(2001) Ian McDonald, Earthlight, £7.99, pbk, 553pp, ISBN 0-671-03754-4
Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th would like to drive the train Catherine of Tharsis, but women are not allowed to drive. She is expected instead to marry one of the Stuard clan of another train. So she runs away with the ghost of her dead Siamese twin, Little Pretty One, and a waymender, Serpio. The ghost is stolen by Devastation Harx, who intends to make war on the AI's of ROTECH, the architects of reality as far as this planet is concerned. Her grandmother, Taal, is searching for her, but she becomes entangled with United Artists, the covert security forces of the government. When Harx gains control of the reality shaping AI's, all Hell is liable to break loose and, funnily enough, that's also more or less United Artists' plan to defeat him! Can Sweetness, the Feisty and Resourceful (But Cute With It) Heroine, survive the trials of the story she has become, or will Harx and the Ever Circling Spiritual Family in their flying cathedral win the day?
McDonald successfully revisits the world of his first novel, Desolation Road, in an amusing romp through multiple realities and rather long proper names. His musical tastes are on show, as always, as he liberally 'borrows' song titles and lyrics to weave into the narrative. He also acknowledges the plethora of 'Mars' books, past and recent, with little glimpses of them here and there. I enjoy the more bizarre qualities of his imagination, bordering the surreal and the absurd, but all the while maintaining a respectable pace through the plot. The twist and turns of events are quite vignette-ish, with each pleasurable on its own terms. The main plus point of the book is the extremely likeable heroine, who one can actually root for, rather than plod after, though the whole is little more than a pleasing bit of fluff. Nothing wrong with that - not every book has to be deep and worthy you know...
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