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Ian R Macleod

Ian R MacLeod: an Appreciation

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by Jay Tomio
 
When listening in on discussion pertaining to the preeminent Science Fiction writers today—whether in discussion of novels or short fiction—one can tell the value and worth of the coterie's choices in how long it takes them to mention the name of Ian R. MacLeod. Glancing at the names of those who have sat in the guest of honor chair of previous Novacons suggests that prolonged eavesdropping at these gatherings is recommended, along with ample paper and a sure pen. Their choice this year continues this trend, a tradition of excellence and in true fashion of our chosen vocation of identifying and recognizing crowned and uncrowned grandmasters who achieve their status taking, traversing, and telling, they all come down unique paths. The quality of being a visionary is just a portion of the qualification, the skill of observation just a means to the end that is a storyteller's release, and the delivery by Ian R. MacLeod is one of precision, an atypical perfection that in one line surrounds us with beauty and in the next haunts us with what lurks. To begin, MacLeod's fiction does us—the reader—the benefit of acknowledging that we understand and accept the fantastic prior to ever picking up his books; it goes through no motions, it requires not staging or excuses—he sells us nothing, and though MacLeod doesn't consciously sit-down to write Science Fiction stories, he jumps down the trapdoor discovered by another:

Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction

Ray Bradbury

MacLeod turns those dreams into worlds, and then records them for us to peregrinate, and in all his work is our ingenuity—our science—and both playfully and with gravity throws it against backdrops alien and familiar as what separates us from others sharing our planet is that we are explorers, and though Updike once remarked, "A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors have been painted; while within the narrative, we have many apparent choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular door, we know it is the right one because it opens.", it is the Science Fiction author who comes back and turns false door into portals, and either walks through them themselves or leaves them for others to consider, to catalog, and Macleod's novels are doors; his short fiction, windows.

Before I was aware of MacLeod his The Great Wheel had years before won the Locus Award for outstanding debut novel. It wasn't until his The Light Ages that I became aware of him. The first of two books, along with House of Storms that would take blend the fantastic with industry and the latter tells of a fall. There is no dearth of fictionalized Londons' on the shelf, and aether powered or not it is almost impossible to add something of value to that tradition, yet MacLeod finds those unturned doors leading us to, and introducing one of the most under mentioned and menacing characters in recent fiction in Alice Meynell. More recently, MacLeod has taken us to Summer Isles and Song of Time. The first is an Orwellian concept, an alternative history that deals with sex, identity, and fascism, another example of looking back at what didn't occur to offer warning now of that fact. Song of Time—his latest work—is a chameleon; a story of the type that Kelly Link once told me she strives to write, one that confront but doesn't get in the way and that morphs upon further reading The experience changes as we ourselves gain or lose in experience.

Within his collections, Voyages by Starlight, Breathmoss and other Exhalations, and Past Magic can be found perhaps the most accomplished and complete catalog of short fiction that can be claimed over the last decade, containing within them stories that have won and/or been finalists for Hugo Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Sidewise Awards, the Nebula, Sturgeon and Tiptree honors. I say complete as there is little fat or fluff; they don't consist of one lucky or chance award-winning story surrounded by slush pile undesirables. They all garnered acclaim, or otherwise seem overlooked, nothing rough—indeed he could have a collection called Diamonds in the Smooth. Perhaps the Millennium Star in his stack of literal gems is New Light on the Drake Equation, a dirge that flips around the practice of reflecting on our world through speculative eyes and instead examines our whimsy and promises with hard reality, but still not totally abandoning the innate quality of all explorers—sanguinity, and for that we listen, we wait. We wonder.

A simple glance at even just the titles suggests an author aware of his own measure, his own voice. It is that of resonance. MacLeod reminds us of, and straightens the reflection revealing our blindspots, whether looking at our past or peering into them; plucking them and making with them our lens. It is easy to call MacLeod a writer of alternate history, or perhaps more aptly alternative history, and these aren't lies, but these look backs often accompany transformation, a disturbance that's ripples and causalities are the subject of Macleod's observation.

The first time I was ever able to communicate with Ian R. MacLeod he was putting names like McMurty, Proust, Updike, and Keith Roberts in the same sentence. Just before, he considers others named Silverberg, Ballard, Ellison, Aldiss and Delany, and terms like well read or diverse tastes may be the first thoughts that enter one's mind —the first that enters mine is well traveled. Science Fiction is that space that exists between the mundane and the unreal. It is the fluid frontier where the status quo is continually challenged, where resides endless cities and summer isles lie a turn of the head apart. The explorers of that space, the ones who take invisible cities and inhabit them for us, give them voice, and spin the biggest lies, are writers we must most honor-- the ones we ironically put our most trust in, and Ian R. MacLeod is one of the most cherished of our cosmiccomicnauts.

This appreciation was written by Jay Tomio, editor of Bookspot Central, for the Novacon 2008 programme book and is reproduced here with his kind permission. Copyright © Jay Tomio, 2008.

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