Ares Express

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Overview

A Mars of the imagination, like no other, in a colorful, witty SF novel; Taking place in the kaleidoscopic future of Ian McDonald's Desolation Road, Ares Express is set on a terraformed Mars where fusion-powered locomotives run along the network of rails that is the planet's circulatory system and artificial intelligences reconfigure reality billions of times each second. One young woman, Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Asiim 12th, becomes the person upon whom the future - or futures - of Mars depends. Big, ...
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Ares Express

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Overview

A Mars of the imagination, like no other, in a colorful, witty SF novel; Taking place in the kaleidoscopic future of Ian McDonald's Desolation Road, Ares Express is set on a terraformed Mars where fusion-powered locomotives run along the network of rails that is the planet's circulatory system and artificial intelligences reconfigure reality billions of times each second. One young woman, Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Asiim 12th, becomes the person upon whom the future - or futures - of Mars depends. Big, picaresque, funny; taking the Mars of Ray Bradbury and the more recent, terraformed Marses of authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Greg Bear, Ares Express is a wild and woolly magic-realist SF novel, featuring lots of bizarre philosophies, strange, mind-stretching ideas and trains as big as city blocks.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Hugo-winner McDonald’s virtues have long been underappreciated by major North American publishers… McDonald’s fantastic Mars is vividly detailed and owes much to Bradbury’s Martian stories. Despite a bit of hand waving around technology that is glibly indistinguishable from magic, this sequel is entirely worthy of its rightly lauded predecessor [Desolation Road]."
             -Publishers Weekly

“An inventive, twisty writing style that takes some getting used to makes Ares Express a challenging read… those willing to commit will be rewarded with a colorful, mind-bending tale. Laced with fantastical elements, constantly shifting realities that can be difficult to follow and an intriguing cast, McDonald’s unique vision of Mars and its people moves well beyond the usual depictions.  Four stars = Compelling - Page Turner.”
               -RT Book Reviews 
 
“The sequel to Desolation Road is a superb Martian thriller that reads more like a fantasy than a science fiction.  The courageous obstinate heroine is terrific as she holds the fascinating but convoluted story line together while making a journey through all types of alternate Martian landscapes.  Fans will relish Ares Express…”
            -Harriet Klausner in Midwest Book Review               

“The mission is engaging enough, involving machines worshiped as angels and manifold realities as weapons; but the real fun is in the journey, filled with a colorful cast of characters…[McDonald] is hilarious, and his Sweetness is an amusing companion for a long afternoon.”
            -Sacramento/San Francisco Book Review 

"This fantastic (in every sense of the word) and narratively solid book deserves to be read, and read again.  There are passages that beg to be spoken aloud in order to fully appreciate the unique and often musical word combinations that McDonald has so masterfully crafted…[Pyr] is to be congratulated on bringing out this brilliant book…”
            -World Literature Today, Editor’s Choice 

“McDonald gingerbreads the all-important locomotives with steampunk detailing. These metafictional devices are enjoyable for readers who are in the know, and not disruptive for readers who aren’t…it’s a treasury of extrapolative and imaginative SF delights.”
            -Fantasy Magazine 
 
“McDonald’s visions are grand and his prose is lyrical enough to depict them the way they deserve. Ares Express takes the reader to a new and delightfully wonderful world; you’ll decidedly want to go along for this ride.”
            -Analog Science Fiction & Fact

Publishers Weekly
Hugo-winner McDonald’s virtues have long been underappreciated by major North American publishers, which may be why it took nine years for this sequel to 1988’s Desolation Road to make it from the U.K. to the U.S. Dissatisfaction over an arranged marriage and an ill-considered act of charity sends Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th away from the train that was her home and into an epic journey across a terraformed far-future Mars. Sweetness’s efforts to recover her twin sister’s ghost from glib religious con man Devastation Harx entangle her in a conflict that spans time and multiple realities. McDonald’s fantastic Mars is vividly detailed and owes much to Bradbury’s Martian stories. Despite a bit of hand waving around technology that is glibly indistinguishable from magic, this sequel is entirely worthy of its rightly lauded predecessor. (Apr.)
SF Crowsnest
....one of the strangest, weirdest, fantastic reads of your life.
SF Site
Ares Express is a long, adventure-filled, extravagantly colourful, often funny, quite moving, highly imaginative, excellently written, story, set on a glorious Mars built partly of sharp-edged Kim Stanley Robinson-style extrapolation, but mostly of lush, loving, Ray Bradbury-style semi-SF, semi-Fantasy, Martian dreams. ...I loved it wholeheartedly.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616141974
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Pages: 332
  • Sales rank: 1,388,541
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian McDonald is the author of Planesrunner, Be My Enemy, and Empress of the Sun, in the Everness series. He has written thirteen science fiction novels--including the 2011 John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner for Best Novel, The Dervish House--as well as Brasyl, River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, Ares Express, Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, Out on Blue Six, Chaga, and Kirinya.  He's been nominated for every major science fiction award, and even won some. McDonald also works in television and in program development--all those reality shows have to come from somewhere--and has written for screen as well as print. He lives in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast, and loves to travel.
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Read an Excerpt

Ares Express


By Ian McDonald

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2010 Ian McDonald
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-197-4


Chapter One

Here comes Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th. She is eight, and this is the manner of her coming.

First, you see the sand. It is red and of a particular grain type produced only by wind action. It smells electric; there is much iron in it. It draws lightning out of the occasional clouds; once or twice in a long year, rain. Where the lightning strikes, veins of slag-iron strike deep into the sand. This is rust-sand, strewn profligately about this contourless landscape. Red sand, rust-sand, red dust, a desert of iron studded with ugly stones. The wind never ceases out here on the plains of the high high north. It has teased the sand into steep-sided ridges, long meandering sifs, crescent moon barchans. This is a sinuous, sensual landscape, curves and seductions from the slip-sliding dunefaces to the curve of the close horizon.

A solitary hard erection confronts the soft northern desert of iron. Five metres high, a slim steel shaft, scabbed by the excoriating winds, scarred by summer lightning. It is a natural victim for summer lightning. On top of the shaft, three lights, red topmost, amber in the middle, on the bottom, green. Signal lights. In the middle of a rust-desert.

Now you see the rail. Two perfectly parallel lines of Bethlehem Ares steel, rolled in the mills of New Merionedd, married together by pourstone sleepers, tied down by figure-of-eight tie-bolts: pinned, plated and bolted. Straight and absolute as a geometrical proposition. Get down. Hunker down-not too low, under this sun your cheek will stick to the hot rail and rip. Just enough to sight along them, gun-barrels aimed at the place where horizon and heat-dazzle meet and melt. Straight and absolute. You can go over the edge of the world and they'll run straight and absolute for seven hundred kilometres. In the cabs of the big transcontinentals there are red buttons that the engineers must touch every twenty seconds or the brakes will automatically apply. It's easy to fall asleep over the speed levers out here. It's a hypnotic land. It draws your soul out through your staring eyes along the twin steel rails, to whatever dwells in the silver shimmer at the edge of the world. Occasional track-side tangles of sand-polished metal prove the dangers that lie in the long straight track.

But we drive ahead of ourselves here. We must stay a while at the signal light, and ask questions. Why signal what? What is there in this dust and rust of any significance? Two things. The first is the passing loop. This patch of desert is the only place within two hundred kilometres where trains may pass and gain access to the single mainline. Here crews exchange ancient brass tokens-part key, part shield-to unlock the line. Conversations too, news and gossip, sometimes family members, or body fluids, if they are the big slow ore-haulers whose timetables allow a little society. The second thing is that, if you look up the line, you will see it part company with itself. This is Borealis Junction: one line drives forcefully on into the snow country of the north pole, where the cold can glue an Engineer's hand to the throttles as this heat will seal flesh to steel. Up and over the top of the world, and down into the old lands of Deuteronomy and Dioscu: green places replete with grazers and herd-beasts, where every village roof-tree is high and holy with prayer kites. The other line drifts to port until it curves out of sight among the thunderous chasms of Fosse mountains, spanned by treacherous trestle bridges and pour-stone viaducts, that disgorge nerve-wracked Engineers out on to the bleak mesa-lands of Isidy. For half a quartersphere the lines are drawn together by mutual magnetism until they meet once again at Schiaparelli Junction to run westward along the vast synclinorium of Great Oxus and the thousand towns of Grand Valley, where theWorldroof sparkles on the horizon like a reef of morning-lit cloud.

So this signal light is more than an arbitrary stop-go in the wilderness. It is the prefect of line safety, it is guardian of the line tokens, it is the gateway to new landscapes. And, no less than any of these, it is Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer l2th's Uncle.

It is time she made her entrance.

You become aware that the rail burning the sole of your desert boot is trembling. Bend down-don't touch! Yes. Rail humming. Train coming. You squint under the shade of your hand down the long straight line. What is real and what is potential is still undecided in that haze. But the rails are singing now: a deep, tight, harmonious keening. A sharp dry clack. You have to look around at the nothingness several times before you can see the small but significant change. The points have switched on to the passing loop.

Peer again: shapes moving in the haze, flowing so you cannot be certain it is one thing or many. Silver in silver. Then the shadows flow, silver out of silver: a winged woman, wing-arms folded back, breasts out-thrust, hair streaming in the wind. In your amazement you almost do not notice that the track is roaring. Red dust bounces up from between the sleepers. Now you realise your mistake. This is no angel. Its shadow flows out behind it into a shield of darkness: you are looking at the boiler-cap and figurehead of a great train. A very great train indeed: the faceless land has been playing tricks with your perspective. You had thought the winged woman pixie sized, maybe a medium-grade Amshastria, but close and manageable. No. This silver angel-woman is enormous, the curved prow of the boiler gargantuan. The train is kilometres away. But it is very very big. Airship big. City-block big. Ocean-liner big, if this world had oceans fit for liners. The buffer plates, held out like a prize-fighter's weaving fists, are three metres across. The cowcatcher, baroquely ornamented with figures from the Ekaterina Angelography, could sweep entire phyla from its path. The eight bogies are each the height of a decent house: the spokes of the drive wheels are the crucified arms of windmills. The drive shafts, the thickness of a thick man's body, pump with the regular, tireless ease of a Belladonna sweat-house laddie. The headlamp is a monstrous cyclops eye, furious with heat, all revealing. It is hooded now, but with the magic hour, it sends its sheer white shaft kilometres ahead of it, a vanguard of the divine. The steam that blasts from the sharply raked stack is so hot that it travels a third the length of the fusion boiler before it condenses into visibility. This train leaves a pure white contrail downtrack for ten kilometres.

Another glance at that smoke-stack. Down at the base, where it flares into the main caisson, is that a handrail? Are those staircases, is that a balcony? Those gleams of highlight, could they be windows? There, just above the halo of the Bethlehem Ares Railroads angel, is that an arc of glass, like the bridge of a ship? And balancing precariously on the swept-back piston housings, spilling steps and ladders over the buffer cylinders, what else can those be but low buildings? A swathe of bungalows clings to the skirts of Bethlehem Ares Railroads Class 22 Heavy Fusion Hauler Catherine of Tharsis. And there, on that perilous railed-in viewpoint underneath the smoke-stack, is that a figure?

Nearer now. Yes, a sun-brown lank of a female dressed in the uniform orange track vest of her clan over a flirty floral-print frock. A tousle of black curls tosses around her face, combed back from great cheekbones by the speed of passage.

And now you notice how close the train is to you. Too much time spent staring at the girl on the high balcony. It's on top of you. You should-you must-run. But you cannot. The whole world is quaking to the pound of the engines, and you are transfixed in its track like a hopper in headlights. A steel avalanche rears over you. Crushing death pants in your face. The black and silver angel looms over you like judgement, and turns away. Catherine of Tharsis swings on to the passing loop, tucking her three kilometre tail neatly behind her. Brakes shriek, steel and grit bite and grind. It takes a lot of space for the big transpolars to stop. This is by no means the largest. There are tripleheaders hauling ten kilometres out of Iron Mountain. The magic thousand trucks. Those mothers are visible from orbit, like steel rivers.

The caboose clears the points. It's a frantic congeries of railroad utility and Cathrinist whimsy. No Step Here, with hand-painted round-eyed icons of the Seven Sanctas. Grit boxes and prayer flags, now windless and limp. The Bassareeni are a gaudy people. Socially below the salt, but the Engineers have always got on well with them, outside the Forma. There was a mingling of genes some generations back. The Stuards have never forgiven, never forgotten, but the Stuards are a notoriously anal Domiety.

A trickle, a creep, a hiss of steam. Thirty-three thousand tons of Bethlehem Ares steel balances on two ten-centimetre ribbons of metal under the hot, high sun.

Clunk. The points have switched over again, back to the mainline. The signal light has gone from caution to green. New train coming. But that is not part of your story. Your story is ended here. Your part as observer of these events is complete. Your eyes have shown us what only the desert things and God the Panarchic see, at this forsaken junction in the high polar desert. You are dissolved back into a greater story that begins here, the story of Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Ares Express by Ian McDonald Copyright © 2010 by Ian McDonald. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    a superb Martian thriller

    On Mars, Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th dreams of replacing her father as the Engineer of the Catherine of Tharsis train. However, she also knows of the gender ban as females are prohibited from driving trains. Now eight Martian years old, her family arranges her marriage to a Stuard clan, who drive a different train.

    Headstrong, Sweetness rejects wedding the Stuard lad. Knowing her options is saying I do or running away, Sweetness flees her train home accompanied by Serpio Waymender of a lower caste clan as they only are a trackbuilding group. Her clan is disgraced and she is subject to execution for humiliating them amidst the train driving families. The runaways cross the desert seeking Devastation Harx, the leader of a mail-order religious clan living on an airship; the sect apparently has the sprit of Sweetness' dead twin sister "captured". However, her late sibling "Little Pretty One" is nothing like she expected and Sweetness learns the meaning of betrayal as Harx has plans for the twin to gain control over the angels who control the Martian climate. At the same her Grandmother Taal searches for her Sweetness.

    The sequel to Desolation Road is a superb Martian thriller that reads more like a fantasy than a science fiction. The courageous obstinate heroine is terrific as she holds the fascinating but convoluted story line together while making a journey through all types of alternate Martian landscapes. Fans will relish Ares Express although keep the plausibility meter in the drawer as at times the plot goes over the top of Olympus Mons.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted August 23, 2013

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