British novelist Ian McDonald has won a wide variety of awards for his fiction, including the Hugo for his 2006 novelette "The Djinn's Wife." Ares Express was first published in the United Kingdom in 2001 and is appearing in the United States for the first time. It is set in the same universe as McDonald's first novel, Desolation Road.
The Story: Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th is an eight-year-old Martian girl trying to escape an arranged marriage. Sweetness is not a child bride--eight in Martian years is about sixteen on Earth, after all--but her culture still has its own form of rigid hierarchy: the social castes of the crew of the giant locomotives that span the Martian surface. Our young heroine's decision takes her on a journey across a Mars that is a patchwork of the real planet in our universe, the fantastical versions of the planet as described by authors like Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson, and a world unlike anything yet conceived.
Pyr. 389 pages. $16. ISBN: 978-1616141974
"‘[K]aleidoscopic' is a word often thrown around in reviews of epic fiction, but it's completely appropriate here: the fractured elements from which the plot grows organize themselves as the reader's perspective broadens. McDonald introduces more and more with every page, but far from leaving characters and ideas hanging out to dry, they reveal themselves as integral parts of his increasingly-larger narrative." Chris Braak
"[Ares Express] occupies a sometimes uneasy perch between all-out fantasy and nominally plausible science fiction. ... This may not be the most serious or the most significant SF novel of the past year, but it just might be the most fun. I loved it wholeheartedly." Rich Horton
San Francisco Book Review
"McDonald writes in torrential outpourings, and while occasionally overwhelming, he frequently evokes the fantastic mechanical excesses of his industrial world. And even if one too many comparisons are made to the cruder anatomical parts and functions, he is hilarious, and his Sweetness is an amusing companion for a long afternoon." Ariel Berg
"[D]espite the excellent writing and the extraordinary imagination at work here, Ares Express never really quite got up a full head of steam for me. ... I can appreciate what McDonald was trying to do, weaving new myths from old stories, but the more realistic Marquis of Queensberry SF rules sometimes seem uncomfortable beside the all-in-wrestling that is Magic Realism. Ares Express teeters between the two genres, which left me off-balance rather than staggered, as I should have been." Stuart Carter
Reviews from the time when Ares Express was first published in Britain, as well as recent reviews from the United States, expressed admiration for and awe at McDonald's imaginative clout. Critics who had read Desolation Road, his first novel, were also happy to return to that universe. What divided reviewers was McDonald's decision to bend the rules of SF world making to the point where the novel must almost be classified as "magical-realism-with-rivets." Of course, there is a long tradition of such fantastical rule flouting in science fiction, including Ray Bradbury's urtext, The Martian Chronicles. In the end, Ares Express may be less alien to fans of Gabriel García Márquez than to those of Arthur C. Clarke.