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Ares Express Paperback – April 27, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hugo-winner McDonald's virtues have long been underappreciated by major North American publishers, which may be why it took nine years for this sequel to 1988's Desolation Road to make it from the U.K. to the U.S. Dissatisfaction over an arranged marriage and an ill-considered act of charity sends Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th away from the train that was her home and into an epic journey across a terraformed far-future Mars. Sweetness's efforts to recover her twin sister's ghost from glib religious con man Devastation Harx entangle her in a conflict that spans time and multiple realities. McDonald's fantastic Mars is vividly detailed and owes much to Bradbury's Martian stories. Despite a bit of hand waving around technology that is glibly indistinguishable from magic, this sequel is entirely worthy of its rightly lauded predecessor. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviews from the time when Ares Express was first published in Britain, as well as recent reviews from the United States, expressed admiration for and awe at McDonald's imaginative clout. Critics who had read Desolation Road, his first novel, were also happy to return to that universe. What divided reviewers was McDonald's decision to bend the rules of SF world making to the point where the novel must almost be classified as "magical-realism-with-rivets." Of course, there is a long tradition of such fantastical rule flouting in science fiction, including Ray Bradbury's urtext, The Martian Chronicles. In the end, Ares Express may be less alien to fans of Gabriel García Márquez than to those of Arthur C. Clarke.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 389 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616141972
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616141974
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,589,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tyler Style on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While it's interesting to get some backstory on ROTECH and the Blessed Catherine, the story itself isn't particularly interesting and the main character not even particularly likable. Characters move in and out of events with either such agonizing slowness that one is bored to tears or so quickly that the impact is simply lost. I wouldn't bother reading this one, as it is bound to disappoint after Desolation Road.
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Format: Paperback
Ian McDonald, an author I generally like a lot, had a completely different take on storytelling in "Ares Express" (Pyr, $16, 388 pages), and though he had some interesting things to say about the classic heroic narrative, the book itself didn't work nearly as well as most of his efforts.

"Ares Express" is set on a terraformed Mars which is crisscrossed by fusion-powered trains, and the protagonist, Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th, is a typical young heroine who runs away from an arranged marriage into a series of improbable, if not impossible, adventures. McDonald is a skilled writer, but because his primary concern appears to be the nature of this kind of narrative, and what that means to the character of the protagonist, and the creative limitations placed on the author, the adventures themselves are almost an afterthought.

Usually, I roll through McDonald's books in a hurry, but "Ares Express" was more of a slog, and I would only recommend it to those who are already fans. Newbies should start with "Desolation Road" or "The Dervish House", which are better reads, if less illuminating on the process of writing these kinds of novels.
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Format: Paperback
Ares Express is the story of Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th, daughter to an engineer in a caste-system society which lives on the massive fusion-powered steam locomotives of Mars. She loves the locomotives and longs to be her trains's next Engineer, but while women drive trains in other places, other societies, they don't in hers; instead, her family arranges for her a marriage to a galley-supervisor on another train. She runs away instead, and soon lands herself in the position of being the only person on in the world who can save reality as she knows it.

The world McDonald creates is a breathtaking riot of people and cultures, technology and magic, dire threats and unlikely salvation, where the impossible is perfectly normal and the dramas of home and family and dreams and duty intertwine harmoniously with those of a threatened apocalypse. The characters, too, are a wonder---unlikely and fantastic to us, but fitting seamlessly into this technological fantasy-realm: Uncle Neon, the man who was struck by lightning on the tracks and whose consciousness now resides in a signal beacon; Grandmother Taal, who can work miracles with magic, but only on brown things; Little Pretty One, the ghost of Sweetness Octave's dead twin sister who is . . . rather more than that; Devastation Harx, who seeks to destroy all mechanical entities on the planet and above it from a human-powered flying cathedral, and Sweetness Octave herself, who intended to save herself from a destiny someone else would force upon her, and ends up tasked with doing the same for her entire planet.

Reading this book is a delightful experience---an epic heroic fantasy story, a journey through a fascinating world, and, like a frantic high-speed flight on a runaway nuclear locomotive, a truly spectacular ride.
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By A Customer on April 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
On Mars, Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th dreams of replacing her father as the Engineer of the Catherine of Tharsis train. However, she also knows of the gender ban as females are prohibited from driving trains. Now eight Martian years old, her family arranges her marriage to a Stuard clan, who drive a different train.

Headstrong, Sweetness rejects wedding the Stuard lad. Knowing her options is saying I do or running away, Sweetness flees her train home accompanied by Serpio Waymender of a lower caste clan as they only are a trackbuilding group. Her clan is disgraced and she is subject to execution for humiliating them amidst the train driving families. The runaways cross the desert seeking Devastation Harx, the leader of a mail-order religious clan living on an airship; the sect apparently has the sprit of Sweetness' dead twin sister "captured". However, her late sibling "Little Pretty One" is nothing like she expected and Sweetness learns the meaning of betrayal as Harx has plans for the twin to gain control over the angels who control the Martian climate. At the same her Grandmother Taal searches for her Sweetness.

The sequel to Desolation Road is a superb Martian thriller that reads more like a fantasy than a science fiction. The courageous obstinate heroine is terrific as she holds the fascinating but convoluted story line together while making a journey through all types of alternate Martian landscapes. Fans will relish Ares Express although keep the plausibility meter in the drawer as at times the plot goes over the top of Olympus Mons.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback
If I could sum up this novel with one single word, it would have to be "weird." In a good sort of way, mind you, but weird nonetheless. Big, ambitious, and multilayered the way all Ian McDonald books are, Ares Express also possesses a healthy dose of fun, wit, and absurdity which make this work quite different from what McDonald has accustomed us to in recent years. If Jack Vance, Terry Pratchett, and Hal Duncan had ever teamed up to write a book, they would have come up with something akin to Ares Express.

Hence, those readers who found novels such as River of Gods and Brasyl a bit too cerebral may enjoy Ares Express on a very different level. Just buckle up and get ready for quite a ride! Things don't always make sense, and at times one wonders what the heck is going on and where McDonald is going with this story, but stick with it to the end. Ares Express is a satisfying and rewarding read.

Here's the blurb:

A Mars of the imagination, like no other, in a colorful, witty SF novel, taking place in the kaleidoscopic future of Ian McDonald's Desolation Road, Ares Express is set on a terraformed Mars where fusion-powered locomotives run along the network of rails that is the planet's circulatory system and artificial intelligences reconfigure reality billions of times each second. One young woman, Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Asiim 12th, becomes the person upon whom the future--or futures--of Mars depends. Big, picaresque, funny; taking the Mars of Ray Bradbury and the more recent, terraformed Marses of authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Greg Bear, Ares Express is a wild and woolly magic-realist SF novel, featuring lots of bizarre philosophies, strange, mind-stretching ideas, and trains as big as city blocks.
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