Brasyl – Take one

First, a confession: I’m only halfway through Brasyl, by Ian McDonald. It’s a dense, detailed, demanding story that’s impossible to read quickly, but I’m glad to spend the time for this book. After fighting my way through the Old Man’s War series, it’s such a relief to read something that’s consistently well-written.

Though I don’t know what the payoff is going to be, things are starting to look pretty weird in the three threads of the story. A producer for Canal Quatro, a sensationalist TV network in the Sao Paulo of 2006, Marcelina Hoffman’s ambitions are getting sabotaged by someone who seems to know a little too much about her. In fast-paced and techy 2032, Edson the hustler falls in love with Fia, a beautiful Japanese quantum hacker. In the colonial Brazil of 1732, Father Luis Quinn goes up the Amazon river to track down a rogue Jesuit in the Brazilian jungle. You could call it The Fountain, combining Network, Blade Runner, and Heart of Darkness.

This complicated story is told with a delightful lack of expository lumps. Any conversations about wacky things like quantum computing are kept mercifully short, no more than a couple pages. Maybe I’m just sensitive to overt exposition, but I’m glad to see it subsumed.

The constant stream of Portuguese words and details of Brazilian life give an authentic feeling of the exotic and the alien. Maybe it helps that Latin roots are also common in the English language, so you don’t necessarily need to study a Romance language to understand the vocabulary. But then I did learn un poquito de Espanol in grade school, so I’m curious how it comes across to people who haven’t studied languages. It makes me think about easily annoyed I am by books filled with names and words made up whole-cloth. And it makes me worry about how to get the same effect in my own writing, without succumbing to Fantasy Name Syndrome.

More than half worthwhile.

Tomorrow: Hugo Recap

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