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355 pages, Hardcover
First published May 1, 2007
While waiting for Ian McDonald's Luna: Wolf Moon to come out later this year, I decided to dive into his back catalog with Brasyl. I sure thought Luna: New Moon was flavored with Brazilian culture (the main family are Brazilian immigrants to the Moon), but Brasyl is, well, all about it!
Three people in three times are sucked into the dangerous world of quantum computing and parallel universe conspiracies: reality TV producer Marcelina in 2006, flamboyant go-go-go! entrepreneur Edson in the 2030's, and the Jesuit priest Luis Quinn in the 1730's. Marcelina's life is being destroyed by a duplicate of herself while she tracks down a famous soccer player to humiliate him in a new TV program. Edson gets tangled with the illegal activities of quantumeiros in the back of a van and the appearance (and disappearance) of the quantumista Fia. Father Luis is headed up the Amazon to bring the Jesuit priest Goncalves back to the fold and runs into an isolated tribe that uses the poison of a frog to see the multiverse.
How will they meet? Are they past, present, and future, or are their three Brazils parallel worlds?
I found Brasyl very difficult to read. It's infused, saturated, with Brazil: the tastes, smells, colors, bodies, flashing lights, beating music, glitz, and poverty of Brazil. So many Portuguese terms are used that I had to flip to the glossary in the back every sentence or two to look up a word, which makes for a glacial reading pace. This book has atmosphere from its long passages of thick description. On the one hand, this is beautiful and admirable, because how much effort did this take to write?! But it also obfuscates the action. So much attention has to be paid to the descriptions that the small embedded actions are lost.
I thoroughly enjoyed Edson's story. The man is fascinating, with multiple identities, multiple lovers, a business of his own! He's bisexual: how thrilling that this isn't erased or looked down up, but presented so matter-of-factly! He even has a female alter-identity. Edson knows who he is in this dazzling crazy world.
I'm not sure what really pulled this book down for me, other than the intense concentration needed to parse the language. It was wildly different from other quantum computing science fiction I've read. In fact, the story seemed more about Brazil than quantum computing. I think I'm excused for thinking about it that way, because there are far more words devoted to describing Brazil and its people and its history than the actual plot! And perhaps that is what I disliked.
When I finished the final page, it also occurred to me that I had a sense of unease and discomfort about the way Brazil is presented here: there's a gaze that lingers on the naked bodies, the skin colors and tans, the effects of the pound pulsing music, that fashions Brazil into a hotspot of heat and sensuality. Fascinating. But is this reality or exoticism? I'm still not sure.
had been another wave on the zeitgeist upon which [she] surfed, driven by the perpetual, vampiric hunger for fresh cool.That is exactly how I felt about Brasyl. Those who loved River of Gods or books such as Babel-17, Neuromancer, or Snow Crash will probably like this. I didn't particularly favor any of those nor this. Still, I'm not giving up on McDonald. He's too talented and ambitious to simply forego.