Fiction Reviews

River of Gods

(2004) Ian McDonald, Simon & Schuster, 17.99, hrdbk, 484pp, ISBN 0-7432-5669-7


India, 2047, one hundred years after independence, fractured into smaller states. Shiv is a crook trying to cope with the bottom falling out of his organ-harvesting business and debt collectors who send military-class robots as their assassins. Mr Nandha is a Krishna Cop; he hunts rogue AIs while his wife, Parvati, dreams of a rooftop garden and fitting in to town society. Shaheen Badoor Khan is the Private Parliamentary Secretary and trusted advisor of his Prime Minister, but harbours secret lusts. Najia is a reporter looking for a big story and soon things will go her way. Lisa is a scientist entrusted with a secret, a secret which sends her on a journey to find her mentor and ex-lover Professor Lull, a man who is trying to get away from it all. Tal is a nute, surgically altered to have no gender, yt (sic) works on the totally CGI'd soap opera Town and Country. And Vishram Ray is a stand-up comedian summoned back from Scotland to take over one third of Ray Power, the research and development section where baby universes are made. Their paths will cross and entwine in a story of love and intrigue, drama and drudgery, sin and redemption which leads to an explanation of a seven and a half billion year old alien artifact in an Earth-crossing orbit from a time when there was no Earth.

McDonald tells a tightly wrought story, full of invention and intent. The number of characters and the complexities of their stories would have been easy to lose control of amid all the wonders and mundane realities. The Indian background is rich and deep, with its wars between neighbouring states over water, the iceberg project (a metaphorical image of the book), the soap opera obsession mirroring the characters' soap opera lives, the political dirty dealing and the scientific curiosities. This is a fully realised world and McDonald has deftly woven it from a dozen different directions and which are the good guys and which the bad depends to a large extent upon your own ideas. This is probably McDonald's most mature novel yet and recommended to both those familiar and unfamiliar with his work alike.

Tony Chester

Jonathan's has also done a review of River of Gods.

Also reviewed on this site Ian McDonald's Ares Express.

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