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McEwan, Ian

Entry updated 19 June 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) UK author who began writing material of interest to the fields of the fantastic with "Solid Geometry" for The New Review in July 1974 (also February 1975 Fantastic), in which the protagonist's fascination with the "impossible" geometry (see Dimensions; Mathematics) suggested in the title drags his wife (post-coitally) into an almost literal Black Hole after he seems to discover the central code. The BBC prudishly cancelled its planned 1979 adaptation of the story, whose screenplay is included in McEwan's The Imitation Game: Three Plays for Television (coll 1981); it was eventually televised as Solid Geometry (2002). The tale appeared, along with the eerie estranged gothics that made McEwan instantly famous, in First Love, Last Rites (coll 1975); the volume as a whole turns an intensely fabulistic eye (see Fabulation) on young persons caught in the hyperboles of a UK depicted as psychically incontinent and in terminal decline. In Between the Sheets, and Other Stories (coll 1978) contains a similar mix, including some fantasy and sf – like "Reflections of a Kept Ape" (November 1976 The New Review) (see Apes as Human). His first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), is a tale of horror. Two further narratives incorporate Horror in SF motifs. Or Shall We Die?: Words for an Oratorio Set to Music by Michael Berkeley (1983 chap) deals with the threat and imagined aftermath of nuclear World War Three, the main title being the response to a rhetorical question: "Shall we change, or shall we die?" Rose Blanche (graph 1985) with Roberto Innocenti (1940-    ) – adapted by McEwan from the Swiss version by Christophe Gallaz (1948-    ) of the same title, Rose Blanche (graph 1985) – is a moving depiction of the vacancy of the world created by World War Two: without a word or image that identifies them as Jewish children en route to the Final Solution, the tale harrowingly makes them visible, if only to the young German protagonist who feeds them through the wires of the remote camp where they have been deposited. The Allies begin to liberate the city. The camp is vacant of all human life. Rose Blanche is shot by a panicked German soldier.

The Child in Time (1987), produced for BBC Television as The Child in Time (2017), is an sf novel set in the same dystopian Near-Future UK adumbrated in "Without Blood" (August 1975 Encounter; vt "Saturday, March 199–") and "Sunday, March 199–" (February 1977 Harpers/Queen as "Sunday, March 3rd 1991"), the two assembled as "Two Fragments: March 199–" in In Between the Sheets (coll 1978). In this desolate, privatized, factory-farmed venue, the protagonist agonizingly loses his child outside a shop, and his search for her becomes a search for meaning and grace in the desert-like Dystopian landscape the UK has become. The Daydreamer (1994 chap) recounts the story-like perceptions of its young protagonist in a style of hallucinated clarity. Though set back in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Solar (2010) addresses issues of Climate Change and "progress" in a language clearly irradiated by sf protocols, which are treated as cognitive guideposts to dangers ahead that the environmental scientists in the text fail – being only human – to heed. Nutshell (2016) is a kind of prequel to William Shakespeare's Hamlet (performed circa 1600; full text 1623), though transliterated into contemporary London, and narrated by a Hamlet figure from within his mother's womb. Similar in its reconfiguration of an earlier text, The Cockroach (2019) takes off directly from Franz Kafka's Die Verwandlung (1915 chap; trans A L Lloyd as The Metamorphosis 1937 chap): the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a cockroach; in this guise, he continues to a consanguinous transformation of his country, in obedience to an ageing referendum.

Machines Like Me: And People Like You (2019) is a tale of direct sf interest. It is set in an Alternate History version of Britain distinguished from consensual reality by two Jonbar Points: the UK defeat in the Falklands War of 1983, leading to the early removal of Margaret Thatcher and an early departure from the European Community; and the survival in this world of Alan Turing (1912-1954), who has not here been chemically castrated by the British government and then driven to Suicide, and who has spearheaded rapid advances in Computer science, specifically in the development of AI-controlled Androids, though the overall tale becomes enmired at points in old sf debates about the role of consciousness, as such, if any, in a trillionfold-distributed world. The plot – whose dynamics invoke the work of Harold Pinter (1930-2008) – complexly engages a human couple with their new replicant servant whose name, Adam (he is one of twelve of this model and name), is a marker of the nod-and-wink pofacedness typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF in the process of reinventing the wheel. But the writing is normally dense, the Sex is intricate, and the world around the tortured triad – before Adam is "murdered" – is dark, Dystopic, deeply urban.

McEwan was made a Companion of Honour in the 2023 UK King's Birthday Honours. [JC]

Ian Russell McEwan

born Aldershot, Hampshire: 21 June 1948

works (selected)

collections and other works


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