By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

Gaby McAslan is a journalist, with special interest in the ‘Chaga’, an alien ecosystem spreading in the heart of Africa, amongst other places, after meteorites crash on Earth, following an earlier event in the Saturn system. Whilst being a hard-nosed journalist, she is irresistibly drawn to the Chaga (named for the first tribe in Kenya displaced by the spread).

I’m not really sure how to describe this book further. The first half of the book is very much about Africa, and Kenya in particular. Gaby finally gets posted to East Africa and the book is about her relationships there. The Chaga is a background, but Africa itself is very much to the fore. McDonald has form in this, with books such as River of Gods and The Dervish House being set in India and Turkey respectively, and where the setting is as much a character as any of the humans. Even when a man walks out of the Chaga (a feat believed to be impossible) with a message, it never really comes to the fore.

It’s only when Gaby finally makes a trek into the Chaga, does it finally come alive and we start to gain a feel for it, although one of the issues that I had with the book, is that that feeling seems vague, and you never really get much sense of what sort of potential threat that it could be, apart from the very human one of it expanding across Africa, and the UN attempting to evacuate people, towns, cities and eventually whole countries. The Chaga is eventually described as a sort of melting pot for evolution, with it changing the populations, but also learning from them and adapting itself to meet their needs.

The book very much felt like one of two halves, with the first being about Africa and the second more about the Chaga, and I’m not really sure how well the two meshed. After making a big fuss about the disappearance and re-emergence of the moon Hyperion as an object coming into Earth orbit, that sort of trails off. I’m not sure if it’s being left for the sequel, or if it just fizzled out, but I found the end quite unsatisfactory.

However, the descriptions of Kenya and its people and land were marvellous, and one of the major reasons that I read McDonald.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575060524
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1995

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