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MacLeod, Ian R

Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1956-    ) UK author who began publishing work of genre interest with "Through" for Interzone in July/August 1989. He has continued publishing short fiction since, the best of this being collected in Voyages by Starlight (1996), Breathmoss and Other Exhalations (2004) and Past Magic (2006). Voyages by Starlight includes "Starship Day" (July 1995 Asimov's), in which a noon-bright idyll reminiscent of Christopher Priest's Dream Archipelago turns out to be a Virtual Reality scrim over a very much more desolate vision of space travel. Another story, "The Giving Mouth" (March 1991 Asimov's) prefigures in its Steampunk griminess the world of Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993). Among the works in Breathmoss, the title story (May 2002 Asimov's) and "Isabel of the Fall" (July 2001 Interzone) use Space Opera venues to tell stories of striking introspection and intensity. Similarly, "New Light on the Drake Equation" (May 2001 Sci Fiction) takes the failure of SETI efforts as a given, and as the basis for an examination of the life of one of its pioneers. "The Noonday Pool" (May 1995 F&SF) depicts the last days of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) as a dying fall, but one amplified and counterpointed by elements of Fantasy. One of the stories in Past Magic, "Snodgrass" (in In Dreams, anth 1992, ed Paul J McAuley and Kim Newman) similarly casts a fantastic light on the life of John Lennon (1940-1980) by positing a world in which he left The Beatles early on, did not become the target for assassination, and lives a nondescript life circling around the alternative he walked away from.

MacLeod's first novel, The Great Wheel (1997), engages with issues of Religion and disease in a bleak future Africa. It is notable, as with all of MacLeod's work, for its adult engagement with politics and history and its refusal to short-cut into generic neatness in its resolution. These characteristics were perhaps less suited to the material of The Light Ages (2003) and The House of Storms (2005), two linked novels set in a world where an English industrial age is driven by a pseudo-magical substance known as aether. A constricting Guild system imposes its will on the landscape, much as it does in Keith Roberts's Pavane (coll of linked stories 1968). MacLeod seems, however, to shy away from the depiction of raw events so that the implications of his industrial revolution often seem less shattering than they were in the real world.

Two singletons of great interest followed. The Summer Isles (2005) was a greatly expanded version of an October/November 1998 Asimov's novella of the same name which won a World Fantasy Award. It is set in an Alternate World 1940s Oxford, a few years after a fascist revolution in the UK. The narrator, Griffin Brooke, was a teacher of John Arthur, the repressive state's new leader; but he is also known to be homosexual, and therefore perpetually vulnerable to persecution. His ambivalence deepens as the novel progresses, as does his profound nostalgia – a perennial feature in MacLeod – for the England of the past. Song of Time (2008) was also a meditation on coming to terms with the past. In this case the central character, Roushana Maitland, is a classical musician living on the coast of Cornwall in the mid-twenty-first century. Her retrospectives on her life comprise one of the fullest sf treatments of classical Music, and a history of the world over her lifetime can also be glimpsed. Song of Time deservedly won the Arthur C Clarke Award and also shared the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Wake Up and Dream (2011), a moderately playful Alternate History tale set in Los Angeles (see California) circa 1940, features a private detective named Clark Gable in a noir case in the film world, where feelies are now being exploited.

MacLeod is a self-consciously and deliberately literary author. His prose is crafted with far more care than that of most sf authors, and to the extent that he depicts conceptual Novums or scientific advances, they are most often the background for exploration of character. Along with Robert Silverberg he is perhaps sf's greatest chronicler of inwardness. [GS]

see also: Sidewise Award.

Ian Roderick MacLeod

born Solihull, Warwickshire: 6 August 1956



The Light Ages

individual titles

  • The Great Wheel (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997) [hb/Masaki Miyazawa/Photonica]
  • The Summer Isles (Charleston, South Carolina: AIO Publishing, 2005) [hb/uncredited]
  • Song of Time (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2006) [hb/Les Edwards as Edward Miller]
  • Wake Up and Dream (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2011) [hb/Ben Baldwin]
  • Red Snow (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2017) [hb/David Gentry]

collections and stories



previous versions of this entry

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