Out on Blue Six, Ian McDonald

After my review of McDonald’s short story collection, Speaking in Tongues, several people, among them Michael Sumbera, recommended to me what they felt was McDonald’s best novel, Out on Blue Six. There was also some attention focused on the novel on rec.arts.sf.written, because of its similarity to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” The comparison is not misplaced, although McDonald has a different agenda than Gilliam. Both stories feature a huge government that relegates people’s lives, in which a small mistake can wreak human lives. That is, both stories are satires on present governments and governmental ideas. But whereas Gilliam plays the satire to the hilt, and goes beyond simple governmental poking, but also poking at individuals within it, ultimately ending on an extremely cynical note, McDonald still feels there’s hope to be had. Out on Blue Six is an extremely pyrotechnic novel, full of unknown words and weirdly impossible SF ideas; again, like Snow Crash, this isn’t a hard SF novel, but rather a novel of adventure and philosophy. Neal Stephenson pulls it off slightly better, mainly because he isn’t concerned with wrapping things up in a denoument, which McDonald does with his story.

[Finished 16 May 1993]

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