Time traveller

<strong>Brasyl</strong>

Ian McDonald <em>Gollancz, 512pp, £12.99</em>

“Of course they are caught between the ritual assassins of a transdimensional conspiracy and mysterious saviours.” So reasons Mr Peach, quantum physics professor and superhero fetishist, as his cross-dressing toy boy arrives at his door with a dead girlfriend’s doppelgänger. Brasyl is a sci-fi mystery set in the past, the present, the future and somewhere in between.

In modern-day Rio, we follow a capoeira-kicking TV producer as she investigates the disappearance of a goalkeeper. In São Paolo, in 2032, a favela-born businessman sinks into the murky world of black-market quantum physics. Meanwhile, in 1732, a Jesuit Father drifts into the Brazilian wilderness in search of a rogue priest.

Ian McDonald is one of the more politically engaged science-fiction writers working today. His best-known novels have tackled such issues as Aids in Africa and the partition of India. Here he touches upon urban poverty and surveillance culture, but his focus is resolutely on the science. His characters casually discuss the differences between string theory and loop quantum gravity over breakfast or after sex, which may explain (in part) Mr Peach’s assertion that “physics is love”. Though at times convoluted and over-ambitious, Brasyl is a unique thriller of ideas.