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Hopeland, by Ian McDonald

Review copy provided by the publisher.

One of the things that I find important in talking about other people’s books is not to get annoyed that they didn’t write the book I wanted, that they wrote the book they wanted instead. But sometimes that’s very hard, because it’s difficult to fathom why they wanted to write that book when another (coughbettercough) book was so close at hand.

Hopeland is about all sorts of things I like to read about. It’s got found family and giant scope both temporally and geographically; it’s got people coping with the reality of climate change, people making art, people growing things and making music and trying to figure out how best to rear children. It’s got Iceland and Tonga (okay, he calls it Ava’u…but really…) and several other locations in between.

And for some reason I will never understand, McDonald has decided to center his tale on Amon Brightbourne, one of the most boring sadsack white men ever to helm a science fiction novel. He believes himself to be living a charmed life, but there is some question about whether that charmed life is a zero-sum game, whether the good things come to him at the expense of others. When I thought this might be dealt with directly, I was cautiously interested, but no, people go on making decades’ worth of life choices based on the premise that his superpower is Captain Zero-Sum, and nobody seems to say to themselves, “hey, this guy’s life really sucks, so…let’s reexamine our premises.” Very late in the book there’s a moment where another character says of Amon, “Oh, he makes me so angry and he’s stupid and entitled and he has no sense about anything.” YEP. THAT IS SURE TRUE. And then she goes on, “All that. But I’ve never…stopped…loving him.” And I went: what? literally why???

Everything else in this mildly woowoo science fiction fantasy mashup is framed around the existence and importance of Amon Brightbourne. Raisa and Atli and Morwenna and the princesses and Kimmie and all the other characters…they continue to refer back to him, to constantly care what he’s doing and thinking, which means that the elements that might otherwise build a fascinating story just sort of hang around with this guy. I’m not even annoyed with him except as a protagonist, I just find him fundamentally so dull that the rest of the novel is colored by his constant presence. I couldn’t wish him ill, but I also couldn’t wish him well, and I felt that if I wished him weird, he would leach all the pigment out of that too. So. I dunno. Lots of good stuff in here, but for me the sum was much less than its parts.

1 thought on “Hopeland, by Ian McDonald

  1. I have found if you haaaaaaaaaate the protagonist of a book, you can’t keep going with it.

    I tried reading the Morganville Vampires series after I’d read a short story featuring an awesome character, Eve. Unfortunately Eve isn’t the protagonist of the series, it’s Claire. Sixteen year old SOOPER GENIUS CLAIRE who was Too Stupid To Live and any time I tried to focus on her more awesome roommates, here came Sooper Genius Claire again. I couldn’t take it.

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