Ian McDonald makes difficult reading. I had to machete my way through Brasyl and it took me three tries to read “The Tear.” It’s a dense story, filled interesting ideas and beautiful language on a grand scale. There’s so many peoples and places and worlds and universes, it’s just too much to take in at one sitting. Before I was even half way through, I felt like I was trying to eat a 72 ounce steak plus a whole chocolate cake with raspberry filling and mocha buttercream icing. I kept wishing it were a novel so I’d have a book to set down and digest for a while before diving back in.
Our hero of many faces begins as a boy sailing with his father on the seas. His people routinely take in eight personalities, each Aspect suited to different situations, an exaggeration of our own multi-faceted personalities. He goes on a grand journey through a world and a universe are filled with post-humans, one vast Clade of warring families. Along the way, there is plenty of beautiful descriptions:
They were the eight hundred and twenty six space habitats of the Anpreen Commonweal, spheres of nano-carbon ice and water five hundred kilometers in diameter that for twice Ptey’s lifetime had adorned Bephis, the ringed gas giant, like a necklace of pearls hidden in a velvet bag, far from eye and mind.
But also the occasional clunky dialogue:
‘I think, no matter how long I try, how long any of us try, we will never understand how your multiple personalities work. To us, you seem a race of partial people, each a genius, a savant, in some strange obsessive way.’
Where he ends up is less important than the stops he makes along the way. Each stop implies a book’s worth of story, but we keep getting swept along. As I said before, I kept wanting to slow down and take in the changes we were going through. If this novella becomes a novel or three, I’d be game for attempting a fourth read.