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Desolation Road

(Desolation Road Universe #1)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,368 ratings  ·  174 reviews
It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantand ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 365 pages
Published by Spectra Books (first published February 1988)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  1,368 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terry by: Richard Derus
Shelves: sci-fi, fantasy
4 – 4.5 stars

I was reminded, while reading _Desolation Road_, of two authors in particular: John Crowley and Gene Wolfe. This is not to say that I think Ian McDonald was in any way aping them or merely writing some kind of amalgamated pastiche, but there were elements to his tale that made both author’s names spring to mind. I think the first one was Wolfe, largely because of the way in which McDonald made the magical seem almost commonplace (or was it that the commonplace was made to seem magic
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it

I have five words for you: Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Mars.

If that doesn't make you want to read this book, I don't want to know you.
Richard Derus
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been revised and can now be found at Shelf Inflicted and Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud. ...more
McDonald combines the story telling techniques of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the weird future fables of Cordwainer Smith and Jack Vance (the fable like story telling of all three authors isn’t as different as one would think). It also exists as an examination of our contemporary myths about Mars, including little green men, Bradbury's colonists, and Wells's tripod death machines. A beautiful stories within stories structure. Mcdonald has the mixed blessing of writing a classic in his first boo ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Science Fiction Lovers
There are 69 chapters in this book.

When I first started reading this book, I thought, "Oh, how delightful."

McDonald has succeeded in taking the Wild West and transplanting it onto Mars. This leads to charming tales about strangers with strange pasts blowing into town, in this case a little, tiny town called Desolation Road that isn't really supposed to exist. We are introduced to interesting character after interesting character, and see how they get along with each other, and it is wonderful.

August 2009

This is the story of Desolation Road, a ramshackle, hodgepodge little town of misfits that, over the course of its decades-long existence, would grow to be the home of scandals, time travelers, a religious movement, terror cells, labor disputes, a baby in a jar, and an all-out war which would, briefly, turn the accidental colony into the most important place on Mars.

Despite its sci-fi setting, Desolation Road fits more in the magical realism genre with its colorful setting and dreamli
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book had all the creativity, uniqueness I want to find in a sci-fi book, but most importantly, it was actually saying something. My first reading of an Ian McDonald book and I can't wait to read the next one! ...more
Jason Pettus
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Regular readers know that in the last year, I've ended up becoming a huge salivating fanboy of science-fiction author Ian McDonald, and that I have no problem with people knowing this; that's part of what being a book lover is all about, after all, is finding certain writers that we can go all nutso
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that is tailor made for me. A well done mix of Magic Realism and Science Fiction, with homages and small details from many writers I enjoy, from Borges to G. Wolfe, from Vance to Zelazny, going through Bradbury. The short chapters really grip you and keep you reading a little more, till the night is almost gone.

It tells the story of a place through the lives of several of its inhabitants. Some of them are unforgettable, and all are special in their own way. In a way, it presents H
Apr 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Another dud by McDonald, Desolation Road is too weird even for me. It reminded me of Salman Rushdie's Grimus , another failed attempt in blending science fiction with magic realism. There are echoes of Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude too, but this was nowhere near it, as Márquez obviously knew that it takes more than pretty language and vivid imagery to create an engaging story. I didn't get it, I didn't like it, and I didn't finish it. ...more
Daniel Roy
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Desolation Road is a the magic realist tale of the birth, life, and ultimate destiny, of a desert town. It just so happens that this town is set on a terraformed Mars.

I'm a big fan of Ian McDonald since reading the brilliant The Dervish House, and this, his first novel, has many of the hallmarks of his future talent. There's the stellar prose, of course; often brilliant, sometimes good enough that you want to put down the book to applaud. There's this sense of worldliness: his futuristic Mars is
Feb 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Each chapter of this book reads like a standalone short story, and even though the McDonald's elevated figurative language only really works for me about 50% of the time, it's an ambitious book that largely succeeds in what it's trying to do, which is to combine science fiction with magical realism.

The book has much in common with Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in that the book centers on a group of families in a geographically isolated village and spans the village's founding
Michael Battaglia
There are probably people who hear Bob Dylan songs and want to spend hours analyzing them, or writing their own songs. Ian McDonald may be the only person who heard "Desolation Row" and thought "Oh man, this song is begging for someone to write about this as if it were a real place on Mars!"

I have no idea if that's what actually happened but its a good enough explanation as any.

McDonald's first published novel and the first novel of his that I've read, which is strange since he's fairly prolific
آرزو مقدس
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Started out fun then got real dark, real fast. Had no idea what was going on in this madhouse of a town for like 65% of the time, but a very delightful read nonetheless.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've wanted to read this book for so long, Mars has always been one of those destinations I can't resist an armchair trip to. And this one did not disappoint and was well worth the wait. To describe it as entry #1 in a universe is actually incredibly apt, because that's exactly what Ian McDonald has dreamt up, an entire microcosm of a small settlement on Mars complete with a detailed story of its denizens, for generations, inception to dust, entire arc of a place. The sheer breadth of it is just ...more
Dec 04, 2011 marked it as did-not-finish
February 2012:

Not rated because I abandoned it halfway through. If I were to rate it, a two star read at best.

I'm very disappointed. I recently read Ian McDonald's novel The Dervish House and thought I'd found a new author to recommend to all my friends. But this one? It purports to be science fiction, but it's really just a bunch of magical hoo-hah: impossible and unreal. McDonald's writing is friendly and engaging, as are almost all of this characters, good and bad alike, but the story has no
Okay. I give up. I've been trying to read this book all the way through since it came out, about twenty years ago. I've given it at least four college tries. My best try saw me to about page 100, whilst the try that I'm just now giving up only made it to page 43. I have never so badly wanted to like a book that I just can't finish.

First off, I love Ian McDonald. Some of his books are among my all-time favorites. I love his mix of surrealism, poetry, and stream of consciousness with concise descr
Oct 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Martians
Recommended to Alan by: Amanda, this time
Marvelous how all human strife and conflict was a symbolic enactment of loftier struggles between the Powers Cosmic so that every moment of the present was merely a fragment of the past repeating itself over and over again.

Destination Road, Desperation Road, Desecration Road... Desolation Road. Through a series of unlikely accidents, Dr. Alimantando (and what an effort it must have been for Ian McDonald to type that name over and over, in the days before search-and-replace!) has const
Dan Schuna
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Good lord, what do I even say about this book? This is like nothing else I've ever read, in the best possible way. Ostensibly this is a novel about the rise and fall of a small town on the Martian frontier but there's a lot more going on here.

The cast of characters is enormous and each character is unique and vibrantly drawn. At turns hilarious, alarming, and sad, Ian McDonald's first published novel is a bit hard to get a grip on and impossible to label or pigeonhole. The plot moves incredibly
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
what a romp. McDonald must have had so much fun writing this book.

it has quite a large cast, but characters are introduced with a chapter apiece (for the most part), and the on-ramp is gradual both in terms of introducing the characters and introducing the world.

the writing throughout is sharp, witty, and pitch-perfect, tending toward some pretty biting satire. being satirical, you probably won't walk away feeling like you got to know a person inside & out, but that's ok.

and the names! the names
Michael Haydel
Let me be up front: I only made it through 160 pages of this book. I'm kind of ashamed to say that, but, I really tried hard to make it through it, and just couldn't.

After reading Cory Doctorow's review/plug for this book not too long ago on BoingBoing, I was really intrigued. Mostly because he generally suggests great books, but also because I thought that it'd be outside of my comfort zone, so it would be a good exercise in trying something new.

However, it just didn't jive with me. There were
Dec 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Sometimes you start a book and you fall in love. There's flash, there's bang, there's excitement, and while the book is young you sing its praises and want to tell others about how cool it is. Then as you settle into the middle chapters things begin to sour. You slowly draw apart from the narrative and fall out of love. That's what happened to me while reading Desolation Road. The dreamy, mystic-science vibe drew me in at first, but later I tired of it, and I tired of keeping track of the new ma ...more
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
If I had to pick one book as my absolute favorite work of fiction ever, this one would not only be a serious contender, but I'm about 99% sure that it would be the inevitable winner.

It's been described as Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Mars, but I've never read any Marquez (which I should remedy, I know), so I'd have to describe it as a much more compelling and unusual Martian Chronicles, a mismatch of folktale and character study, a novel approach to nearly every classic trope of pulp science ficti
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In the beginning, Ian McDonald's first novel reminds of Ray Bradbury's Mars. An unintended town growing up on the side of the tracks, each citizen arriving through odd circumstance, and contributing their eccentricities to the overall tapestry. McDonald draws on the tropes of the American West in establishing the town as a character itself. But growing from there, it experiences the industrial revolution, and a political revolution, and a time storm all more or less simultaneously. There is just ...more
Ralph Palm
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. Superbly weird and weirdly superb. It's a sort of magical realist/sci-fi book of a sort I've never read before. Or even heard of. Very original.

The characterization and thematic development are especially outstanding 'for a sci-fi book' as well as in general. If his name was 'Borges', he'd be read in literature departments instead of just winning award in the SF ghetto.

There's no hyperbole in the entire history of hyperboles that can adequately capture how much I appreciated
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Julie by: Bryon
Shelves: science-fiction
This book is ....indescribable. I read it because my boyfriend read it years ago and said it was really entertaining. I suppose it was, but... there's just so many characters and strange tangents that it's difficult to follow at times, and even when you DO understand what's going on, it doesn't make much sense. There are some interesting characters, and some amusing parts; I may give it another try later on, now that I know what to expect. ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I’ve read a good bit of Ian McDonald and I am always impressed with his way to tell a big story with little ones. A magical realist phantasmagoria of SF fun.
Jasonk Kolbrich
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Amazing interweaving of stories and details.
Ariel Fiona
May 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ian-mcdonald
Strange, bold, and wonderful. A man finds his way to destiny in the form of a malfunctioning terraformer out in the Martian desert, which enables him to found a town that gradually and accidentally accrues a population to it. After a few chapters it becomes clear that the point of view is an omniscient one, and that this is a tapestry of the lives of all of these townspeople as they spiral out in imaginative and surprising directions. Naturally for this sort of story the characters often feel ca ...more
Apr 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
First posted at:

Several years ago, 2010 I believe, I stumbled on the book "River of Gods" by Ian McDonald. Honestly, I thought the cover art looked rather bland, but it came recommended and I was willing to give it a chance on the setting alone, India being an underutilized location in most sci-fi. I was totally caught up in the diversity of perspectives, the stunning future tech (A third, neuter gender! Killer robo
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Ian Neil McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He used to live in a house built in the back garden of C. S. Lewis’s childhood home but has since moved to central Belfast, where he now lives, exploring interests like cats, contemplative religion, bonsai, bicycles, and comic-book collecting. H ...more

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“No one noticed them step off the train, no one saw them arrive in Desolation Road . . . . Then something very much like a sustained explosion of light filled the hotel and there, at the epicenter of the glare, was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen. Every man in the room had to swallow hard. Every woman fought an inexpressible need to sigh. A dozen hearts cracked down the middle and all the love flew out like larks and circled round the incredible being. It was as if God Himself had walked into the room. Then the God-light went out and there was a blinking, eye-rubbing darkness. When vision was restored, everyone saw before them a small, very ordinary man and a young girl of about eight who was quite the plainest, drabbest creature anyone had ever seen. For it was the nature of Ruthie Blue Mountain, a girl of stunning ordinariness, to absorb like sunlight the beauty of everything around her and store it until she chose to release it, all at once, like a flashbulb of intense beauty. Then she would return again to dowdy anonymity, leaving behind her an afterimage in the heart of unutterable loss.” 0 likes
“...they were triplets and as mutually indistinguishable as peas in a pod or days in a prison.” 0 likes
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