Details: (c) 1988 Ian McDonald; Pub Bantam Spectra 1988; ISBN 0-553-27057-5
Verdict: Desolation Road is skilfully surreal.
Reasons for reading it: I read it five years ago, and was impressed, but got a bit impatient with the magic realism. So I thought I would give it another try, to see if I understand it better by reading it again, especially now that I'm much more familiar with modern SF. Besides, I've thought very highly indeed of some of McDonald's other work.
How it came into my hands: Some combination of lethargic_man and rysmiel.
In spite of my expectations, I don't think my impression of Desolation Road has changed very much. It still has some superbly good writing, and lots of very engaging story, and a plot that is too complex to hold in my head at once. It still falls too far on the side of being weirdly magical realist, and still has too much blood and gore, for my taste.
It was funny what I'd remembered and what I'd forgotten. I usually remember plots fairly clearly, but the multiple braided storylines were too much for me with DR. What had stuck in my mind was the opening with the greenperson, the scene with The Hand bringing the rain, and the satire of corporate life in Steeltown. But there's about fifteen other arcs and scenarios and images which are equally cool. I can't quite manage to love this book quite as much as it obviously deserves, though; I am reminded of cartesiandaemon commenting that as a kid he didn't get on well with Alice in Wonderland because he wanted the world to make sense and Caroll has no respect for that.
Still, although it's not quite my sort of book, it's very good indeed. I got completely caught up in each little fragment of story, it's an exceptionally immmersive reading experience. I think a key to not being completely lost is to regard the town as the protagonist, which explains the really huge number of characters, and perhaps gives a perspective from which you can see something like a unified plot among all the sub-threads.