Thursday, June 20, 2002

Title: Desolation Road
Author: Ian McDonald
Publisher: Bantam

Apparently Desolation Road is the first novel by Ian McDonald where he explores his vision of Mars. Trying to avoid the typical clichés in many ways Desolation Road almost comes across as more of a Western, with the pioneer spirit and the way in which progress on the colonised planet is related to the spread of the rail lines. But with that McDonald is keen to maintain a multi-cultural approach, while also mixing a whole range of strange ideas into his hectic melting pot.

Covering a period of 30 Martian years Desolation Road is the story of an accidental community that rises from one man to world wide prominence back to red dust again. A scientist is wandering and comes across an oasis in the middle of the desert where one of the terraforming machines has come to die prematurely. With this he ends up staying in this place, one night drunkenly misnaming it Desolation Road. From this starting point McDonald leads us through a number of short chapters which introduce a colourful and disparate cast of characters who all end up living in Desolation Road by one accident of fate or another. The community established he then follows the fates of this cast and how they and their children are linked to this place.

Over the course of this place's history we experience time travel, war, cyborgs and corporate domination, along with all manner of travelling shows. We meet glorious prophets, cyborg dreamers, the greatest snooker player in the universe (and via him we witness a game against the devil for his soul and a man who can tell your future by the way the balls break on the table), and the human scorn who can make a man bleed with the power of his sarcasm!

Familiar with other works by this Irish writer we are used to the amount of ideas he crams into a book. With Desolation Road McDonald has adopted a clear style for his narrative, which had its pros and cons. In many ways the style is easy going and has a certain lightheartedness - which is complimented by some of the ideas that are more out there. On the other hand, the whole set up of the scenario seems to take a long time, the numerous short chapters becoming a little predictable and while heavy on detail at times actually light on character. While this works itself out so that once we are fully immersed Desolation Road does become quite compelling it can feel like it took too long to get to that stage.

June 2002

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