Evolution’s Shore, Ian McDonald

Bantam Spectra, 1995, 401 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-553-57309-8

Once upon a time, in a country far away, a few happy people were sitting somewhere. Then, suddenly, a man came to them and said “It’s coming!”. They looked at him. “It’s coming!” he said again. “What is coming?” they asked. “IT’s coming!” the man said. Then he left.

The people, now less happy, wondered what was coming. So they waited, and they wondered. Then they waited some more and wondered some more.

And then IT came.

End of story.

Quoting from the back cover:

“It began with strange activities on one of Saturn’s moons. Then came the meteor strike on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, followed by an alien infestation by a strange vegetative life-form. For Gaby McAslan and her SkyNet news team, this is the story of a lifetime. As the Dark Continent becomes a frenzied backdrop of apocalyptic anticipation, Gaby fights to be the first to get to the truth.

It the alien infestation an invasion or a gift? Does it mean destruction or evolution? Does it spell the final chapter for humanity… or just the beginning?”

Bad news: You will never get the answers to these questions.

Good news: Evolution’s Shore is good enough that you might never notice.

Evolution’s Shore follows the adventures of Gaby McAslan, (a Slan?) a video-journalist covering the ceaseless expansion of an alien life-form in Africa. It’s an enjoyable ride: McDonald writes well, and maintains an effective level of intellectual tension throughout.

Characterisation is okay, although the members of Gaby’s news teams remain a bit out of focus, which is unfortunate when bad things begin happening to them. As for the protagonist… since this is a “serious” science-fiction novel, Gaby’s psyche is thoroughly examined and explored. Her sexual hang-ups are described in detail and her mental anguish often takes precedence over plot development.

One shining aspect of the novel is are the vivid images written by McDonald. Evolution’s Shore contains several memorable scenes, which help make the book stick in memory some time after you’ve turned the final page. The author’s imagination shines through.

However, it is unfortunate that this imagination stops before the ending: Evolution’s Shore teases but does not deliver. The novel breaks off at the moment of ultimate revelation and we are left wondering at the outcome of it all. Maybe McDonald is preparing a sequel, but as such, Evolution’s Shore is a disappointment as a self-contained novel.

Nevertheless, given the well-written prose, mesmerizing scenes, overall interest and original premise, Evolution’s Shore is well worth a read. Far too few novels deal with Africa, evolution-beyond-humans or original alien concepts… It’s a shame that it brings back memories of Waiting for Godot, but then again, Waiting for Godot wasn’t entirely bad.

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