.

In not one, but two codas (which together suggest more books in this sequence may be forthcoming) we are shown what seems to be the source of Charlotte Villiers’s motivations and that Everett’s father Tejendra is alive and well somewhere in the Panoply of Worlds. I had thought the Everness books would end with this third instalment but if there were to be more to look forward to they wouldn’t come amiss.

Pedant’s corner:- * Balls rang (that must have been painful! Context suggests “Bells”,) “you certainly don’t want us enemies” (us as enemies,) wain (a Scots word for child) is usually spelled wean, “she had never struck ball like that before” (struck a ball.) “The two of them haunted the dead-ball line, directly behind Everett M in his net” (strictly speaking the dead-ball line is in front of the net,) “what the crew were running from” (the crew was running.) “They were only machine” (they were only machines,) “Mrs Abrahams the principle” (x 2, principal,) “But for you I would be me dead in the crechewood” (it would be me dead in the crechewood; or I would be dead in the crechewood,) Victorian terrace houses (the designation is usually terraced houses,) “was a endless droop” (an endless droop.) “Have you see anything of this Earth, …” (seen.)
Once again no doubt due to its main intended market there were USianisms:- hoods (as in cars; we say bonnets,) ass (though arse is used at least once,) diskworld.

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald

Gollancz, 2015, 384 p.

 Luna: New Moon cover

Luna has been colonised. Its mineral resources mean vast wealth can be generated, or extracted. But Earth’s Moon has a thousand ways to kill; the slightest misplaced action, the merest moment of slackness make her the harshest of mistresses. And then there are the humans who have made their homes there….

Shoulder-sitting digital familiars connect the inhabitants to the data net. The Four Elementals – air, water, carbon, data – tick away on the chib in everyone’s eye. When the indicators run low the poor or jobless have to sell their piss for credit. Each breath is a hostage; unless you have a contract. Even the rich owe their carbon and water to the Lunar Development Corporation when they die.

Lunar life is stratified. Literally. The rich live in the depths, the poor in the Bairro Alto – with little to shield them from the intense solar radiation impacting the regolith above. Society runs on contracts; there is no criminal law. Courts are there to resolve disputes but in the last resort these can be settled in trial by combat. Life revolves around the Five Dragons, the big corporations whose activities dominate Lunar society. Some are focused on immediate objectives, others play the long game. While there are gritty places on this Luna we don’t see much of them. Most of the plot is concerned with the Corta family which runs the youngest Dragon, Corta Hélio, miners of helium-3 from the Lunar regolith (the resource which keeps the lights on down on Earth,) and their rivalries and friendships with the other Dragons. Set-piece descriptions of such mining and extraction processes seem well researched.

The premises on which McDonald builds his story are followed through to the end. Along the way he reminds us that humans need their darknesses. I particularly appreciated the concept of some of Luna’s inhabitants being affected by the Full Earth. McDonald might have called these individuals terratics but eschewed the term. The interactions and motivations of his characters are always convincing.

Some of Luna’s history is filled in via back-story but I’m not totally sure the logic of this cut-throat future stands close examination. As a metaphor, though, it’s fine. I doubt, however, that the character list at the book’s beginning is entirely necessary; I omitted it and didn’t feel its loss. The appended glossary of words borrowed from Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Yoruba, Spanish, Arabic and Akan – this Luna is a polyglot place – did come in handy at times even if SF fans don’t really need such things. The story-telling is, as ever with McDonald, accomplished.

Luna is apparently the first of a duo of books. While leaving scope for a follow-up it did not seem unfinished.

PS: Did anyone else notice a connection between Boa Vista, Queen of the South, Estádio da Luz and CSK St Ekaterina?

Pedant’s corner:- I read an uncorrected proof copy. I did notice quite a few literals. I assume the proof-read will spot and get rid of the occasional mistypings, missing prepositions or articles, the accidentally repeated words (been been) the sometimes repeated information, any incidental switching of verb for gerund, the periodic disagreements between subject and verb.
The spelling of Prospekt wavered (c sometimes for k) and since there was also a Tereshkova Prospekt, Gargarin Prospekt should surely have read Gagarin. Despite most of the text being in British English (colour, manoeuvre) we unfortunately had ass for arse and math for maths. O2 and CO2 appeared for O2 and CO2, haemotomas (haematomas,) ambiance (ambience,) colloquiums (colloquia,) Marna (Marina,) over spilling (overspilling,) each of us has a differed mechanism for dealing with it (different?)
Congrats, though for “not all … are.”

2014 in Books Read

The ones that stick in my mind most – for whatever reason – are:-

Signs of Life by M John Harrison
Mr Mee by Andrew Crumey
Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald
The Deadman’s Pedal by Alan Warner
A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – but in especial Sunset Song
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
The Dogs and the Wolves by Irène Némirovsky
The Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani
HHhH by Laurent Binet
That Summer by Andrew Greig
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Way to Go by Alan Spence

Four SF/Fantasy novels, six Scottish ones (eight if the trilogy is separated) and no less than five translated works.

Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald

Everness Book II, Jo Fletcher Books, 2013, 374 p.

This second book in McDonald’s series of novels for young adults set in the Plenitude of Worlds starts off with Everett M Singh, an “alter” of our hero from Book I. M lives on the only Plenitude world which has encountered aliens, the Thryn Sentience. On M’s world the UK Prime Minister is a Mr Portillo. Everett M is knocked down by a car and remade with Thryn technology into a walking arsenal of weapons to be used by Plenitude Plenipotentiaries against the Everett from our world, E10. This Everett is the only person with a map of all the worlds, kept on his computer, Dr Quantum. He has become accepted as a crew member on the Airish airship Everness from E3, enabling them to evade immediate pursuit and jump to an Arctic waste. Each jump leaves a trace, though, and they have been followed. Using the last of their power Everett jumps them back to E10 and French air space. A quick piece of thinking sees them recharge their systems from electric power lines and they jump once more to hover over White Hart Lane. (Everett supports Spurs.) He tries to rejoin his E10 family but is prevented by a nifty little battle with Everett M in Abney Park Cemetery before retreating.

Everness then ventures to the embargoed world E1 where the voracious Nahn have destroyed nearly all organic life. Residual groups of humans hang on in some electromagnetically protected cities but it is on this world that Everett may find a device allowing him to trace all jumps and so track down his father, sent randomly into the Panoply in Book I. Meanwhile Everett M has to deal with the Nahn to get on with his mission. Book III neatly set up then.

Be My Enemy does not fall into the usual “second instalment of a trilogy” slump. The young adult novel requires a brisk pace and there is plenty incident here. It is all tackled with McDonald’s usual brio and is highly entertaining stuff yet with enough insight into human nature to make it well worth an older reader’s time never mind a young adult’s. Knowing references like the airship’s captain Anastasia Sixsmyth saying, “Make it so,” or her adopted daughter Sen breathing, “It’s full of stars,” on seeing a 3D computer graphic plus the observation by Everett M that “parallel universes always have airships” add pleasing grace notes.

The Everness crew, both Sixsmyths, Miles O’Rahilly Lafayette Sharkey and Scots engineer, Mchynlyth, all make their presences felt in various ways and even minor characters are fleshed out.

There were signs of tendering to the US market. We had meters for metres and no unrespectable – or respectable for that matter – Glaswegian ever said “ass” instead of “arse,” but I await Book III, Empress of the Sun, with keen anticipation.

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

Everness Book 1. Jo Fletcher Books, 2013, 373p. Reviewed for Interzone 246, May-Jun 2013.

Tottenham Hotspur supporter, school team goalkeeper and fine Indian cook, Everett Singh witnesses the kidnap of his physicist father, Tejendra, just before they were due to meet on an access visit. He provides the police with mobile phone photos of the kidnap. When his dad’s boss, McCabe, turns up asking if Tejendra had left Everett anything, Everett knows something more profound is afoot. Moreover, when his pictures are returned they have been altered. And he is being followed to school and back. As we are immersed in Everett’s world his mistrust of the police and the strained relationship with Everett’s mother these encounters engender are portrayed well, though like all young protagonists Everett is perhaps just a touch too knowing.

Soon a mysterious folder marked “Infundibulum” and obviously left by his father appears on Dr Quantum, Everett’s laptop. Everett knows infundibulum means “bigger inside than out” – references to Doctor Who follow – and recognises the contents as a representation of the multiverse. His father named him after the creator of many worlds theory and he has always been able to think in up to seven dimensions. This facility allows Everett to tie the Infundibulum topologically into a map of the many worlds. Another of his father’s colleagues has given him clandestine information about the success of the many worlds project and footage of other universes from beyond the Heisenberg Gates. Ours is E10 in the Plenitude of Worlds but none of the others has a map, only Everett. This scenario may have been too much for most writers to pull off but McDonald’s exposition of the arcane details is lucid and he uses all this only as a jumping off point. The necessity for plot to rumble on, though, for action, marks this out as a YA novel. Indeed there are echoes of The Northern Lights – not the least of which is the increasing presence of a powerful villainess, Charlotte Villiers – which, given the target audience, is no bad comparison. Echoes of this kind are almost inevitable when the necessity of holding a young audience’s attention is taken into account. There is plenty to keep the adult reader going too, though.

Armed with his knowledge Everett contacts McCabe and is transported to where the many worlds project has its base near the Channel Tunnel. Diplomats from the Plenitude are present as Everett demonstrates the ability of his map to target contact with other worlds. One of them threatens him with a strange gun and he jumps through an open gate into E3, a world with no oil-based technology, where rugby is the main spectator sport – and where Everett only has himself to rely on. This is one of the (arguably necessary) perennial features of “children’s” fiction: the adventure can only begin if no parents are around to prevent it. The stories are usually the better for it.

Everett finds a library and researches his new environment, quickly working out that the Plenitude is probably keeping his dad in the Tyrone Tower.

Later, on the underground, Everett meets the wielder of a strange tarot deck, a young girl called Sen Sixsmyth, who tries to filch Dr Quantum, but Everett decides to befriend her. Sen turns out to be an Airish – crew of the airships which ply the skies of E3. Her home is the Everness, whose captain is her adoptive mother and whose crew includes a “Southern” gentleman addicted to quotations and a Scottish accented guy in charge of the engines. “Captain, I canna get full power when there’s no engine…” Due to his culinary skills Everett is accepted as a crew member and the real fun starts.

To communicate with each other the Airish use a version of Polari, in our world an argot of gay subculture. (This reference would surely go over the heads of most YA readers were an explanation and glossary not supplied at the end.) The Airish have their own customs and loyalties and not a few colourfully named individuals. Any discrimination Everett experiences on E3 is not due to his skin colour but that he is now Airish.

The details of this other world feel right even if they are a touch old-fashioned but it is a kind of steampunk scenario after all. Moreover it is one which McDonald clearly has enjoyed creating. Set pieces including Sen penetrating the Tyrone Tower, the inevitable pursuit by Charlotte Villiers and a battle between airships for arcane Airish reasons keep things moving nicely.

Being part 1 of the Everness series nothing is truly resolved by the end of Planesrunner but the dénouement and the setting up of the sequel have a logic of their own, consistent with what has led up to them.

Planesrunner is bona stuff. One might even say fantabulosa.

Interzone 246

This issue should be out now. It contains my review of Ian McDonald’s Planesrunner.

I’ll shortly be publishing here my review from Interzone 245 of John Scalzi’s Redshirts. It was ….. interesting.

Edited to add. I see Jim Steel has informed us the issue will be out in the next few days.

Planesrunner Update

Planesrunner cover

My review of Planesrunner by Ian McDonald has been delivered to Interzone.

A full month ahead of deadline as it happens.

It won’t see the light of day for a couple of months, though.

Locus 21st Century Poll

Following on from the Locus 20th century polls I posted about a few days ago this is their list for SF novels published from 2000 on.

1 Scalzi, John : Old Man’s War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal : Anathem (2008)
3* Bacigalupi, Paolo : The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles : Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter : Blindsight (2006)
6* Morgan, Richard : Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne : The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William : Pattern Recognition (2003)
9* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles : Accelerando (2005)
11* Mitchell, David : Cloud Atlas (2004)
12* McDonald, Ian : River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac : The Road (2006)
14* Harrison, M. John : Light (2002)
15= Willis, Connie : Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15=* Chabon, Michael : The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007)

7 out of 16. I’m obviously not keeping up with modern SF.

BSFA Awards Winners

Over at Science Fiction Awards Watch the results of this year’s BSFA Awards have been posted.

The novel award went to Ian McDonald for The Dervish House and the short story to Aliette de Bodard for The Shipmaker.

Congratulations to all the winners.

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