EPS Review #115 - River of Gods

River of Gods, by Ian McDonald 575pp

I bought this in the airport on the way to Madrid, because it had a blurb by Iain M Banks: 'One of the best SF books I've read this year'. The story is set in near-future India, which has splintered into smaller states warring over water. The first nine chapters each cover nine different characters, which means that the plot takes a while to get going, and is a trifle confusing once it does. But I prefer to have too much going on than too little. The culture of Varanasi and the surrounding area seem well-portrayed, though I am no expert. I liked the fastidious "Krishna cop" whose job is to "excommunicate" any AIs that get too smart. And I liked the "nute" subplot, about those who have had gender-removal surgery. I wanted to like the drop-out Kerala-dwelling computer scientist, but did not, quite. Some of these subplots could have been tightened up, and the narrative drive improved. The takes on AIs were fresh: that they would be distributed, that locality would not mean much to them, that their thought processes might overlap and contain a hierarchy of awarenesses, that intelligence depends on environment, and the cyber-environment is nothing like ours. There is a tiny bit of wit about them, too -- I would have liked more. And we get treated to some topics that I fancy: Bollywood and cellular automata and the Deccan Traps, and the usual cool SF weaponry -- "slow bombs" that creep like cats into their targets over a matter of days. The ending to this sort of story is always tricky, but McDonald manages a cogent and rather sweet one, even if there are some loose ends. McDonald is not as zippy as Banks, or as inventive as Stephenson, but I would read more by him, maybe Desolation Road.

Ewan wrote: Sounds good. So I bought it.

My mother wrote: Well, I learn something new almost every day....I had never heard of Deccan Traps and now I know what they are altho I found a typo in the description which at one point called them Tarps....Traps does seem to be the right word. Now, I would like to know what Bollywood and cellular automata are...... Out of curiosity do any of your family and friends send you book reviews? And if they do what are their favorite topics? Some of my recent reading is from The BackYard Berry Book, The New Feminine Brain, Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, and The Mt. Shasta Mission.....On my bedside table waiting to be read is The Story of Stone.....a discard from the Newton Public Library....