I’m a big fan of science fiction writer Ian McDonald. His near-future stories develop very interesting ideas about possible technological advances and their effects on individuals and society – ever since I discovered cyberpunk in the 1980s, this has been my favourite sub-genre. Even better: his stories mostly take place in non-European, non-developed nations. Cyberabad Days, for example, takes place in India. Necroville, a novel of his that I just finished reading, mostly takes place in Mexico.
Years after nanotechnology has made it possible for dead people to be resurrected and live theoretically forever, they chafe under laws that give them no legal standing. Over the course of an evening (ironically, the Day of the Dead), the lives of half a dozen people are affected by the political machinations. McDonald takes his initial idea and runs in many fascinating directions with it.
At first, Necroville reminded me of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in the way it portrayed individual lives getting caught up in political situations they had no control over. As the story progressed, and it became clear that some of the characters were, in fact, involved in the political machination, this feeling faded, and I was left, instead, with awe for a very weird argument for universal human rights.
As with many books in this sub-genre, Necroville jumps right into the world and leaves the reader gasping for understanding. It takes maybe 50 pages for McDonald’s complex world to come into focus. This is, of course, not to everybody’s taste; some people want their meaning to be easily digestible from the beginning. De gustibus est non disputandum. It totally works for me, though.
The fact that it took so long for me to clue into what was happening is, if anything, a testament to the faultiness of my memory. A third of the way through the novel, elements starting feeling familiar. Very familiar. Been there, done that familiar. By the time I was halfway through, I knew that I had read it before. However, I couldn’t remember enough to know where it was going, so I reread it to the end.
And, I wondered: given enough time, will I forget most or all of the books I have written? On the one hand, that is a horrifying thought: my memory could get so bad that I wouldn’t be able to recall what I had devoted my life to doing. On the other hand, if I did forget most or all of, say, my novel Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience), it would give me the opportunity to read it as if for the first time, the way other people can read it. That’s kind of weirdly cool.