In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Ian McDonald to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “Recording Angel.”
It’s part of much bigger sequence that began way back in a novella for Asimov’s in 1990 called “Towards Kilimanjaro,” known informally as the “Chaga Saga”—the alien visitation that seems to be terraforming the southern hemisphere into someone else’s terra. All the works are set in East Africa, a part of the world I have been to often and that I love very much. It’s a cliché that when the aliens arrive, they appear over the White House, or Tiananmen Square. But why shouldn’t they arrive in the developing world? Why should they not appear in East Africa—why shouldn’t they land on Kilimanjaro? Kenya is a robust and inventive culture—they made the jump from an essentially iron age society to a mechanised one in two generations—I thought it would be interesting to seem them bring that same attitude to the jump from an industrial society to a nanotechnological one—which is what the Chaga brings, albeit at a high price.
Initially, when Gaby goes deeper the country for her story, she feels none of the fascination for the Chaga that others, including celebrities, seem to hold. Why do you think the Chaga don’t interest her (at first)?
She’s at work. She’s there to get the story. This story is an out-take from the novel Evolution’s Shore/Chaga, (title depends where you live) that seemed to stand on its own. By the time it happens, Gaby is well used to the Chaga—she’s been up close to it (but not into it) many times. What interests her is the attitude of the others, the globe-trotting celebrity disaster party, which, like the Chaga, will eat it up move on somewhere else.
Prenderleith, the Last White Hunter, longs for a world that no longer exists. What inspired his character?
White Africans are interesting people. They have been in Africa often for hundreds of years, but in the past century they have seen vast social and political change. Privileges and power have changed radically. There can be a sense of nostalgia, and sometimes a retreat from the present day into the certainties of landscape and wildlife. Those things don’t change. Prenderleith’s realisation is that the transformation the Chaga is working on his Kenya—his home, his beloved country, is in effect preserving all the wild things he thought he was losing.
Gaby recognizes by the end of the story that change is a gift. How you think her life changes after this experience?
You can find out if you read Chaga/Evolution’s Shore, and, if you can track it down, the sequel Kirinya. She goes through dark times. She loses years and she loses home, but, as you say, she accepts change, and she becomes a player in the emerging politics of the southern, Chaga-transformed world.
You’ve written several novels revolving around the Chaga, entitled the Chaga Saga. Were they born from “Recording Angel”? Do you think you’ll ever revisit Gaby and her story?
No, the sequence is “Towards Kilimanjaro,” Chaga/Evolution’s Shore, “Recording Angel,” Kirinya, and Tendeleo’s Story. I do have the final volume of the Chaga Saga plotted out, but it’s getting round to it. But I wouldn’t like to leave her, and her daughter Serena, and Faraway, the cameraman who becomes a major Chaga diplomat to the North (not giving too much away here) in limbo forever.
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