cover image Great Wheel

Great Wheel

Ian R. MacLeod. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100293-1

The futuristic plot of MacLeod's intelligent, inventive debut, though complex, is well-crafted and suspenseful, and the tensions between his well-rounded characters are convincing and absorbing. Likewise, the book's major conflict--between the refined European heritage of the book's hero, Father John Alston, and the poverty-stricken Third World of the fictional North African locale of the Magulf, the location for his missionary work--is as old as recorded history. The clash between these worlds is cultural and technological: Europeans are implanted with disease-fighting synthetic DNA that causes deadly allergic reactions among the Magulf's population, the Borderers (derogatorily called ""Gogs""). Alston's religious doubts and homesickness subside as he explores the ravaged but exotic urban sprawl of the Endless City, whose rust-tinged atmosphere is not controlled by the Net (a souped-up version of our Internet), where shaman-like ""witchwomen"" lead the Borderers in paganesque religious festivals and where Koyil, a leaf that's mildly narcotic when chewed, is ubiquitous. Alston's investigation into a link between Koyil and leukemia leads him into an affair with Laurie Kalmar, a brilliant Borderer who works the Net in the European-governed Zone. A serious, thoughtful work of futuristic fiction, this haunting novel is a bridge between Huxley's Brave New World and Frank Herbert's Dune. (Aug.)