The Great Wheel by Ian R Macleod

May 9, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

In this book Ian Macleod shows two great strengths as a writer: evocative scenes and realistic character. Unfortunately, you could argue that his characters, in particular his main character, are a little too realistic. Additionally the mood he his evoking is a mellow, sad feeling about lost opportunities and small dreams. This feeds into the realism of the main character: lost opportunities and small ambitions are very realistic. However, that’s not necessarily something you want to read about. The book concerns the interactions between the first world, represented by Europe and particularly the main character’s (and Macleod’s) Britain, and the third world, represented here by a massive slum covering hundreds of square miles of polluted, radiation-poisoned ground in the Middle East. The main character is a first world doctor at a missionary hospital trying to help the poor in the face of apathy from his fellow Europeans and resentment from those he wants to help. There’s no way an even mildly realistic story along these lines can hope to resolve the problems of its world, or even the problems of its character. Macleod is going for an exploration of and meditation on these themes and while he certainly succeeds the result is curiously unfulfilling. It’s not easy to put a finger on but I’ve decided the problem is this really shouldn’t be a science fiction novel. This criticism threatens to open up a whole other can of worms, but for the moment let’s just say that while I feel SF at its best is always about humanity and the present, a book loses a lot of immediacy by taking problems of today, transplanting them 60 years in the future, and drastically changing the societal structure around them. If Macleod was trying to do a strong allegory I missed it, and failing that while the overall themes are certainly similar his de-nationalized and amorphous third world just doesn’t snyc up with our problems today. My insistence that it does comes from the nature of the book: a sad and heartfelt examination of the contradictions of the first/third world interactions. If I don’t feel like it is relevant to present times, then I just don’t really care, and that leaves the book with very little to stand on. Hopefully you can see from this that The Great Wheel is a good, well-written book that just didn’t connect with me. I’m sure others will find it to be brilliant. Recommended to those who are looking for a book without whiz-bang action but character and introspection.

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