Ian McDonald (British author)

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Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald 230410 1 SFeraKon.jpg
Ian McDonald at SFeraKon 2010 in Zagreb
Born 1960
Manchester, England,
United Kingdom
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Scottish & Irish
Genres Science fiction

ianmcdonald.livejournal.com
For several other people called Ian McDonald or a similar spelling, see Ian McDonald (disambiguation).

Ian McDonald (born 1960) is a British science fiction novelist, living in Belfast. His themes include nanotechnology, postcyberpunk settings, and the impact of rapid social and technological change on non-Western societies.

Biography[edit]

McDonald was born in 1960, in Manchester, to a Scottish father and Irish mother, but moved to Belfast when he was five, and has lived there ever since. He therefore lived through the whole of the 'Troubles' (1968–99), and his sensibility has been permanently shaped by coming to understand Northern Ireland as a post-colonial[1] society imposed on an older culture. He became a fan of SF from childhood TV, began writing when he was 9, sold his first story to a local Belfast magazine when he was 22, and in 1987 became a full-time writer.[2] He has also worked in TV consultancy within Northern Ireland, contributing scripts to the Northern Irish Sesame Workshop production Sesame Tree.

McDonald is known for his work set in developing nations. His 1990s 'Chaga Saga' is particularly notable for its analysis of the AIDS crisis in Africa. His 2004 River of Gods is set in mid-21st-century India, and his 2007 Brasyl (2007), set in the 18th and 21st centuries in Lusophone South America, was nominated for, and reached the longlist of, the £50,000 Warwick Prize for Writing.

Awards[edit]

Desolation Road[edit]

McDonald's first novel won a number of awards on first publication and is frequently compared[by whom?] with works of Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, although these references appear to be given as a measure of quality rather than a note of similarity in style.[citation needed] In fact, this book is highly similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in its portrayal of a remote community over time, as well as with elements of magic realism.

On a partially terraformed Mars (comfortable temperature and atmosphere, although still mostly desert) a lone scientist is hunting a mysterious being across the desert, using a device best described as an anti-gravity sailboard for transportation. While taking a rest, he neglects to secure the board thoroughly and wakes up in time to see it blown away by the wind. Stranded in the desert, he is fortunate to discover an artificial oasis (created by a long-lost terraforming AI) near a line of railway. With all the necessities of life around him, he awaits rescue or company. Eventually, he is joined by other strays and castaways, and together they found the town of Desolation Road.

The novel outlines the history of the town through the next few decades, generally focusing on one major event at a time and dealing with in-between events in quick outlines.

Although not a steampunk novel, much of the technology featured in the book, such as locomotives (albeit fusion) and propeller-driven aircraft, appears to hearken back to Earth's near-history rather than to standard visions of the future. This gives the novel an atmosphere of anachronism and timelessness.[opinion]

The 'Chaga Saga'[edit]

Published between 1995 and 2000, the novels Chaga (US title Evolution's Shore) and Kirinya, with the novella Tendeléo's Story, form the 'Chaga Saga'.

The journalistic tag 'Chaga Saga', playing on Aga Saga, resonates with the female protagonists of each novel, but McDonald's purposes were far darker than domestic romance allows.[opinion] An outer frame of the action involves the very real mystery of the dark side of Iapetus, but the principal story begins with extensive alien landings around the equator—meteoric biological packages that slam down and spill out an unstoppable wave of transformation. Animals are not directly harmed, but habitat is remorselessly consumed, and the major axis of Chaga concerns the alien advance on Nairobi from an impact-site on Mount Kilimanjaro.

The protagonist is Ulster journalist Gaby McAslin, whose outsider's eye both observes the African landscape and sees what the 'UN quarantine zone' is doing to Kenya and Kenyans. Gaby's story, with that of her daughter, continues in Kirinya. Tendeléo's Story is seen through the eyes of a young Kenyan girl who escapes to the UK, only to be deported back to Kenya as an unwanted alien potentially contaminated by an even less wanted and much more alien alien.

The moral force of McDonald's plot derives from his use of the invading alien as metaphor:[opinion]

The image of the unstoppable wave of transformation was nicked from [1982 Star Trek movie] The Wrath of Khan: it's the Genesis device, slowed down, and once I had that, it became a rich source of metaphors: for colonialism, new technology, globalisation, change, death. If the Chaga is colonialism, it's a unique kind that allows the people of the poor South to use and transform it to meet their needs and empower themselves: it's a symbiosis.[13]

The economic and moral issues are shown through the determination of the UN and the global pharmacological industry to conceal the fact that exposure to the alien Chaga cures AIDS. In McDonald's 2008 (imagined in 1994-5) there are four strains of HIV: HIV4 is a death sentence for everyone, until the Chaga arrives, but HIV1-3 are death sentences only for the poor—showing that AIDS was no longer a 'killer' in itself, but had become a manageable condition for the 'First-World' wealthy. McDonald's plotting is also, in Chaga, deeply engaged with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and just as in Conrad the real horror is not only in the Congolese interior, but also in the looming bulk of late Victorian London, so McDonald's 'heart of darkness' is not the invading alien but the responses to it of the UN and of developed nations.[opinion]

Scholarship[edit]

  • Clute, John, & Nicholls, Peter (eds). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1993. ISBN 0-312-09618-6.
  • Lennard, John, Ian McDonald: Chaga / Evolution's Shore. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007.

Publications[edit]

Ian McDonald at Eurocon/Swecon 2011 in Stockholm.

Blog and on-line interviews[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ McDonald interviewed - infinity plus non-fiction
  2. ^ John Lennard, Ian McDonald: Chaga / Evolution's Shore (Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007), p. 7.
  3. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1990 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  4. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1991 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  5. ^ a b "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1992 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  6. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  7. ^ a b "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1994 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  8. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1995 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  9. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 1996 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  10. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 2004 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  11. ^ a b "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 2005 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  12. ^ a b c "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 2008 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-03-29. 
  13. ^ Ian McDonald, 'Interview' (originally posted at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intimcd.htm), quoted in John Lennard, Ian McDonald: Chaga / Evolution's Shore (Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007), p. 12.
  14. ^ "Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award: 2007 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  15. ^ "Ian McDonald - Be My Enemy (Everness Book Two) cover art and synopsis reveal". Upcoming4.me. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  16. ^ "Ian McDonald - Empress of the Sun announced! Cover art and synopsis revealed". Upcoming4.me. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 

External resources[edit]