Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, November 18, 2013

1995: Fairyland (McAuley, Paul)

Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed (0/5)

I’m an adventurous reader, one willing to delve into an unknown book or an unknown author. I’m also a forgiving reader, one who gives second chances… and on occasion third, fourth, and fifth chances (Silverberg instantly springs to mind). The adventurous reader in me wanted to try a new modern author, so I picked up Paul McAuley’s In the Mouth of the Whale (2012) when it was first published; it was a confusing, wild ride which I didn’t enjoy the least bit. Then, the forgiving reader in me decided to follow a recommendation and read McAuley’s Fairyland. I’m also a bitter reader—these novels sucked.

Rear cover synopsis:
“In the twenty-first century Europe is divided between the First World bourgeoisie, made rich by nanotechnology and the cheap slave labour of genetically engineered Dolls, and the Fourth World of refugees and the homeless, displaced by war and economic turbulence.

Alex Sharkey is trying to make his mark as a designer of psychoactive viruses in London whilst staying one step ahead of the police and Triad gangs. He finds an unlikely ally in a scary-smart but dangerous child named Milena, but his troubles really begin when he unwittingly helps Milena quicken intelligence in a Doll. It is the first of the fairies.

Milena wants to escape forever to her own private Fairyland, but some of the Folk she has created have other ideas about where her destiny lies…”


I’ve finished many bad books. I suppose I had been enduring the long struggle for the valuable payoff at the conclusion of the novel, but those payoffs never came, hence my reference to the books as “bad”. There’s one book, Norman Spinrad’s Child of Fortune (1985), which I didn’t even bother to put a dent in before sloughing it off; I think I was about 5% of the way through and saw that the future looked bleak. Then here’s Paul McAuley’s Fairyland which I… just… could… not… finish.

I haven’t been this angry with a novel in a long while. Pardon me while I tear into this novel with some colorful language; much of it is exaggerated for entertainment sake.

I finished about two-thirds of it and gave up. Whatever payoff the novel had in store for me was NOT worth slogging knee-deep in self-referential bullshit. It felt like every other page had some new character or technology or new word to capitalize, but none of which added any direction towards the already meandering plot. How do I sum it up? It was like a wind tunnel-cum-circus mirror maze with projectile ping-pong balls. Visualize that then try to imagine the analogy to the novel. Even after reading 239 pages I still had no clue what was happening, who anyone was, what they were doing, why they were doing it, and in what fashion they were doing it… completely dumbstruck through all 239 pages.

There are more transient characters without personalities than any TSA staff lounge; each one was as useless, unremarkable, and forgettable than the next. It was like a mobile Mad Hatter’s tea party full of introverted window lickers; there was definitely pace and speed in the novel, however, there was no direction, no destination. As soon as I began to ask myself, “Who is this character?”, I would immediately realize that (1) I didn’t care or (2) they were abruptly gone a few pages later or (3) they were replaced by an equally as untalented sack of potatoes. I would rather have watched a quadriplegic mime act out the Vagina Monologues… in slow motion. I just couldn’t find a shred of care anywhere in my being to give to Fairyland, I couldn’t dredge up enough respect to apply any respect to the novel, I couldn’t spend another minute of my dying life to use any more brain cells trying to dismember the mutant bastard of a novel which landed on my lap. Mary Shelley would have been impressed with the deformity, ugliness, and foul stench of this enigmatic afterbirth.

“Fairyland isn’t a place … it’s a hyperevolutionary potential. It is where we can dream ourselves into being” (237). And like dreams, the content of Fairyland lacks any meaning. The odd offerings found in the novel attack the reader like a swarm of gnats—ignore it as much as you can, but in the end you start to swipe at the nebulous cloud, achieve nothing and get sweaty and irritated in the process. Don’t fight, just transplant yourself—move away from the swarm, move away from the novel.

Perhaps if you like Jeff Noon’s novel Pollen (1995), then you may actually like Paul McAuley because there are elements on cyberpunk in each along with bizarre dalliance of plot direction (or aimlessness). William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) was good but not fantastic for me, but some aspects of Gibson’s novel are blatantly found in McAuley’s novel, too; for example, the overuse of exotic-sounding nationalities of a globalized world. In Neuromancer, it was unique, but in Fairyland it’s repeated ad nauseam: Afghan, Albanian, Nigerian, Malaysian, Norwegian, Korean, Uzbekistani, Tongan, Lithuanian, Armenian, etc.

McAuley needs Ritalin and I need some Valium.


  1. Interesting that you should dislike this novel. It won two major awards: the Campbell and AC Clarke, and was shortlisted for the BSFA - an award that most parallels my own preferences. I have not read it, so your review perks my interest...

    Some of the commentary I have read about Fairyland states that it, like Kathleen Ann Goonan's Nanotech Quartet, Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, and Adam Robert's Stone among others, is a touch stone in the literature of nanotechnology. Care to comment, or is the frustration still bubbling?

  2. Nebula, Hugo, Campbell, Clarke... awards mean nothing to me. I don't think Fairyland even explored nanotechnology very well, just cursory plot setting and bizarre outcomes. I didn't feel educated by the book, entertained or enlightened - just frustrated, you're right.

  3. Reading this book was like slogging through mud. The best part was the ending.