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Ian McDonald, the science fiction writer who explores the BRICS’ future*


... or at least the future of India and Brazil

With two very original novels, the River of the Gods and Brasyl, this writer of Irish-Scottish origin, takes us out of this conventional future that science fiction has promoted since the 1950s, primarily seen through American eyes. In fact, it's projected several decades hence showing us the future through Indian and Brazilian eyes, two countries which will be incontestably key powers in the 21st century.

The River of the Gods is the more interesting of the two works even if it suffers from having been written in 2004 and thus not reflecting some of the immense geopolitical upheavals of these last few years (the US superpower always appearing in the background). Brasyl plunges us into three periods of Brazil, past/present/future and sticks to a more traditional science fiction history around the concept of parallel universes.

Hereafter are two extracts from the comments on these works from “Cafard Cosmique”, an excellent site devoted to works of science fiction.

“Even though nearly six hundred pages long, the River of the Gods is to be devoured in one go. The effort, completely relative, to familiarize oneself with the non-Western context and the nine characters isn't much in the face of the extent and coherence of Ian McDonald's foresight.

Literature of ideas and images, science fiction must open up possibilities without neglecting the human factor for all that. Ian McDonald answers these two requirements with elegance and panache.

In this Kali Yuga, more than ever the future mustn't be an object of fear. No gods or demons or uniqueness govern our destiny. The future is exactly what one wants to make of it. A fact which is or isn't reassuring.

Very convincing when it's a question of putting it in context, Ian McDonald invites us without preamble to a total immersion - sounds, smells, images - in the middle of a truly credible futuristic India. A country where the traditional practices, the weight of time throughout History we'll say, a vision of the world and the radically different historic time, mix more or less happily with modernity, acceleration encouraged by techno-science, the information revolution and globalization”.

“In Brasyl, Ian McDonald concentrates on three stories which take place in Brazil at different times.

The first, in the present, follows a woman producer of a TV reality show whose new project is a televised lawsuit of Moacir Barbosa, the Selecao goalkeeper considered to be responsible for the defeat in the decisive match against Uruguay during the 1950 World Cup. She doesn't suspect that Barbosa is now a leading expert in the multi-universe and that her project will have unexpected consequences for her own life…

The second, twenty years or so in the future, takes shape in a company where the computer network has become predominant and where each process seems subjected to “Orwellien” control. Here we discover a whole host of talents, in particular female football players, who have become infatuated with an enigmatic female quantum “hacker”. Everything goes well between until the day when she is assassinated and her twin from another universe lands…

The last follows the 1732 Amazon trek of an Irish-Portuguese Jesuit given the job of repatriating, and killing if need be, another Jesuit priest who had delusions of grandeur and created his own kingdom in the middle of the jungle - following the example of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. What his order is unaware of is that this kingdom is a branch of a “multiversal” and liberty killer organization which has clearly decided to keep the people ignorant of its existence.

As one sensed, Brasyl is a novel full of ideas. Basing itself on the foolish context of Brazilian society, Ian McDonald has fun with his narration in three episodes and deploys a multiplicity of amusing moral and playful digressions. Each intrigue is of unquestionable interest: the cynical picture of TV-reality, the attempt at forecasting a computerized society to the extreme, the Amazonian expedition and the theological confrontation between the two priests. As usual, McDonald's style is dizzying - once again he confirms himself as one of the best writers of the genre even if his brilliance, as it often does, lacks fluidity”.

(translation: Ian Shaw)

* Originally at: http://www.leap2020.eu/downloads/MAP-in-English_t12046.html

№3(64), 2012

№3(64), 2012