In his SF novel Ares Express
, Ian McDonald brings magic realism to Mars as he did in Desolation Road
(1988)--but now the wonders and marvels are harnessed to a driving story line. Indeed the feisty but cute heroine, Sweetness Octave Glorious Honeybun Asiim Engineer 12th, knows she's in a story that's hurtling like an express train to some apocalyptic climax ...
This Mars has been terraformed by orbiting clouds of reality-bending machines called Angels. Its red deserts are criss-crossed with railway tracks carrying gigantic fusion-powered trains whose engines are the size of ocean liners. One such is Catherine of Tharsis, run and inhabited by generations of Sweetness's family. When they arrange an unwelcome marriage she escapes into adventure, pursued by her witchy Grandma.
Sweetness is someone rather special, as a green-skinned prophet tells her, and so is the ghost twin who talks to her from mirrors. A fake evangelist with a flying cathedral sees her as the key to real apocalypse. Then there's the quantum time traveller, the town blighted by a dream plague, the card-sharp whose stakes are years of life, the artists building giant domestic furniture in Martian deserts, the anarchist saboteurs humiliating wrongdoers with "massive practical jokes", and many more colourful inventions. McDonald's imagination is rich, lurid, often wildly comic.
As Armageddon impends, armies drop from orbit, and space weaponry slashes lilac paths across the sky, there's hand-to-hand aerial fighting with Sweetness in the thick of things, while down below Grandma and the big locomotive break all rules and records with a 300mph rescue dash. Breathless excitement, artfully concluded. Great fun. --David Langford
--This text refers to an alternate
Ares Express is a long, adventure-filled, extravagantly colorful, often funny, quite moving, highly imaginative, excellently written 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.... I loved it wholeheartedly. --SF Site