Ian McDonald’s Ares Express is sort of a sequel to Desolation Road. I say sort of because it’s set in the same world (Mars) but only has one character that’s in both books. While Desolation Road was all about these little stories being piled up on each other, Ares Express has a plot. A big ol’ saving the world kind of plot.
The main character, Sweetness Octave Glorious Honey-Bun Asiim Engineer 12th, is getting trapped into a marriage she doesn’t want so she takes off and uncovers a villain trying to destroy the world, to remake it for and by humans instead of machines. Her grandmother goes chasing after her. Through the story they meet a bunch of people and get help and Sweetness is very conscious of being in a Story, which is a tiny bit tiresome, but whatever.
The thing I felt was least satisfying about it was all the backstory given to the circus people. Once you’re about two thirds of the way into the book, Grandmother Taal is dealing with these people and we have to sit through all these explanations of where they came from that just bog the story down. If it was earlier, it wouldn’t be so frustrating but it felt so extraneous for what were minor but necessary characters. It kind of feels like they had a bigger role in the book earlier but got scrunched down to what they were.
That was really my only gripe. There was loads of awesome stuff like playing cards for years of your life and anarchist artists who were very good with explosives, and comedians as the saviours of humanity, and children being used as furniture and lots of mirrors and plunging headlong into things.
I think I prefer Desolation Road, because of its non-plottiness, but I was happy to go back to Mars in this one.