A very futurismic novel: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Christopher East @ 04-09-2010

I’m not in the habit of hijacking Futurismic to redirect people to my personal blog, but I just finished reading Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a novel so overwhelmingly futurismic that it felt like something our readers — and more particularly, our fiction contributors — might want to take a look at.  From the review:

What I love best about his work, though, is how thoroughly he immerses the reader in his vivid futures, which are already vibrant and detailed, but all the more fascinating for their unique settings.  With these recent books, McDonald has been taking SF to corners of the globe most white, westernized SF fears to tread, and it serves as an enjoyably disorienting double-jolt to the system, not just showing us how diverse and complex the future will be, but how diverse and complex the world already is.

I suggest this in the full review, but it bears reiterating here:  if I had a “required reading” list for Futurismic contributors, The Dervish House would be on it.  If you haven’t discovered Ian McDonald yet, go get cracking!


Free preview of Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House

Paul Raven @ 06-07-2010

I’ve never read an Ian McDonald novel I didn’t love*.As such, I commend unto you this Tor.com preview of a chapter from Mister Mcdonald’s newest novel, The Dervish House, courtesy of those nice people at Pyr Books.

Continuing his ongoing project of setting near-future sf in developing/non-WASP nations, The Dervish House is set in a Turkey not too far from now, having been recently absorbed into the European Union… plenty of fertile ground for speculation there. A confluence of geography means cultures and ideas have mixed and clashed in that part of the world for millennia, and the sociopolitical state of the Old World suggests it’ll get another turn in the spotlight soon.

There’s a copy of The Dervish House lurking in my TBR pile, and it’s one the ones that keeps whispering to me about how my currently-in-progress reading and reviewing commitments just aren’t as important as I’ve managed to convince myself they are… filthy bookses. They talks to me, they does. Ahem.

So, any other Ian McDonald fans in the house? Or anyone found him not to their taste at all? Tell us why!

[ * Caveat: I’ve not read them all, though. YMMV, etcetera etcetera. But if you can read Desolation Road and genuinely not find it mad charming, you are dead to me. In the nicest possible way. ]


Slow down, you read too fast…

Paul Raven @ 24-02-2009

mosiac of a man reading a book… you’ve got to make the moment last. Or so says Ian McDonald over at the Pyr blog, confessing that he’s a slow reader and proud of it:

What interests me here is not so much the dwindling of attention spans, as what I call ‘nuggeting’ – scanning only for the important points, the catching points where the eye and the brain latch on to information – a point of change or transition or a contrast. Nugget to nugget, getting the eye-kicks in at the required bpm. I wonder if that’s what the commentariat mean when they say ‘the storyline did not engage me’ –the nuggets, the changes, the beats didn’t come fast enough. I think it’s a sad and bad thing. If we’re exposed to only what stimulates, it deadens the response. Reading isn’t only about finding out what happens next. Why hurry to the end? Take your time. There’s plenty to enjoy on the way.

I half-agree with McDonald here – certain books demand to be read more slowly, either because they are richer in ‘nuggets’ or because the prose itself is satisfying to linger over (or because they’re not written very well, though I tend to give up on bad books these days, as life’s too short already).

But equally there are books that demand to be read quickly, and are all the more fun for that. And most of all, I think there are big risks in making general statements about how and why people should read for pleasure; McDonald naturally has a creator’s concern about his work being appreciated as he intended it, but I know I’d be a resentful of being told how I should best enjoy a book by anything other than the book itself. [via SF Signal; image by takomabibelot]

What about you – is it fast-moving page-turners that you’re after, or do you prefer books that you can lose yourself in for a week or two?


Ian McDonald on our digital doppelgangers

Paul Raven @ 12-02-2009

DSC_0024The BBC is running an essay by Ian McDonald, author of Brasyl and River of Gods (and many more sf novels). Despite being an deliberate laggard on social network and metaverse platforms himself, McDonald suggests that the science fictional trope of the uploaded human consciousness is already becoming true by degrees:

Our You2s will ever more closely resemble us, and become more and more intelligent as they make linkages between the information we placed there. They’ll take decisions without our interference -and they’ll increasingly talk to each other. It’s no coincidence that the net is shaped like a society.

Perhaps there will never be a single moment when computers become aware. Maybe it will be a slow waking and making sense of that blur of information, like a baby makes sense of the colour patches and patterned sounds into objects and words.

Why should artificial intelligences – our You2s – take any less time to grow up than us?

Artificial intelligences make regular appearances in McDonald’s fiction – and he’s a writer I recommend without hesitation to any science fiction reader – though here it’s almost as if he’s conceding that a kind of ‘soft takeoff’ Singularity is already in its early stages in the real world.

Being a good science fiction writer, though, he’s considering the implications of the future:

What we’ll have is a copy of a personality in a box. It’ll be you in every detail that makes the meat-you you. You2. Only it’s technically immortal as long as the hardware keeps running and is regularly updated. This sounds great, until you realise that the original you still goes down that dark valley from which there is no return…

Quite a synchronous topic, really, given the recent flare-up of Singularitary debates. [Hat tip to Ian Sales; image by your humble correspondent.]