OR: Kirinya

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #21:-


Ian McDonald

Millennium pb, 412pp, £6.99

It’s 2032 and the southern hemisphere has been infected by Chaga, strange flora sent from the stars, an alien medium of transformation.  People touched by Chaga are gifted with much improved capabilities, including better health and longevity, yet in many ways remain just as human and fallible as before. Technological artifacts can be grown from Chaga. Sensing a threat to its supremacy the northern military industrial complex, headed by the USA, does all it can to stop Chaga’s spread, even resorting to covert warfare. Influential media star Gaby McAslan ends her self-imposed African exile and joins those attempting to avert global catastrophe. Meanwhile her estranged daughter Ren journeys to the Big Dumb Object, an artificial world created by the same aliens who sent Chaga.

McDonald’s latest novel reads like a hybrid of Ballard’s Crystal World and Varley’s Titan trilogy, with a few strands of Greg Egan’s DNA thrown into the genepool. It’s a big, complex book and feels like the middle volume of a trilogy, though there’s nothing on the cover to indicate this (but the author bibliography notes a previous book, Chaga). McDonald is good at extrapolation, deftly mapping out the social, political and scientific ramifications of something like Chaga, while still keeping the needs of ordinary people in full view. His characters are finely drawn, with the interplay between Gaby and Ren done especially well, two people who so obviously love each other, but are forced apart by circumstances. There’s a generally upbeat tone, a feeling that humankind will muddle through no matter what, with occasional and unexpected lapses into brutality to prevent complacency. Densely written and with a complex back story, this is not an easy book to get into, but one that rewards the effort handsomely.

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