About My Ian
In the Glasgow Worldcon 2005 I was so overhelmed with the amount of programme and interesting people to meet, that in the end I decided to sit all day outside tables in the hotel bar and watch the convetion go past me. In the end I experienced everything I wanted just by sitting at my place. One of the most pleasant companions was an old acquaintance, science fiction writer Ian McDonald and his friends from Northern Ireland.
At the time there was new optimism for peace in the Northern Ireland, so I asked Ian about the situation in Belfast. Was there a possibility for peace? Ian looked at me in slight confusion and said: I do hope for a lasting peace but I don’t believe it will happen for our generation. We might as well hope to win the World Cup in football.
My own standing toward Ian McDonald has been dual. I have followed his career since his debut with both admiration and jealousy. We both share the same thematic interests and literary ambitions, but McDonald is able to write with so much higher intensity and ease that I cannot but envy it. Twice he has caused me the writers block, both of which I have forgiven him.
McDonald started his career as a science fiction writer in the late 80s, in the confusing days of post-dickian times from the ranks of the new, the next generation of talented and bold writers. He rose quickly to be one the undeniable masters of the cutting-edge post-cyberpunk era, with a very personal style and strong attitude. Three Arthur C. Clarke awards, two Philip K. Dick awards, BSFA, Hugos and Nebulas in less than twenty years!
Living most of his life in Belfast in the Times of the Troubles has put its marks on Ian McDonald and his stories. Northern Ireland can be seen as the last unsolved post-colonial conflict in Europe and that is what he is writing about. Ever since hist praised debut, Desolation Road (1988) about the epic colonisation of Mars, he has been drawn to exotism and escapism, telling humane stories about the suffering of the people in the world without hope. My favourite of his early works is Hearts, Hands and Voices (1992) about the young refugees odyssey in a strange magical land.
At some point Ian McDonald turned his focus to Earth and strange, disconcerting and exotic places on our own planet. In Chaga and Kirinya he writes about East Africa. Sacrifice of Fools is situated in Belfast and inspired by the weird situation of muslim immigrants caught in the fight between two Christian factions.
More recently his books have been coming out at a slightly slower pace, but with even more ambitious themes. The River of Gods is huge tour de force to tackle the mysteries of India. And finally his latest novel, Brasyl. Another huge effort to understand a strange mélange of South American culture. And who knows what next? China? (More likely Turkey, with The Dervish House)
From this point of view I can maybe understand the anxiety on Ian’s face when he was thinking about my question about the Northern Ireland situation. What would be his inspiration be, would there be finally peace in Belfast?
In Worldcon I laughed about Ian’s hopes to win the World Cup and said that it would be as far fetched as Finland winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Well, we beat the Ulster in that, didn’t we?
Science Fiction Writer and Connoisseur
Picture from Wikimedia Commons, by Szymon Sokół