Fiction Reviews


(1995 / 2007) Paul J. McAuley, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8110-9


Over a decade on and Paul McAuley's Fairyland (1995) has been re-issued as part of the first clutch of Gollancz's new (2007) 'Future Classics' series. It is the early 21st century and the World is awash with migration, new technology, new economics, small wars, and an increasingly divided society of haves and have nots with many struggling to evade being caught in the latter. Set in Europe, Alex Sharkey is one of those using his wits trying to keep his head above water. He is an overweight molecular biologist whose products are borderline legal. Indeed as Fairland begins his current principal product -- a psychoactive virus -- will soon be illegal when a new law that has made it through the statutes comes into force. So there he is trying to do a deal to shift stock.

The first part of the book -- and it is divided into three distinct parts -- sees Alex waiting for a contact in a café/bar at St Pancras, London. The deal goes sour but soon is given an offer he cannot refuse by someone on the wrong side of the law to create part of a treatment that will enable the creation of a new type of genetically engineered doll this future society already uses as slave labour, recreation and as pets. This work is distinctly illegal and unethical, and Alex is caught on the spot as he is also an unwilling informer for a local copper who has it in for Alex's contractor. Along the way Alex encounters Milena who seems to be unnervingly street and techno wise plus with some seemingly supernatural abilities: there is a lot you can do if you are GM-ed and also have a good set of molecular biological goodies.

As Fairyland progresses, and Alex's adventures continue, we see the World change, due to genetic modification, molecular biology and nano-tech, into a fantastical 'fairyland'. The bio-dolls are central to this future.

McAuley's future is a grim one, and grimy too. Fairlyand itself has a noire feel to it of a 1950s gumshoe story, although it is decidedly set in the future and laced with SF tropes. Interestingly, if like me with nerdy moments, you are you are into things like dating SF, given it was first published in 1995 (so probably mainly written in 1994), Fairland has St Pancras as London's rail station for the Trans Euro-Express and as it happens this is now (2008) actually going to come to pass. Conversely, it also has smoking in public bars and cafés which (since July 2007) no longer happens. Well, SF has both its prediction winners and losers but it is rare to get two striking ones on the same opening page.

Less an adventure and more a murky, atmospheric odyssey, McAuley's Fairyland has a distinct appeal to those more into 'literary' SF than say 'sense-of-wonder'. In this sense one may wonder why Gollancz has included it in their new Future Classics series? The answer clearly is that their series (given the range of type of the first cohort of stories) cannot be pigeonholed into any one type of SF. While Fairyland has not had the popular acclaim of a Hugo or Locus award, it has won both an Arthur C. Clarke and a John W. Campbell Memorial award (this last not to be confused with the John W. Campbell award (no 'Memorial')). Checking out past winners of both these awards may help you decide whether or not Fairland is for you; personally, I prefer much of the rest of McAuley's oeuvre. However, if it is, then you are in for a real treat.

Jonathan Cowie

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