MacLeod, Ian R. 1956–
MacLeod, Ian R. 1956–
Born August 6, 1956, in Solihull, England; son of Malcolm (a postmaster) and Vera (an export clerk) MacLeod; married Gillian Bowskill (an attorney), 1982; children: Emily. Education: Birmingham Polytechnic, B.A. (with honors). Religion: "Agnostic." Hobbies and other interests: Walking, dog walking, music, photography, painting.
Home—England. Agent—Owlswick Literary Agency, 123 Crooked Ln., King of Prussia, PA 19406-2570.
Writer and educator. In early career, worked various jobs, including selling insurance; British Civil Service, Birmingham, England, executive officer, 1979-90; Birmingham City Council, Birmingham, tutor in adult literacy program, 1996—.
Nebula Award nomination, 1990, for short story "1/72nd Scale"; James Tiptree Award nomination, for story "Grownups"; Locus Award for best first novel, for The Great Wheel; World Fantasy Award for Best Novella, World Fantasy Convention, Sturgeon Award, and Hugo Award nominee for best novella, all 1999, all for The Summer Isles; World Fantasy Award, 2000, for "Chop Girl"; Hugo Award nomination in best novella category, World Science Fiction Society, 2003, for "Breathmoss"; British Science Fiction Association Award nomination, for story "Returning."
Voyages by Starlight (science-fiction stories), Arkham House (Sauk City, WI), 1997.
The Great Wheel (science-fiction novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.
The Light Ages (novel), Ace Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Breathmoss and Other Exhalations (science-fiction stories), Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2004.
Past Magic (short stories), PS Publishing (United Kingdom), 2005.
The Summer Isles (novel), Aio Publishing (Charleston, SC), 2005.
The House of Storms (novel), Ace Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to magazines, including Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Interzone, and Weird Tales.
In his first book-length science-fiction work, the story collection Voyages by Starlight, Ian R. MacLeod brings together ten stories that combine science fiction with more realistic settings. In "Ellen O'Hara" dream telepathy figures in the familiar landscape of the Irish Troubles, and "The Giving Mouth" puts knights in magic armor into a world of coal mining and iron horses. "MacLeod's originality enriches and enlivens the genre," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Macleod's first novel, The Great Wheel, takes the conventional story of a Roman Catholic priest facing a crisis of faith in an exotic setting and adds a futuristic twist. In the world of The Great Wheel, Europeans and "Borderers"—roughly, people from Third World areas—have separated their populations to such an extent that mere contact can lead to the transmission of fatal diseases. In Borderer nations, Europeans live in well-protected enclaves, donning special gloves and daily disinfecting their clothes to protect themselves from any contact with the natives. When Father John Alston decides to minister to the poor Borderers in the Magulf of North Africa, he discovers a link between a popular narcotic and a widespread blood cancer epidemic. His investigations into this connection eventually alienate him from his roots, his church, and the Borderers themselves. "MacLeod has done a tremendous job in realizing his near-future setting and the characters with which he has peopled it," wrote Charles De Lint in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. "The Great Wheel isn't a page-turner in the conventional sense. It is, rather, a slow and evocative visit into an alien world that echoes our own as much as it contrasts against it." Eventually, Father John's search for answers leads him to a brilliant Borderer woman, Laurie Kalmar, and an affair that forces him to confront his faith. The result, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, is a "serious, thoughtful work of futuristic fiction, … a bridge between Huxley's Brave New World and Frank Herbert's Dune."
MacLeod's ability to seamlessly mix fantastic and realistic elements is displayed again in The Light Ages. The novel takes place in an England strongly reminiscent of the Victorian age, but one in which a magical substance called aether runs the machines and fuels the economy. Instead of kings and lords, powerful guildmasters rule "an exotic society fascinating in its unhealthy languor and seemingly imperturbable stasis," in the words of Chicago Sun-Times contributor Gregory Feeley. There is trouble brewing below this status quo, however. The poor are getting poorer and growing tired of mining the dangerous aether that sometimes turns them into changelings, occasionally with fatal results. When Robert Borrows, the son of a minor guildsman in the English Midlands, flees to London after his mother's death from aether poisoning, he finds himself caught up in a world of radical politics and revolutionary dreams. Sometimes alone, sometimes with the lovely Annalise, herself a changeling, Robert faces battles and plots, uncovering painful truths and ultimately emerging triumphant as the Third Age of Industry comes crashing down around him. "With its strong character development and gritty, alternate London, [The Light Ages] … should hold great appeal to readers who love the more sophisticated fantasy" novels, wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
In his 2004 book, Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, the author presents seven short stories and the novella "Breathmoss." Combining fantasy, science fiction, and horror tales, MacLeod tells stories of ordinary people who find themselves going from the mundane to the fantastic. The novella "Breathmoss" tells the story of a young girl who must cope with the relationship of her family, love, and a community set in rigid custom where males are a rarity. In this fantasy world, spores called Breathmoss are implanted into the lungs of the young so they can breathe in the environment. "The world of ‘Breathmoss’ is terribly original, a living, breathing space of reality that lacks ornamentation and that holds an internal truth," wrote Chris Przybyszewski in a review on the Sci Fi Web site. "MacLeod teaches the reader a new language, and many of the words are of his own creation."
In another story in the collection, "The Summer Isles," the author examines a repressive regime where Jews and homosexuals are targeted and focuses on the difficulties of being a closet homosexual in such a regime. Other stories include a search for extraterrestrial intelligence, an old man who stumbles upon a magic pool, and a teenage girl who becomes associated with death during World War II. "He's one of those rare specimens who is equally at ease, and equally astonishing, writing in any genre, or a mix of genres, or no genre at all," Kilian Melloy wrote of the author in a review of Breathmoss and Other Exhalations on the Infinity Plus Web site. Noting that there are only seven stories in the collection, Melloy wrote that "they seem so much more numerous in that they take the reader to so many places, and so many varied environments: the mind is nourished; the aesthetic sense is aroused; the heart is fully engaged."
Past Magic is another short story collection by the author. Once again MacLeod shows his facility for blending genres and recrafting well-known motifs within the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres, from a time-travel story to an alternate history tale. In "The Isle of Man," the author presents a world that represents the last opulent refuge from the onslaught of climate change while the scientists living there resurrect a little girl lost at sea. Another tale, "Nina-With-The-Sky-In-Her-Hair," focuses on a mysterious tailor who makes clothes out of a heavenly fabric of cerulean blue and ends up driving a wedge between a holidaying millionaire and his trophy wife. Writing on the Strange Horizons Web site, Niall Harrison commented that the author has "produced what is probably one of the half-dozen finest bodies of genre short fiction to come out of the 1990s, and almost all of it is worth reading." Regina Schroeder, writing in Booklist, called the collection "genuinely extraordinary stuff, in terms of both style and imagination."
The Summer Isles is the original novel-length version to a novella of the same name that was previously published. The novel is an alternative history in which England has lost World War I, leading to the Holocaust and other atrocities taking place in England rather than in Germany. This tale of a fascist England is told through the eyes of a historian who is a closeted homosexual. "Think of it as Plato's Elysian Fields, only sad, worn, scarred, corruptible—history itself as seen from the vantage of an old man who has lived his life as an outsider," commented Melloy on the Infinity Plus Web site.
The House of Storms is the sequel to The Light Ages and was called "a major work by a master writing at the top of his form" by a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Once again set in a Victorian-like age, the novel takes place a hundred years after the end of The Light Ages and focuses on the power-hungry Alice Meynell and her only son, Ralph, who is suffering from consumptions. Alice, a former prostitute with magical gifts, has risen through the social ranks to become the great-grandmistress of the powerful Telegraphers Guild. To save her son, she makes a bargain with a former lover who is a changeling in the land of Einfell. After being cured, Ralph runs off with a servant girl he has fallen in love with. However, his mother has already chosen Ralph's destiny and means to see that he fulfills it, even though it will plunge England into Civil War and cause suffering to innumerable innocent people. When the New Age does arrive, it is not at all what Alice intended in her lust for power.
"The novel is superbly written, engaging, in places compelling," wrote Steve Palmer of The House of Storms on the Infinity Plus Web site. Writing on the Trashotron Web site, Rick Kleffel noted: "In the end, as compelling as the plot may be, readers will find themselves slowing down, holding back, turning the pages with deliberate care. For the world that MacLeod creates, the characters who live there, the schemes and terrors they find themselves involved in are so real, so beautifully rendered, that readers will not want to leave them behind."
MacLeod once told CA: "I was born in the West Midlands of England and, with one or two short-lived excursions to other parts of the country, have lived most of my life here. My father's family come from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, hence the Scottish name, whilst my mother's family are from the Midlands.
"After finishing school, I took an honors degree in law at Birmingham Polytechnic—an institution so august that it has since changed its name—but I was attracted more to the idea of dusty libraries full of old books than I was to the practicalities of being a modern lawyer. After a spell selling life insurance and sundry other kinds of temporary work, I ended up working for ten years as a middle manager in the civil service, which has traditionally been a home for misfits of one kind or another. My wife, Gillian—far less of a misfit and much harder working—was and is a lawyer.
"I have always loved books and reading. My introduction to science fiction came through writers like Wyndham, then Asimov and Clarke. By the time I was in my teens, I was reading Ballard and Ellison, and at least toying with the idea of being a writer myself. I didn't really start writing properly, though, until I got sufficiently bored behind my desk in the civil service, by which time my tastes had widened to include most kinds of literature, even if most of what I wrote ended up coming out as a kind of science fiction. I spent most of my twenties writing one long and ambitious novel under my desk at work and in my spare evenings. When, unsurprisingly, that failed to sell, and through the wreckage of another couple of failed novels, I started to try my hand at shorter fiction. I finally made my first sale to Weird Tales in 1989 with my story ‘1/72nd Scale,’ which ended up getting nominated for a Nebula Award.
"I quit the civil service when my daughter, Emily, was born in 1990, to concentrate on writing and looking after her. My work has sold steadily since then, mainly in the American markets. More recently, I have also fitted in some part-time work as a tutor in adult literacy and creative writing. I love music of all kinds, dog-walking, fell walking, and I wish I could fit in more time to get somewhere with photography and painting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2003, review of The Light Ages, p. 1651; May 15, 2005, Roland Green, review of The House of Storms, p. 1644; April 15, 2006, Regina Schroeder, review of Past Magic, p. 34.
Chicago Sun-Times, August 24, 2003, Gregory Feeley, review of The Light Ages, p. 14.
Library Bookwatch, June, 2005, "Ace Books/Berkeley."
Library Journal, May 15, 1997, Nancy Pearl, review of The Great Wheel, p. 103; May 15, 2005, Jackie Cassada, review of The House of Storms, p. 112.
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October-November, 1997, Charles De Lint, review of The Great Wheel, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, June 30, 1997, review of The Great Wheel, p. 64; July 28, 1997, review of Voyages by Starlight, p. 58; April 14, 2003, review of The Light Ages, p. 53; May 31, 2004, review of Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, p. 56; April 11, 2005, review of The House of Storms, p. 38.
Fantasy Book Spot,http://www.fantasybookspot.com/ (June 27, 2008), "On the Spot at Fantasybookspot: Ian R. Macleod," interview with author.
Ian R MacLeod Home Pagehttp://www.ianrmacleod.com (June 27, 2008).
Infinity Plus,http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (June 27, 2008), Steve Palmer, review of The House of Storms; Kilian Melloy, review of Breathmoss and Other Exhalations; John Jarrold, "Ian R MacLeod," interview with author.
Scifi.com,http://www.scifi.com/ (June 27, 2008), Nick Gevers, "Ian R. MacLeod, Trading Short Stories for Novels, Begins a New British Invasion upon American Shores," interview with author.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (June 27, 2008), David Soyka, review of The House of Storms; Chris Przybyszewski, review of Breathmoss and Other Exhalations; Kilian Melloy, "Twenty Questions with Ian R. MaCleod."
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (Aril 25, 2006), Niall Harrison, review of Past Magic.
Trashotron,http://www.trashotron.com/ (January 31, 2005), Rick Kleffel, review of The House of Storms.