Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pyr Books reprints Ian McDonald’s acclaimed 1988 debut novel Desolation Road

Editor Lou Anders of the publisher Pyr Books recently announced that the highly anticipated paperback reprint of British science fiction author Ian McDonald’s 1988 debut novel Desolation Road has been released. Receiving widespread praise by both the industry and fans when it was first published, here’s a summary of the novel, taken directly from Pyr’s website:

It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational ‘Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town’s founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child -- grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with -- and married -- the same woman.

Today, Desolation Road is perhaps most noted for two things.

First, the novel is considered to be a hybrid of science fiction and magical realism that combines the colonization narrative of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950) with the texture of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Presumably, this notion came from either Ian McDonald or a reviewer, back in 1988. The earliest reference I could find to the Bradbury/Márquez-McDonald comparison is in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Clute & Nicholls, 1995), which states that Desolation Road “has been described as The Martian Chronicles crossed with One Hundred Years of Solitude, a joke limited in accuracy only by its failure to add Cordwainer Smith to Ray Bradbury and Gabriel García Márquez. IM is not so much being influenced or writing pastiche as appropriating deftly from other writers the precise gestures needed to make ideological or emotional points about the human implications of terraforming or cyborgization.” However, there is an interesting 2001 interview between Ian McDonald and Nick Gevers that was published in Interzone magazine in which McDonald mentions both Ray Bradbury and Gabriel García Márquez.

Second, Desolation Road has had a profound influence on the writing career of Canadian science fiction author, journalist, and blogger Cory Doctorow. In 2001, Doctorow declared on the blog Boing Boing: “Ian McDonald's Desolation Road is one of the books that has influenced me the most as a writer. Funny and sad and wildly imaginative [...] What a book!” More recently, in 2009, Doctorow expanded his comments on Boing Boing, writing, in part: “Ian McDonald's Desolation Road is one of my most personally influential novels. It's an epic tale of the terraforming of Mars, whose sweep captures the birth and death of mythologies, economics, art, revolution, politics. Its publication preceded Kim Stanley Robinson's brilliant Red/Blue/Green Mars books by years, but the two are very good companions [...] Desolation Road pays homage to David Byrne's Catherine Wheel, to Ray Bradbury's entire canon and to Jack Vance, blending all these disparate creators in a way that surprises, delights, then surprises and delights again. Spanning centuries, the book includes transcendent math, alternate realities, corporate dystopias, travelling carnivals, post-singularity godlike AIs, geoengineering, and mechanical hobos, each integral to the plot.”

For the cast of characters in Desolation Road, see my blog post of February 28, 2009.

Also, check out a detailed scan of the new cover, pictured above!

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