The review is originally available at Realms of Speculative Fiction
Ian McDonald - BRASYL
When I began reading "Brasyl", I could hardly believe that it was nominated for many prestigious awards (2007 Quill Book Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award, 2008 Hugo and Locus), not to mention that it won 2008 British SF Association Award. It was supposed to be a great book, but for me, it felt long-winded, full of unnecessary explanations and sometimes, a bit too complicated. But since I have a personal policy to finish the book I start reading, I forced myself to continue instead of putting the book back on the shelf. Lucky for me, I guess! It certainly is a very good book, even if it falls a bit short of greatness.
McDonald's style impressed me. It is obvious that he knows the subject he's writing on and the way he goes about it; even at the beginning, when I was still unsure what to think of the book, it was clear to me that McDonald is a master of style. The plot was another matter, though - the three main characters, each of them positioned in his or hers own era (2032, 2006 and 1732), were presented with great care and detail, but the point of the novel was nowhere to be seen and the story moved at sluggish pace. A great part of "Brasyl" consists of three people living their lives without a hint of connection between them, and frankly, I'm not really a fan of such stories. But, to my relief, things started happening soon, the plot evolved and connections began to uncover, if slowly; after the first part of the book, it finally becomes clear that there is something bigger going on behind the scenes.
Although the book's genre is SF, not all three protagonists come from the future. Father Luis is a Jesuit missionary, sent to punish a disobeying priest in the middle of Amazon rain forest - which is a perfectly normal thing to happen since Father Luis lives in the 18th century. Marcelina, a Rio TV producer who is always hunting for provocative and scandalous stories, is a woman of our present, addicted to Botox and knowing no shame. Only Edson, a guy from 2032, could be regarded as a typical SF character, but even so, the problems he deals with are not very futuristic. What makes "Brasyl" a science fiction book is the idea behind the novel - a theory of parallel worlds. You may already heard of it before, since it's pretty widespread (I first learned of it a few years ago). It is, however, presented surprisingly well, awing the reader and making him think, at which point "Brasyl" becomes one of those addictive can't-put-it-down books.
If you're not familiar with modern Brazilian slang, you might have some trouble with the dialogue which is heavily tinged with the said slang. There is a glossary at the back, but it's not really handy to constantly flip between the pages. Both pure Spanish and slang words add a lot to the atmosphere, but at the same time, they make "Brasyl" harder to read.
Long story short, everything more or less serves its purpose in "Brasyl". Long introductions to the lives of Marcelina, Edson and Father Luis seem redundant at first, but later on you see how the happening creeps slowly into their everyday and overwhelms it, which (at least for me) felt as a fresh and welcome take on the matter. Also, the seemingly unimportant details turn out to be crucial for the story, and the above mentioned slang words add to the overall atmosphere. "Brasyl" is a very good book written with style, but it has its flaw - the long, confusing beginning. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend it to all SF fans.