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Desolation Road [Read] ➳ Desolation Road By Ian McDonald – Nominated for the Arthur C Clarke AwardIt all began 30 years ago on Mars with a greenperson But by the time it all finished the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality fr Nominated for the Arthur C Clarke AwardIt all began 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 Chataua 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.

10 thoughts on “Desolation Road

  1. Terry Terry says:

    4 – 45 starsI was reminded while reading Desolation Road of two authors in particular John Crowley and Gene Wolfe This is not to say that I think Ian McDonald was in any way aping them or merely writing some kind of amalgamated pastiche but there were elements to his tale that made both author’s names spring to mind I think the first one was Wolfe largely because of the way in which McDonald made the magical seem almost commonplace or was it that the commonplace was made to seem magical? in a way that reminded me of the inversions of the various aspects of the world in both Wolfe’s New Sun and Long Sun series not to mention the presence of time travelling Green Men technological angels and various other oddities It is almost as though Clarke’s 3rd law has undergone an apotheosis and is not merely a case of technology being incomprehensible such that it seems magical but that it truly has melded with the magical to produce a sort of moebius strip in which we don’t know where the technology ends and the magic begins I was reminded of Crowley primarily in the poetic prose and gently fable like aspects of the story which called to mind some elements of my favourite Crowley work Engine Summer There is also the fact that this is a generational epic telling the story of Mars from the perspective of the families that make up the founding members of the tiny habitation of Desolation Road and their descendants not altogether unlike Crowley’s own generational epic Little Big though I enjoyed McDonald’s efforts far than Crowley’s in this caseMany reviewers have noted that this book is a kind of sci fi magical realist novel even explicitly comparing it to the work of Gabriel García Máruez I have not read that author’s work but will take their word for it To me though it may be a bit of a misnomer I imagine that the whole point of magical realism is that the author is incorporating elements of the “unreal” or “magical” into what is otherwise “everyday” life and thus creating a juxtaposition that is saved from being jarring by the poetic way in which the story is written This can certainly apply to Desolation Road but McDonald’s novel does seem to differ in one significant element here we have a science fiction tale set in a world whose basic accepted tenets are already well beyond the “everyday” experiences of what we perceive as a “normal life” and I think the real surprise is simply the way in which McDonald expresses himself as opposed to the elements themselves In this way I think the aspects mentioned above that reminded me of Wolfe and Crowley melded or reacted to create something new If you want to call this “magical realism” I will not argue with you and granted there are distinctly magical elements that may fit comfortably here such as a snooker match with the devil or a guitar playing rainmaker that are definitely magic than sci fi in feel but I think it might be a label of convenience than a case of true generic affiliationThe first chapters of Desolation Road have the feel of inter linked short stories since they tell the individual tales of the various people who will become the founders of the eccentric community of Desolation Road It is an unsanctioned community of misfits on a recently terraformed Mars also known as Ares or simply Earth to those who live there our own planet being called the Motherworld This beginning may strike some readers as very slow and it is true that McDonald takes his time in building up to what could be considered the novel’s plot and ultimate conflict I think this is a virtue and not a vice in this case however since it allows us to get to know not only the founding members of the place but also their children as we watch the tiny and haphazard conglomeration of huts and caves grow into a true community We are thus able to get a necessary feel for the community itself as an organic thing a living organism that impacts those whose lives are made there as much as it is impacted by them As I mentioned above this is a generational epic of sorts and we need to learn about the lives of all of those whose actions will shape not only the town in which they lived or were born but also the very planet on which it exists There is a lot going on in this book though much of it is simply the everyday experiences that go to making up life in Desolation Road Slowly however these events start to build towards a larger purpose Members of this small outback community start to move into the wider world both by happenstance and by design and the impact they have on their entire planet is not negligible Whether they learn to master the chronodynamics of time and space become the greatest snooker player the universe has ever known or commune with the numinous machine powers that created the world to become cybernetic saints the people of Desolation Road find that their small seeming lives can lead to great world shaking events Ultimately Desolation Road becomes the hotly contested heart of the planet a battleground for greedy megacorporations self interested pilgrims megalomaniacal warriors and ambitious politicians McDonald handles all of this deftly and manages to combine a lyrical telling with some very down to earth occurrences and over the top action Indeed for a writer of such a fable like story wrapped in poetic prose style McDonald is surprisingly good at writing action scenes where things go boom in a big way and combatants have a cinematically super heroic style Somehow he manages to make it all work instead of ending up with an ungodly mess This was a great read both fun and thought provoking in the tradition of the best sci fi Highly recommendedAlso posted at Shelf Inflicted

  2. Eva Eva says:

    I have five words for you Gabriel Garcia Maruez on MarsIf that doesn't make you want to read this book I don't want to know you

  3. Richard Derus Richard Derus says:

    This review has been revised and can now be found at Shelf Inflicted and Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

  4. Carmen Carmen says:

    There are 69 chapters in this bookWhen I first started reading this book I thought Oh how delightfulMcDonald has succeeded in taking the Wild West and transplanting it onto Mars This leads to charming tales about strangers with strange pasts blowing into town in this case a little tiny town called Desolation Road that isn't really supposed to exist We are introduced to interesting character after interesting character and see how they get along with each other and it is wonderfulIt's also fun to see the Wild West on Mars and watch how McDonald adds fun science fiction things to this such as cloning test tube babies aliens time travel and cyborgsThen around Chapter 35 everything goes to heck The book starts getting confusing and with every chapter gets and confusing until I can't tell who the characters are any how they are related to any of the other characters wife daughter granddaughter adopted daughter etc etc and MOST IMPORTANTLY what is their motivation for doing all the crazy % that they're doing Chapters 35 65 I had very little idea what was going on It was frustrating and confusing and I didn't like itThat's not to say that there weren't little gems tucked in those chapters there were still passages I liked and paragraphs I liked and concepts I liked but they were buried up to their eyeballs in crazy confusing stuff that I don't understand McDonald has an amazing writing style that I adore He's funny and poetic and elouent I enjoyed reading his prose a lotThe end of the book the last four chapters 66 69 brings back the charming understandable first half of the book So the book ended for me on a note of sweet reliefIt's fair to note that I am not a an engineer or b a person who usually reads science fiction So perhaps it's aimed at a different audience and the fact that it goes over my head is due to a lack of some kind of nerdy understanding on my part My friends some engineers and some not who read science fiction regularly usually seem to understand complicated science fiction plots with no problem I am not one of those people

  5. Jacob Jacob says:

    August 2009This is the story of Desolation Road a ramshackle hodgepodge little town of misfits that over the course of its decades long existence would grow to be the home of scandals time travelers a religious movement terror cells labor disputes a baby in a jar and an all out war which would briefly turn the accidental colony into the most important place on MarsDespite its sci fi setting Desolation Road fits in the magical realism genre with its colorful setting and dreamlike plot; other readers have compared it to the work of Gabriel García Máruez I’ll take their word for it since I haven’t read him yet I know I know but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re all right It’s a great story although McDonald tends to meander a bit despite the brevity of some of the chapters and the second half of the book when the focus shifts from the little episodes of the townspeople to the greater factions working in and around the town proper loses some of the magic and starts to feel a bit dull Overall though it’s a fantastic tale and certainly the most imaginative work of science fiction I’ve ever readThere’s probably a lesson here about judging books by covers I saw the book advertised on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and knew I had to read it Gorgeous artwork Story sounded good too But the library had a sense of humor and sent me an older edition with the original cover and almost put me off reading it altogether Took me a few days to track down the newer edition and then I had to deal with a godawful amount of typos Should've stuck with the older copy I wouldn't have been able to admire the artwork between chapters but I also wouldn't have been so annoyed with every misspelled word and misplaced punctuation markNext Ares Express

  6. Adam Adam says:

    McDonald combines the story telling techniues of Gabriel Garcia Maruez with the weird future fables of Cordwainer Smith and Jack Vance the fable like story telling of all three authors isn’t as different as one would think It also exists as an examination of our contemporary myths about Mars including little green men Bradbury's colonists and Wells's tripod death machines A beautiful stories within stories structure Mcdonald has the mixed blessing of writing a classic in his first book Enviable but how do you match it Endlessly inventive and just filled with so many great characters events and ideas I couldn’t even begin to hint at it in this review the book barely contains it all This would have been my favorite book of all time if I read it earlier and probably would have changed my life for the better As it stands very very recommended

  7. Amanda Amanda says:

    This book had all the creativity uniueness I want to find in a sci fi book but most importantly it was actually saying something My first reading of an Ian McDonald book and I can't wait to read the next one

  8. Bokeshi Bokeshi says:

    Another dud by McDonald Desolation Road is too weird even for me It reminded me of Salman Rushdie's Grimus another failed attempt in blending science fiction with magic realism There are echoes of Máruez's One Hundred Years of Solitude too but this was nowhere near it as Máruez obviously knew that it takes than pretty language and vivid imagery to create an engaging story I didn't get it I didn't like it and I didn't finish it

  9. Jason Pettus Jason Pettus says:

    Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcentercom I am the original author of this essay as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegallyRegular readers know that in the last year I've ended up becoming a huge salivating fanboy of science fiction author Ian McDonald and that I have no problem with people knowing this; that's part of what being a book lover is all about after all is finding certain writers that we can go all nutso crazy for So ask me how excited I was when our friends at SF publisher Pyr recently sent me a copy of McDonald's very first novel 1988's Desolation Road re released last year on its twentieth anniversary with an all new layout and a stunning new cover by in house wunderkind Stephan Martiniere; because this is why I started the Tales From the Completist series here at CCLaP to begin with because sometimes it's simply fun to attempt to go back and read every single thing an author has ever done although admittedly in McDonald's case I still have a long way to go his 19th book the Turkey set day after tomorrow tale The Dervish House comes out next summerAnd in fact Desolation Road is uite the intriguing title to start with if you've never read any of McDonald's work before and it's easy to see why it made such a big splash twenty years ago to begin with; because instead of the usual Blade Runneresue cyberpunk tale that was so popular at the time this is a rather literal ripoff of Gabriel Garcia Maruez's 1967 postmodernist classic One Hundred Years of Solitude only in this case set entirely on a semi terraformed Mars thousands of years in the future And just to make it clear I myself have not yet read Solitude although it's scheduled to be reviewed next year as part of the CCLaP 100 series of classics essays; I have however already read and reviewed yet another Solitude ripoff from these same exact years Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories from the old seminal comic book Love Rockets which is why I feel ualified enough to at least make the comparisonSee like Solitude Desolation Road is essentially the story of an isolated village out in the middle of the Martian desert literally forgotten by the rest of society because of it technically not even supposed to exist turns out that an artificially intelligent terraforming machine bored with the ennui of life secretly created the town's infrastructure one day without telling anyone then committed suicide; the story itself then is a multi generational look at the stragglers who all end up at this forgotten village in the middle of nowhere through getting lost being exiled from other towns running from the law etc and how the dramas of these families pass from parents to children as time passes and the village takes on a life and history of its own And hey it turns out that McDonald even incorporates the Latin flavored magic realism that made Solitude such a stunner when it first came out in fact it can be argued that the original Solitude single handedly started the now way overused trend of magic realism within postmodernist novels; it's just that McDonald very cleverly filters his magic realism through the prism of hard science so that for example there are angels in his story made up of semi forgotten biomecha drone workers from long before the planet was habitable to humans and ghosts who in reality are an alien species who have mastered the art of uantum mechanical time travelAnd all of this is indeed very very clever and as a result Desolation Road reads like no other SF novel you've ever seen like a densely poetic folktale than the usual robots n lasers stuff albeit with lots of actual robots and lasers and stuff a bewitching combination of scientific conceits and third world superstition which in its incidental passages just happens to also lay out the ultra complex thousand year history of Mars' transformation into a habitable planet in the first place a virtual wet dream for fans of world building stories like me And yes just like both Solitude and Hernandez's Palomar stories certain young characters within Desolation Road end up sick of the provincial life and moving to one of several huge cities giving McDonald a chance to greatly expand the scope of this novel; in fact this is how most of the population of Mars lives within a small series of giant packed megapolises usually founded by one particular Earth nation or another and thus each of them taking on the flavor of say an Indian city or a Mexican city or whatnot separated by thousands of miles of barren desert and connected by an impossibly long railroad track that circles the planetBut of course there's a problem with Desolation Road as well albeit in this case a welcome problem; that just like it is with any brilliant mature author McDonald has ended up becoming a much better writer in the twenty years since this first came out And so that's bound to make any current fan of his a little disappointed with this early classic when compared to such contemporary masterpieces as Brasyl and River of Gods; because just to cite one example the flip side of all the poetic magical realist writing seen here is that it often tips into overwritten purplish fussiness the kind of Victorianesue finery that will make many modern audience members roll their eyes in exasperation If there's any legitimate criticism to be made of this book it's that McDonald at the beginning of his career leaned a little too heavily on writers like Maruez and had not yet found that strikingly original voice that has made him now so loved; to get technical about it in fact there are huge sections of Desolation Road that contain no scientific or futuristic elements at all entire chapters that could literally be reset in a small village in Mexico without anyone telling the difference which is bound to make many SF fans frustrated indeedBut still just like any early novel by a mature author who has since acuired a strong following Desolation Road is than worth your time; and in fact this may be one of those cases where those not yet familiar with McDonald may end up liking it even than existing fans of his a fantastic place to start before moving on to his mature works that will literally blow your head clean off your neck Especially now that it's available in such a gorgeous new edition and seriously designer Jacueline Cooke you should be commended for a book design that is both stylish and non distracting a hard balance to find with full length novels it is than deserving of your money and attention As with all of the books by McDonald I've now read it comes highly recommended

  10. Daniel Roy Daniel Roy says:

    Desolation Road is a the magic realist tale of the birth life and ultimate destiny of a desert town It just so happens that this town is set on a terraformed MarsI'm a big fan of Ian McDonald since reading the brilliant The Dervish House and this his first novel has many of the hallmarks of his future talent There's the stellar prose of course; often brilliant sometimes good enough that you want to put down the book to applaud There's this sense of worldliness his futuristic Mars is not a mere projection of Western culture but a cool patchwork of many different societies including Middle Eastern South Asian and African There's the plethora of characters sometimes barely than a sketch but never boring nor cliché And above all there's a powerful sense of place of location as character as we see the town of Desolation Road grow from a one man outpost to an industrial hotbed and beyondThere isn't much about this book that's conventional SF in any way Despite being set on something approaching Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars McDonald takes Arthur C Clarke's any sufficiently advanced technology maxim for a spin by using SF brushes to paint a deeply fantastic world The foundations of the novel may be hard science fiction but the execution is fantastic even mythological and messianic in parts A sense of wonder permeates the story's fantastical elements a sense that miracles are possible that magic exists in this technological world The narrative keeps the reader off balance as it introduces new SF concepts at inopportune moments instead of laying them out early on and staying consistent with them Elsewhere it would be a terrible flaw but here it's sheer brillianceThe novel evolves as a patchwork of individual stories than a series of linear events Throughout the course of the narrative we meet three generations of Desolation Road inhabitants and the side characters keep piling on Almost all chapters function as snapshots or short stories using Desolation Road as its setting which makes for a whimsical though uneven read Eventually the stories coalesce; but paradoxically this is where the book loses some of its impact When all the characters converge for a final act it becomes hard to keep track of who is who Further the whimsical tone of the previous chapters means that it's hard to take sides when a real conflict erupts Given the gentleness of the tone of the first 300 pages the final act of the novel are filled with a terrible amount of noise and bloodIf there's one major flaw to the novel it's the sheer volume of inventiveness and characters that McDonald throws in There's enough here for at least five different novels and some of the ideas and characters begin to trip on one another after a while Characters who had been introduced fifty pages earlier pop up unexpectedly sometimes so out of context that it's hard to remember who they are SF concepts struggle for breathing spaceBut when it's not trying to stir up a reality shattering conflict in the uieter parts of its narrative Desolation Road is brilliant in its evocative restraint in the wonders it pulls from the terraformed Martian soil Some stories like that of the guitar wielding Hand or the emprisoned angel were beautiful SF of a sort I had never read before And in this Desolation Road far exceeds its biggest flaws

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