Cover design by Neil Heacox
OUT ON BLUE SIX
Publisher: Open Road Media
First published: 1 April 1989
This edition published: 31 December 2013
On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)
In a far-future city where happiness and stability are law, a group of rebels will fight for what it means to be human
The Compassionate Society was designed as a utopia, where people’s genetic predispositions and aptitudes—rather than random choice—guide their lives, and pain of any kind is illegal. In the self-contained city, happiness is the most cherished value, and the Ministry of Pain swiftly prosecutes anyone who interferes with the contentment of another. For many of its citizens—who were matched to their jobs, spouses, and friends—the Compassionate Society is perfect. But to Courtney Hall, a political cartoonist, it is a place of stifling mediocrity. When her satirical work makes her a target of the government, Courtney goes on the run, only to discover an entire underground network of dissidents, each fighting against the stagnation imposed by the Compassionate Society—a struggle that could stand as humanity’s last chance for growth, innovation, and ultimately, survival.
This novel is somewhat surrealist in nature, at times you feel you are going down the proverbial rabbit hole. At times it has a feel of being Fantasy, but I would say this fits nicely into the Weird. The setting, for parts of the story at least, is pure Science Fiction and there are elements that are familiar for those that are versed in Earth-set Science Fiction.
There is two plot-strands here and although they have the similarity of both being journeys, they are very different journeys.
On the one hand we get a quest that owes much of its structure to Epic Fantasy, more specifically Quest Fantasy. Although I hasten to add that this is not anywhere near what you'd expect from Epic Fantasy. It is much more bizarre than that, and at times it takes turns that may be hard to follow for those that are not familiar with reading SFF. However it is this greatly imaginative quality that lifts this plot thread above the average for me. The plot becomes so unpredictable because it refuses to tie itself to the expected of such a quest that you are never quite certain where it will take you.
The other quest is more about personal discovery. It does begin with the, at this time, not uncommon narrative device of a main character who does not know who he is. But where McDonald takes it from there means it in no way feels like it is something you've seen before. Sure, there are familiar turns at some points. Parts of what is happening does seem familiar, but it is set in a narrative context that still makes this feel very fresh, even when read 25 years after the novel's first publication.
Taken overall, the novel is a joy to read, reading my review notes made me want to read it again. There's parts of this that are absolutely brilliant Science Fiction, and likewise parts that are excellent Quest Fantasy. When put together those two elements make for a great novel.
The page count is not very long for a SFF novel, but McDonald has managed to make this world come vividly to life with the words he has used. Other SFF novels certainly go into more detail about the world they are set in. However the feel you get for the world you are in is excellent here, and it brings you closer to how this society looks like than many novels who go on in much more detail.
As with the setting, the characters does not really get much detail given about them. They are more defined by their actions that by who they are, but I never thought that they were too flimsy as people. Learning more about them is simply not something you miss, the narrative just doesn't need you to get to know them in that way. You do however get a good feel for who they are, and in many respects what makes them tick. They are also very nice people to follow through the narrative. Both main and supporting characters come very much alive, and you can easily relate to them on enough levels that you feel comfortable with them.
When I was reading this, and in the time after that when I have thought about it, it's sort of hard for me to see why this book has almost disappeared. Granted, it does predate the New Weird by several years, and it does in some ways straddle the difficult Science Fiction/Fantasy gap but it is really an excellent SFF novel. That it wasn't reprinted, and re-marketed, when New Weird became popular is a bit baffling to me.
This is a SFF novel that deserves to be read widely. Fans of McDonald will recognise his style of storytelling, and if they haven't already read this they should remedy that at once. Other SFF fans would do well to pick this up also, and fans of China Miéville and other New Weird authors should definitely pick this up. With it's mix of Quest Fantasy and Earth-set Science Fiction it should be an excellent choice for any SFF fan.
NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this novel from the publisher/NetGalley.
REVIEWS: River of Gods Brasyl
LINK: Open Road Media