Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Brasyl by Ian McDonald

It's drowning in books time again. Having ordered a bunch of books from Amazon (previous post) I then got three books from the library, including Brasyl - the subject of this post - and then the Amazon Vine newsletter arrived, and I couldn't resist something about Trotsky and something else about D-Day, weather forecasting and the maths of chaos.

Anyway, back to Brasyl.

The Amazon.com readers' reviews are a linear roll-off from 5-stars to 1-star. The folk who hated it deride McDonald for pretentiousness, undelivered aspirations to literary styling and a plot development which they describe as soporific. Oh yes, and they also hate his abundant sprinkling of Portuguese words throughout.

I loved it.

Here's the plot summary from Wikipedia:

Brasyl is a story presented in three distinct strands of time. The main action concerns Marcelina Hoffman; a coked-up, ambitious reality TV producer in contemporary Brazil, a striving amateur capoeirista who transcends the cliches of luvvy television phony and becomes a full-fledged, truly likable person as we watch her embark upon a mad new project. Marcelina is going to find the disgraced goalie who lost Brazil a momentous World Cup half a century before and trick him into appearing on television for a mock trial in which the scarred nation can finally wreak its vengeance.

Another strand is set in mid-21st century São Paulo, at a moment when the first quantum technologies are reaching the street, which industriously finds its own use for these things. Q-blades that undo the information that binds together the universe, Q-cores that break the crypto that powers the surveillance state that knows every movement of every person and object in Sampa and beyond.

The final strand is a 18th century Heart of Darkness adventure in the deep Amazon jungle, as we follow an Irish-Portuguese Jesuit into slaver territory where he is sent to end the mad, bloody kingdom of a rogue priest who scours the land with plague and fire. He is joined by a French natural philosopher, who intends to reach the equator and discover the shape of the world with a pendulum.

Worth the effort of engagement and why hasn't it received a major award yet?

Note: Within the colourful cultural immersion of Brasyl, there is a central plot due solely to hard physics, inspired by David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality. There are nods to String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity (his character inclines towards the latter but it doesn't seem essential). However, the good guys do seem to require the non-information-loss solution to the black hole information paradox for plot resolution.

Did I mention that the ontology for the novel is the MWI?