McDonald, Ian 1960–

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McDonald, Ian 1960–


Born 1960, in Manchester, England; immigrated to Northern Ireland, 1965; married; wife's name Patricia.


Agent—Extreme Production, 1 Church View, Hollywood, County Down BT18 9DP, Northern Ireland. E-mail—[email protected]


Network of East-West Women, Washington, DC, executive director, 1994-95; International Museum of Women, San Francisco, CA, former program director; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, former media relations director; Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland, San Francisco, CA, former director. Mills College, Oakland, CA, visiting scholar; board member, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.


Philip K. Dick Award for best original SF paperback; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction, 2001, for Tendeléo's Story; British Science Fiction Association Award for best short fiction, 2006, and Hugo Award for best novelette, 2007, both for "The Djinn's Wife."



Desolation Road, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.

Empire Dreams (short stories), Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.

Out on Blue Six, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.

King of Morning, Queen of Day, Spectra (New York, NY), 1991.

The Broken Land, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992, also published as Hearts, Hands, and Voices.

Speaking in Tongues (short stories), Orion (New York, NY), 1992.

Kling, Klang, Klatch (graphic novel), illustrated by David Lyttleton, 1992.

Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, Spectra (New York, NY), 1994.

Terminal Café, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994, also published as Necroville.

Evolution's Shore, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.

Ares Express, Earthlight (New York, NY), 2001.

River of Gods, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.

Brasyl, Pyr (Amherst, NY), 2007.

Author of novella, Toward Kilimanjaro, 1990. Also contributor of novella Tendeléo's Story, to Futures: Four Novellas, edited by Peter Crowther, Warner Books, NY, 2001. Contributing editor, Lilith.


Ian McDonald has earned a reputation for using unusual settings and characters in his science-fiction novels. As he told Rick Kleffel on the Trashotron Agony Column Web site, "It's no novelty—science-fictionally speaking—for the mothership to land on the White House Lawn. It is if it's Uhuru Park in Nairobi—or Ormeau Park in Belfast. And that to me makes it automatically more interesting. For the same reason that I tend to use female characters because, in our male-oriented society, a woman has always the longer and more challenging narrative journey to go on, Third World locations have a more interesting leap to make."

McDonald introduces one of his best-known creations, the Chaga, in the 1990 novella Toward Kilimanjaro, included in the collection Speaking in Tongues. The Chaga is an alien ecosystem that begins seeding the Southern Hemisphere of Earth despite all of humanity's efforts to stop it. It decimates or transforms the landscape, depending on one's perspective. McDonald expanded this work into a full-length novel, Evolution's Shore, which describes the journey of Irish reporter Gaby McAslin to explore a mysterious meteor crash on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Soon McAslin encounters the strange and frightening phenomenon of the Chaga, but also the curiously benevolent ways in which it transforms the humans who come in contact with it. In another novella, the award-winning Tendeléo's Story, McDonald tells the story from the perspective of an African woman. When the Chaga takes over her village, Tendeléo flees to Kenya's capital, Nairobi, but soon that too is abandoned to the alien vegetation. She flees again, this time to England, where the authorities discover that she is carrying the infection, and she begins to discover the new powers this "disease" gives her. For Science Fiction Chronicle contributor Don D'Ammassa, the result is a story that "is tragic and hopeful at the same time, and packs a great deal of good writing, sharp commentary, and fine characterization."

In Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone McDonald imagines a future Japan in which ancient feudalism is reinvented via new technologies. Protagonist Ethan Ring begins a pilgrimage to the country's Shingon Buddhist shrines to try to exorcize his demons: he was responsible, in his student days, for developing "fracters," computerized images capable of controlling the mind of the receiver. Before long, the government's security forces began pressuring Ring to use the fracters for nefarious purposes, making him complicit in assassination and other covert violence. During his pilgrimage, however, he attempts to turn the technology toward good use instead of evil. A writer for Publishers Weekly enjoyed McDonald's "slim but powerful vision" of futuristic Japan and his character's search for redemption. In a Booklist review, Carl Hays lauded the novel as a "rare combination of suspenseful storytelling and thought-provoking ideas."

The novel Ares Express struck SF Site Web site reviewer Rich Horton as an exciting, adventure-filled, funny, and moving story "set on a glorious Mars built partly of sharp-edged Kim Stanley Robinson-style extrapolation, but mostly of lush, loving, Ray Bradbury-style semi-SF, semi-Fantasy, Martian dreams." Part girl-meets-boy romance, part picaresque adventure, the story follows a young adolescent girl, Sweetness, who rebels against the strict gender rules of her culture and runs away from home. Chronicling the various characters and dangers that Sweetness encounters, McDonald offers what Horton considered perhaps the "most fun" science fiction novel of its year.

The eleven stories in Speaking in Tongues "redefine the divisions between rich and poor, human and animal, aggressor and victim," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The collection includes a postapocalyptic story in which dogs, raccoons, and birds have been wired to continue waging nuclear war long after human beings have killed each other off; and a tale in which mutant dolphins, who are capable of speech, join with human researchers on a remote planet to try to eliminate a species of intelligent plankton and take control of this world for themselves. While reveling in fantasy elements, the stories also reflect important truths about our own lives, concluded the Publishers Weekly critic.

A transformative strangeness like that in the Chaga tales appears again in River of Gods, but the effect is darker. This novel, which confirmed McDonald's status as a writer of intelligent and serious science fiction, is set in mid-twenty-first-century India, or, rather, Bharat, one of a fractured India's successor states. Here the Aeais, who are advanced artificial intelligences, battle the neighboring state of Awadh for the dwindling waters of the Ganges. The story is told from the viewpoint of ten different characters, from gangsters to computer-generation actors, who have come to Bharat's capital for various reasons on the centennial of India's independence. Together, they illustrate the curious ways in which technology transforms a culture but also leaves much of it intact. Chronicle contributor Don D'Ammassa called it a "major new work" from a science- fiction novelist "who is at his best one of the most thought provoking and original authors working in the genre."

Strange Horizons Web site contributor Adam Roberts expressed similar enthusiasm for McDonald's work, calling the novelist a "superb writer" whose book Brasyl is "easily the best SF novel I've read this year." The book's three linked narratives are set in Brazil. The first follows producer Marcelina Hoffman in what Roberts described as a "mildly alternate 2006" as she tries to make a trash-TV hit show about the 1950 World Cup final; the second focuses on a romance between a streetwise hustler and a quantum hacker in 2032 Sao Paulo; and the third recounts the adventures of a Jesuit priest sent into the jungle in 1732 to bring back a rogue priest who has gone mad and set himself up as a deity. This third narrative, as Roberts pointed out, is essentially a retelling of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Roberts felt that McDonald ties these strands together brilliantly, creating "a hyperbolically rendered, false-colour, triple-ply Brazil that is kept the right side of caricature by McDonald's great skill as a writer: a Brazil that is genuinely as sun-soaked, pepped-up, vibrant, sexy, coffee-flavoured, samba-rhythmic and spontaneous as people like to think it is." Still, Roberts noted that Brasyl tackles serious themes. In each of the novel's three narratives, the critic explained, McDonald writes about "the refuse of society" and reveals the "vitality and force in that trash."

In a starred review, a critic for Publishers Weekly hailed Brasyl as an "edgy, post-cyberpunk free-for-all" that captures the "mingled despair and hope" of South America. Noting that this novel confirms the status that McDonald attained with publication of River of Gods, the critic deemed Brasyl a must-read. Jackie Cassada, writing in Library Journal, praised the novel as a history of Brazil "that challenges all preconceptions" and spans various eras and realities. Cassada particularly admired McDonald's narrative skill, noting that his storytelling is both timeless and contemporary.



St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Analog Science Fiction & Fact, July 1, 1988, Tom Easton, review of Desolation Road, p. 178; July 1, 1988, Tom Easton, review of Empire Dreams, p. 177; December 1, 1989, Tom Easton, review of Out on Blue Six, p. 182; February 1, 1993, Tom Easton, review of The Broken Land, p. 160; June 1, 1994, Tom Easton, review of Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, p. 161; August 1, 1995, review of Terminal Cafe, p. 162.

Booklist, September 1, 1992, Roland Green, review of The Broken Land, p. 38; September 15, 1992, Roland Green, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 130; January 1, 1994, Carl Hays, review of Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, p. 811; November 1, 1994, Carl Hays, review of Terminal Café, p. 482; January 15, 1995, review of Terminal Café, p. 857.

Chronicle (Radford, England), October 1, 2004, Don D'Ammassa, review of River of Gods, p. 26.

Fantasy & Science Fiction (Hoboken, NJ), May 1, 2002, James Sallis, review of Futures: Four Novellas, p. 32.

Library Journal, February 15, 1988, Jackie Cassada, review of Desolation Road, p. 181; February 15, 1988, Jackie Cassada, review of Empire Dreams, p. 181; June 15, 1991, Jackie Cassada, review of King of Morning, Queen of Day, p. 109; August 1992, Jackie Cassada, review of The Broken Land, p. 155; October 15, 1992, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 104; October 15, 1994, Jackie Cassada, review of Terminal Café, p. 90; June 1, 1995, review of Terminal Café, p. 208; April 15, 2007, Jackie Cassada, review of Brasyl, p. 78.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1, 1994, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, p. 16.

New Scientist, March 13, 1993, John Gribbin, review of Hearts, Hands, and Voices, p. 47; September 18, 2004, Elizabeth Sourbut, "Drowning the Future," p. 47.

New Statesman, July 16, 2007, "Time Traveller," p. 64.

New Statesman & Society, June 12, 1992, David V. Barrett, review of Hearts, Hands, and Voices, p. 38; November 27, 1992, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 38.

New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1992, Gerald Jonas, review of The Broken Land, p. 24; October 16, 1994, Gerald Jonas, review of Terminal Café, p. 40.

Publishers Weekly, January 22, 1988, John Mutter, review of Desolation Road, p. 110; January 22, 1988, John Mutter, review of Empire Dreams,p. 110; April 14, 1989, Penny Kaganoff, review of Out on Blue Six, p. 64; August 10, 1992, review of The Broken Land, p. 67; September 14, 1992, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 118; January 24, 1994, review of Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, p. 51; September 12, 1994, review of Terminal Café, p. 87; March 26, 2007, review of Brasyl, p. 70.

Science Fiction Chronicle, February, 2001, Don D'Ammassa, review of Tendeléo's Story, p. 43; June, 2002, Don D'Ammassa, review of Ares Express, p. 33.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August 1, 1988, review of Empire Dreams, p. 139; October 1, 1989, review of Out on Blue Six, p. 227; December 1, 1991, review of King of Morning, Queen of Day, p. 324; February 1, 1993, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 354; April 1, 1993, review of Speaking in Tongues, p. 16; April 1, 1993, review of The Broken Land, p. 44; April 1, 1994, review of The Broken Land, p. 10.

Washington Post Book World, July 22, 2007, Jeff VanderMeer, review of Brasyl, p. 11.


SFSite, (January 16, 2008), biography of Ian McDonald; Rich Horton, review of Ares Express.

Strange Horizons, (January 16, 2008), Adam Roberts, review of Brasyl.

Trashotron Agony Column, (August 23, 2004), Rick Kleffel, "From the River of Gods to the Department of Social Services," interview with Ian McDonald.

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McDonald, Ian 1960–

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