River of Gods

by Ian McDonald

Paperback, 2004



Call number




Simon & Schuster Ltd (2004), Paperback


As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business — a gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set designer, a journalist, a scientist, and a dropout. And so is Aj — the waif, the mind-reader, the prophet — when she one day finds a man who wants to stay hidden. In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation. River of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and cultures — one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations, nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on.… (more)

Media reviews

In a book that winds itself around a discussion of God and the Machine, India—with its ready acceptance of supernatural beings and its increasing footprint in the Information Age—is well suited to be the focal point of this discourse. It is what mythologist Mircea Eliade called the
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"ephipany"—the point where the sacred touches the profane and God manifests Itself.
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3 more
It captures the frenetic essence of India as manifested in the ear-splitting shriek of air horns on monstrous hurtling Indian lorries, the everyday roar of urban streets out your window pummeling you like the sound of a soccer stadium in full frenzy, the flatulent impudence of motorized rickshaws
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and scooters, the rivers of people, and life flowing inexorably to and from Mata Ganga, Mother Ganges, the river of life, and river of death.
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As readers have come to expect from McDonald, the storyline works so well because he creates such excellent characters, sharply delineated one from the other, each an individual that we can understand and empathise with (even a vicious gangster). By hopping from one character to another in the
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early chapters, McDonald both introduces the people of his story, and sketches in the society which they inhabit. Then he hits the accelerator, the storyline goes into top gear, and events send his characters into each others' orbits.
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By repositioning cyberpunk from noir fiction set in a near-future western world to a near-future non-western world, authors such as McDonald and Grimwood are talking about the flight of the creative class. This is the outsourcing of jobs that are not manual to the developing world that started with
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call-centres and continues with programmers and IT jobs.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
The "river" of this amazing work of science fiction is not merely Ganga Mata--the goddess who is the river Ganges--but also the flow of human life and experience on which the god-like artificial intelligences of the novel are borne. The human characters begin as separate tributaries, and their
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stories twist and merge with each other as they rush down into the watershed of an imagined history of the mid-21st-century. These characters inhabit niches throughout the spectrum from the absolute top to very nearly the bottom of Varanasi society, with a couple of American academics and an Afghani-Swedish journalist thrown in for good measure. Although the book takes place on the eve of the centennial of Indian indepdence from Britain, its political situation describes a balkanized subcontinent in which independent Bharati and Awadhi states are on the brink of war for control of water resources. (It goes without McDonald's saying, that the epochal drought is a function of climate change and the exhaustion of Himalayan glaciers.)

The futurological scenario of this book doesn't feel at all dated, despite the fact that it was first published seven years ago--a long time at today's pace of cultural and technological change. The two tiny clinkers naturally relate to personal electronics: McDonald's "palmers" failed to anticipate that everyone's pocket computer would be subordinated to the concept of a phone, and his use of "the Tablet" to denote a unique piece of espionage data hardware falls a little flat in the wake of iPads and their competitors.

The novel's setting presupposes an assortment of post-human types, in addition to great masses of "ordinary" humans with virtual-reality headsets and nanotechnologically engineered pharmocopoeia. There are genetically enhanced "brahmins" who age at half the ordinary human rate, with immunity to many degenerative diseases. The oldest of these are in their early twenties, all with great influence, money, and native intelligence, but looking like ten-year-olds. There are "nutes," who have "stepped away" from masculine and feminine gender identification into a third sex, surgically created, with erogenous cues tied to subdermal buds on their forearms. And there are artificial intelligences ("aeais") beyond generation 2.5, the point where they are smart enough to pass a Turing Test, and to know when it is in their interest to fail one.

This is a big book: a 600-page doorstop, but it reads fast like a rushing river. Where the events of McDonald's lovely debut novel Desolation Road take place over three human generations, the course of River of Gods spans a mere three weeks. And into that it packs political intrigue, edge-of-the-envelope scientific speculation, love stories, violent deaths, profound disillusionment, and, gosh, other stuff besides. The plot is full of semi-surprises; McDonald is an artful stylist who provides enough information to sometimes create dramatic irony by giving the intelligent reader an edge on the characters, but often stuff just happens in ways that are jaw-dropping at the time, but seem inevitable in retrospect.

Anyone who can enjoy thoughtful science fiction should love this book.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 5* of five

The Book Report: This is another resurrected review, so I'm putting the Amazon book description here:
As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business—a gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set designer, a journalist, a
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scientist, and a dropout. And so is—the waif, the mind reader, the prophet—when she one day finds a man who wants to stay hidden.
In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.
River of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and cultures—one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations, nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on.

My Review: Ian McDonald. This is a name to conjure with, boys and girls. This is a fearless Irishman. This is a major major talent doing major major things. How dare he, how dare I, warble his praises when he, a white guy from the colonial oppressor state, has the temerity to write a science fiction novel about INDIA?!? There are scads of Indian writers and it's their country! Let *them* write their stories!


Read the book. Then come and tell me it should have remained unwritten because of some nonsensical national pride hoo-hah.

It's got every damn thing a reader could want: A new gender, the nutes, pronoun “yt;” a wholly new form of energy harvested from other universes; a political scandal-ridden politician who falls for our main nute character, despite his long marriage, and pursues yt desperately; a civil war a-brewin' over water rights in the now fragmented subcontinental political world; aeais (artificial intelligences) that are forbidden by law to exceed the Turing Test that establishes whether an entity is human or human-passable; and, as with any law, the lawbreakers who inevitably arise are hunted by a new breed of law enforcement officers, here called “Krishna cops.” Krishna being the Original God, Supreme Being, One Source in many parts of India, there is some justice to that, one supposes.

Recapitulating the plot is pointless. This is a sprawling story, one that takes nine (!) main characters to tell. I felt there were two too many, and would entirely prune Lisa, the American physicist, and Ajmer, the spooky girl who sees the future, because those story lines were pretty much just muddying the waters for me. I thought the physicist on a quest, who then makes a giant discovery, which leads her back to the inventor of the aeais, could easily have been a novel all on its own, one that would fit in this universe that McDonald has summoned into being. I simply didn't care for or about Ajmer.

The aeais' parent, Thomas Lull, is hidden away from the world in a dinky South Indian village. Yeah, right! Like the gummints of the world would let that happen! I know why McDonald did this, plot-wise, but it's just not credible to me. He could be demoted from player to bit part and simplify the vastness of the reader's task thereby.

So why am I giving this book a perfect score? Because. If you need explanations:

--The stories here are marvelously written.
P388: “And you make me a target as well,” Bernard hisses. “You don't think. You run in and shout and expect everyone to cheer because you're the hero.”
“Bernard, I've always known the only ass you're ultimately interested in is your own, but that is a new low.” But the barb hits and hooks. She loves the action. She loves the dangerous seduction that it all looks like drama, like action movies. Delusion. Life is not drama. The climaxes and plot transitions are coincidence, or conspiracy. The hero can take a fall. The good guys can all die in the final reel. None of us can survive a life of screen drama. “I don't know where else to go,” she confesses weakly. He goes out shortly afterwards. The closing door sends a gust of hot air, stale with sweat and incense, through the rooms. The hanging nets and gauzes billow around the figure curled into a tight foetus. Najia chews at scaly skin on her thumb, wondering if she can do anything right.

P477: Krishan barely feels the rain. More than anything he wants to take Parvati away from this dying garden, out the doors down on to the street and never look back. But he cannot accept what he is being given. He is a small suburban gardener working from a room in his parents' house with a little three-wheeler van and a box of tools, who one day took a call from a beautiful woman who lived in a tower to build her a garden in the sky.

Some of my favorite passages I can't put here, because they contain some of the many, many words and concepts that one needs—and I do mean needs—the glossary in the back of the book to fully appreciate.

--The concept of the book is breathtaking. Westerners don't usually see India as anything other than The Exotic Backdrop. McDonald sees the ethnic and religious tensions that India contains, barely, as we look at her half-century of independence ten years on (review written 2007) and contemplate the results of the Partition. He also sees the astounding and increasing vigor of the Indian economy, its complete willingness to embrace and employ any and all new ideas and techniques and leverage the staggeringly immense pool of talent the country possesses.

--McDonald also extrapolates the rather quiet but very real and strong trend towards India as a medical tourism destination: First-world trained doctors offering third-world priced medical care. This is the genesis of the nutes, people who voluntarily have all external gender indicators and all forms of gender identification surgically removed, their neural pathways rewired, and their social identities completely reinvented.

Think about that for a minute.

If your jaw isn't on the floor, if your imagination isn't completely boggled, then this book isn't for you and you should not even pick it up in the library to read the flap copy. If you're utterly astonished that an Irish dude from Belfast could winkle this kind of shit up from his depths, if you're so intrigued that you think it will cause you actual physical pain not to dive right in to this amazing book, you're my kind of people.

Welcome, soul sibling, India 2047 awaits. May our journey never end.
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LibraryThing member kgodey
I had been looking forward to reading River of Gods for a long time; science-fiction set in a future India is certainly a novelty, but it also got rave reviews. I was really excited to get it for my birthday, and it jumped to the top of my reading queue.

The book is set in India of 2047, around the
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hundredth anniversary of India's independence from the British. India has split into a number of countries (I believe the term is "Balkanisation"), including Awadh, Bharat and Bangla. There has been a drought in all three countries for years, and they are ready to resort to desperate measures for water. We follow nine different viewpoints – a cop and his wife, a civil servant, a gangster, a set designer, two foreign scientists, a journalist and a stand up comedian. Their stories start off very differently (the first 100 pages or so are pretty confusing), but eventually converge in a story that decides the fate of India.

River of Gods is primarily two things – a science fiction story and a book set in India. I think it is a pretty amazing science fiction book, but the setting of India did not feel authentic to me – the details were all somewhat off-kilter. I'll address these two things separately.

First, the science fiction story: The plot was really well-developed and came together well. The AIs ("aeais") were fascinating, and reminded me a bit of the AIs in Neuromancer. I was really swept up in the quest to find out what was really going on and how all the characters and their lives fit together, and the conclusion was satisfying and packed an emotional punch. The world was well-realised and consistent. A lot of the fun came from not knowing what lay ahead, so I don't want to reveal any plot points.

Although the world felt real and believable, it did not seem like a future India. A lot of the words and concepts shown to be in everyday use already seem archaic to me. The caste system is already fading away in common parlance, and it is weird that it plays such a large role in Bharat 2047. It also seems a bit implausible that India would have split into Awadh, Bangla and Bharat – even if India were to split up, I don't think that's the configuration it would take. The slang, the choice of names, the way the people acted... it was almost right, but that made the lack of accuracy much more apparent. Although I would have liked the author to do more research, I think I would have even been okay with less research. The India of River of Gods was very unsettling.

I was also a bit disturbed by the portrayal of India as an extremely Hindu nation, where Muslims are hated and a fundamentalist Hindu party is such a giant threat. That doesn't match up with my experiences in India, although our politicians are always talking about being more Indian (renaming cities from their British names, for instance) and we do have a couple of very Hindu political parties, I don't think that they have that much influence.

Other nitpicks: the number of sex scenes in this book is totally unnecessary and gratuitous, and pulled me out of the book. Another annoying thing was the sheer number of Hindi words used in the book, a lot of them seemed also totally unnecessary. I am pretty familiar with Hindi, so I was okay, but I imagine it would be pretty annoying for people to have to look up terms in the glossary every couple of paragraphs. Hindi words are used in place of extremely ordinary words, like "alley", and a lot of English words are Hindi-ised.

In any case, despite all my quibbles about the setting, I think River of Gods is a great science-fiction book, and I would definitely recommend it on that strength.

Originally posted on my blog.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
There's little doubt in my mind that McDonald is going to go down as one of the big names in science fiction of this era: his ideas are exciting, his settings are fresh and new, the writing is generally excellent. This is the second of his books that I've read and, while I rank this one behind The
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Dervish House, I didn't feel that way through 90% of the story.

This book starts deceptively slowly. The plot—told in a round-robin format by eight characters who are initially unrelated—has a lot of surface area to get moving. I don't recommend that you start this book if your reading is limited to small chunks of time here and there; there is simply too much to keep track of. Slowly, however, does not mean boringly. Right from the start we have several threads that intrigue and capture the imagination. And that's not even counting the exotic setting of mid-21st century India, the software capital of the planet, to keep you entertained.

By the middle of the book, the separate rivulets of plot have started to merge and the excitement rises. Even guessing some of the plot hooks made no difference; I still found the book hard to put aside.

The ending was the weakest part of the story. I'm not saying it's bad; I still recommend this book. However, without going into spoilers, some of the major characters in the book were just a little too absent. I'd like to have seen more of them. As for the eight major characters plus a semi-major one (who didn't get her own chapters), there was some sense that the puppet strings just got cut without a proper wind down. I particularly objected to what seemed an unwarranted death among them. It was much the same feeling as I had at the end of Collins' Mockingjay: a sense that the author said, "Hmmm, I guess it's not realistic that nobody important dies, so…" rather than death that means something to the story.

Still, small quibbles. Good book. I will read more of his work.
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LibraryThing member majkia
Best hard science fiction I've read in years. Complex, multi-layered plot, set in a futuristic world which is realistically extrapolated from the world of today. The action can be raw and grim and bloody, and entirely fits into the world McDonald has created. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member ianjamison
I've re-read this a number of times now, and it has never failed to please. McDonald does two things with this book that are both very difficult to do (particularly in a genre dominated by the derivative) -
1) He writes a really good science-fiction story that is genuinely gripping and challenging,
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with interesting and imaginative characters.
2) He writes a well informed book about India.
If you've never been to India then this (and the follow up stories "Cyberabad days") may seem the bizarre and fantastic creations of a gifted sci-fi author, but anyone who has stood on the Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi, or walked through the old streets of Kashi will know exactly how much of this book comes from a genuine appreciation (and a deep love, I suspect) of India. Unlike other authors in the Genre (and I'm thinking here of Dan Simmon's utterly ghastly "Dance of Kali"), McDonald manages to write a future for India that emerges from a profound understanding of where India is now; and that a genuine and balanced one. Neither the uncomprehending critique of a profoundly alien culture, nor the glassy eyed acceptance of the "spiritual paradise of the mystic east", but an understanding of the deep mystery of contemporary India, where so many of the characters and attitudes from this book draw their inspiration.
It is a master-work for both of those reasons - but to combine the two in one novel lifts it to a sublime height.
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LibraryThing member santhony
Welcome to the Indian subcontinent, circa 2047. In the midst of a disastrous drought (no monsoon in over three years), the 1.5 billion inhabitants of what was formerly India have split into several combative states. Much of the story revolves around issues surrounding Indian religion, culture and
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political subdivision. Artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and computer generated avatars also play prominent roles.

This is not an especially easy science fiction novel. In addition to what are somewhat complicated and confusing story lines, there is a significant volume of unfamiliar cultural and linguistic material which requires reference to a glossary in the back of the book. There is enough of this to detract from the overall reading experience. The technological innovation and complex physics in some threads can also be somewhat intimidating.

All in all, however, the disparate threads and story lines come together nicely in an excellent climax which satisfactorily answer many of the questions raised in the novel. Again, not recommended for those looking for a quick, easy sci-fi reading experience. In that respect, it is more akin to much of Philip Dick’s and Frank Herbert’s later work. It definitely requires some effort to stay abreast of the story.
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LibraryThing member stellarexplorer
How good is this book? I am loath to go too far in awarding accolades to something so recent, something i've just read, but the scale of this, the skill with which he handled the multitude of characters, painting like a Balzac or a Tolstoy a portrait of a society in all its strata -- these are most
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A very great book.
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LibraryThing member anirvan
Deep political intrigue, alternate sexualities, artificial intelligence, urban landscapes, cultural extrapolations, and dishoom-dishoom action in the heart of future India. Brilliant and sprawling, and the best South Asia-based SF I've read to date.
LibraryThing member clfisha
Huge, rich and vibrant. Ian Mcdonald takes the idea of India and twists it and throws it into the future. Rogue AIs (or aeai), water wars and extreme genetic engineering rub up against the caste system, Hinduism and bollywood. It's fun and energetic, packed with a multitude of Indian words (yes
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there's a glossary) that immerse you very quickly into the world. The story is split between multiple characters, each seemingly unrelated at first before they are dragged into the large, frenetic plot. This technique is artfully used to keep the tension and interest going - watching the characters intersect, wondering on the multiple endings. In fact I only felt the pace slacken once (good in a 600 page book).

If it falls down in anyway it was with the characters themselves, not because they were horrible people, or too unrealistic but they all just felt flat. A few felt undeveloped and sometimes overused. Shiv, for example, never went beyond stereotype, although to be honest this wasn't as much of a problem as the one of not caring or siding with any of them at all. And I know I am being unfair but since its set in a deeply sexist world a few more strong female characters would have been nice, you know more than say two main characters filling the roles of plucky scientist and fiery journalist.

However after all that moaning I must repeat that I did really enjoy it, I love the setting and the aeai's were just a lot of fun. I am definitely going to try Brasyl.
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LibraryThing member edgeworth
I don’t recall which cyberpunk author it was – it might have been Neal Stephenson with regards to “Jipi and the Paranoid Chip” – but somebody mentioned, once, somewhere, about how technology pops up everywhere, even in the third world; how orphans in the slums of Dhaka and Lagos are using
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mobile phones while still shitting in ditches. River of Gods is a novel-length example of this. (And if anyone knows the actual quote, please let me know, so this introduction is less clunky.)

River of Gods takes place in August 2047 – the centenary of India’s independence from Britain – with an ensemble cast of various Indians, Americans, and one Afghan-Swede, who range the gamut from cops to criminals to journalists to politicians. India has balkanised by this date, split into dozens of bickering smaller states, and most of River of Gods takes places in and around the city of Varanasi, in what’s now known as the nation of Bharat.

To successfully write this kind of science fiction world, a convincing and believable Year 2047, you need to cover the entire range of futurism. McDonald accomplishes this very well – River of Gods, in its formidable 583 pages, covers mid-century geopolitics, genetic engineering, first contact, artificial intelligence and climate change, to name just a few. The second hurdle for this particular book is how realistically a British author can write about India, and unfortunately I can’t really judge, having never been there myself. Suffice to say that McDonald obviously has a few Indian visas in his passport, and clearly has a keen interest in the country, and his India sufficed to convince a fellow foreigner like myself. An Indian might very well think differently, but I was happy enough.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that the major storyline (and certainly the most interesting one) is dominated by the two American characters, Lisa Durnau and Thomas Lull. Lisa is a physicist and biologist who is plucked out of her ordinary life by the CIA, sent up into space, and told – in one of the book’s best passages – about an asteroid called Darnley 285, which is on collision course with Earth. She is told that it has often been on collision course with Earth before, but then always changes its course before impact.

“You’re saying…”
“An unidentified force is modifying Darnley 285’s orbit to keep it the same distance from Earth,” Daley Suarez-Martin says.

This is echoed later in the book, when an Indian gangster is hired to abduct and interrogate an American agent. As he leaves – after a gut-wrenching proof-of-loyalty killing – his new employer casually finishes the chapter by saying “By the way, in case you ever wonder what the Americans are decoding. They have found something in space and they have no idea what it is.” These are cool, spine-tingling moments – they’re what science fiction is all about and I liked them a lot.

In terms of prose style, McDonald was borderline for me – it’s the very definition of florid, but when he manages to restrain himself he can often pick just a few choice, perfect words, creating a brilliant visual image. This happens all over the book, but I’ll share some of my favourites, a few of his descriptions of two legged mechs or combat robots or whatever you want to call them:

The security bot completes its check, stalks away into the shrubbery like some late Cretaceous hunter.

The Urban Combat Robot rears over him. The vile little mantis head lowers, sensor rigs swivelling.

Running feet in the rural pre-dawn. Titanium-shod feet, as much felt through the bike’s suspension as heard, gaining on them, faster than any running thing should… The robot looms over the dune crest and rears up to its full height. It is some evil stalking rakshasha, part bird part spider, unfolding palps and manipulators and machine guns from its mandibles.

Just as often, however, these fine descriptions are drowned out by excess. You can see William Gibson hovering over McDonald’s shoulder, and McDonald seems keen to throw a lot of words at the page and see what sticks in order to impress his predecessor.

And that brings me to the larger problem with River of Gods, which is bloat. There are nine major characters in the novel, and while it gives McDonald a chance to show us mutliple perspectives of his future India and flex his world-building muscles, at least three of them could have been removed without affecting the story much. The novel also could have been 200 pages shorter; it often drags, getting bogged down in description and superfluous scenes. I can understand why this happened, and why McDonald would probably fiercely defend every word of the book, but it comes at the detriment of the story.

When River of Gods is good, it’s very good. If it had been edited more judiciously it could have been great. Unfortunately, it often falls short. But it’s still well worth reading for science fiction or cyberpunk fans, and I look forward to checking out the next two books in McDonald’s cyberpunk-in-a-foreign-land trilogy, Brasyl and The Dervish House.
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LibraryThing member Jvstin
Nominated for the 2005 Hugo Award for best novel (losing to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell), River of Gods is an ambitious look at 2047 India by Ian McDonald.

As India approaches its 100th birthday, it has balkanized into a number of semi independent nations. Technology runs high
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here, higher than in some parts of the world. Artificial Intelligences reach for above-human sentience even as "Krishna cops" try and prevent them from doing so. The lack of a monsoon for years has caused two of the nations to go to the brink of armed conflict. And in space, the Americans have discovered an asteroid is actually an alien artifact, seven billion years old, which inexplicably has a tie to several of the characters...

As I said, its an ambitious novel, with a large cast and a large canvas upon which McDonald draws. In an almost Bollywood like fashion, all of the plotlines and characters, disparate at first, eventually have their stories draw together.

McDonald pulls no punches and immerses the reader immediately in unfamiliar culture, terms, customs and societies. It takes a lot of work to keep up in this novel, but once the basics are down, the novel starts to sing. (This is definitely not a novel to give to a first time reader of science fiction). In point of fact, with its numerous characters at all sorts of social strata, its social commentary, and its vision of the future, the novel feels to me like McDonald's attempt to re-write Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (but without the New Wave experimental narrative and textual techniques).

I don't think the novel quite lives up to its ambitions, and a few of the characters did not much appeal to me as much as the main plot did. However, the vision of India's future is wall-to-wall, engrossing and interesting. Throw in some snazzy technology, and even a bit of humor (I dare you not to laugh when you discover the fate of Bill Gates in this timeline)

Mcdonald has a collection of stories set in this world (Cyberdad Days) which, on the strength of this, and my enjoyment of it, I fully intend to buy and read.

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LibraryThing member isabelx
'What is going on here?'Mr Nandha demands as he walks through the scrum of police, Ministry warrant card held high.
'Sir, one of the factory workers panicked and ran out into the alley, straight under,' says a police sergeant. 'He was shouting about a djinn; how the djinn was in the factory and was
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going to get all of them.'
You call it djinn, Mr Nandha thinks, scanning the site. I call it meme. Non-material replicators; jokes, rumours, customs, nursery rhymes. Mind-viruses. Gods demons, djinns, superstitions. The thing inside the factory is no supernatural creature, no spirit of flame, but it is certainly a non-material replicator.

Set in 2047 in an India that has fragmented to separate states just 100 years after gaining independence, this story is told from the point of view of about a dozen very different people. But who or what is manipulating them all? Could it be N.K. Jivanjee, leader of a Hindu fundamentalist group that threatens to destabilise the state of Bharat? Or perhaps a mysterious company called Odeco, which has fingers in a lot of very interesting pies?

The way that Mr Nandhu's security programs are displayed as avatars of the Hindu Gods really reminded me of David Brin's novel "Earth", as did the multiple viewpoints and the environmental theme, with water-shortages in some of the Indian states caused by the damming of the River Ganges upstream, and Bengal's plan to change the climate by towing an iceberg all the way from the Arctic.

I wonder why they didn't bring the iceberg from the Antarctic. Surely it would have been a shorter and more direct journey than towing it from Arctic Canada, all the way down the Atlantic, round Africa and across the Indian Ocean (or round South America and across the Pacific if they went the other way). I can only think that they would have been hampered by unfavourable winds and currents.
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LibraryThing member RaceBannon42
Ian McDonald earned a Hugo nomination last year for this novel set in near future India. The year is 2047 and the Hamilton Acts have restricted the development of all AI beyond Gen 2. India has shattered into smaller warring nations. A drought has nearly dried up the Holy Ganges. This is the
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backdrop for a complex and beautiful story.

McDonald uses a Point of View chapter style to weave his plot. Nine separate characters start the story and they are eventually intertwined and woven into a rich tapestry. Mr. Nanhda, the Krishna cop, His wife Parvati. Professor Lull and his protege Lisa. Shiv, the gangster. Vishram, the family blacksheep, Tal the Nute, Najia the reporter, and Khan the political advisor.

The vision of the future presented is exciting and scary. Its relatable enough to seem well within reach.

Overall I really liked this book, It was a complex tale and not one to be lightly read. I found myself getting lost a few times, but in the end it was well worth the investment put into the read.

8.5 out of 10
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LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
An outstanding book. Captures the feel of many facets of India and within the context of an exciting and innovative science fiction storyline. McDonald's writing is topnotch, and while the ending is not entirely satisfying, the enjoyment of getting to the ending makes up for it.
LibraryThing member katayoun
as for the book, i definitely loved it and would be reading more mcdonalds soon. i loved the hindu gods there (i have a soft spot for them) and i loved mcdonalds way of looking at gods/god, loved his future and what might/can be, loved the way the story flowed and the characters were shown bit by
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bit and how they grew. that said i must admit that it was not 5 stars for me and that's i think was because of the ending. compared to the rest of the story and it's lovely flow i thought that it just ended too abruptly, the charactes grew dim in the last part, the last part was mostly all action and also there was an answer there (admiting that i didn't really understand it) and yet i didn't like the idea of an answer to a question like "the meaning of life" or maybe i really, really like an answer or actually like to "know" BUT i don't want some else's answer, i wouldn't mind to know what they think, but only what they think (though what mcdonald proposed was very interesting) and then they can leave me and let me decide. what i thought was that the story was too lovely and too perfect to end with everything answered and solved! so it's not 5 stars but definitely a big 4, cause in all the other ways i thought it was absolutely perfect and i loved every minute of reading it.
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LibraryThing member cybergeist
Absolutely loved this book. It's set in India 100 years after independence, and follows a number of intertwining characters and stories through a very atmospheric India.
LibraryThing member quondame
In some ways this deserves a high 4 star rating - but! it! doesn't! make! any! sense!! Two of the main viewpoint characters do hardly anything to move the plot along, The resolution doesn't do anything for the fundamental existential problem - it will happen all over again guys - and why do we have
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another white guy setting his story on the Indian Subcontinent? I enjoyed reading it, and loved the neuts and the alien cultures, but thought most of the women total wimps or bitches - of course the males had their issues, but they weren't dependents or betrayers.
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LibraryThing member cmc
Another fantastic book by Ian McDonald, who’s been on my ``must buy’’ list since his first book, Out on Blue Six appeared as part of the revamped Bantam Spectra Specials series. India. Artificial intelligence. Amazing.
LibraryThing member RandyStafford
In the ancient city of Varanasi in the country of Bharat in the former nation of India it is 2047, the Age of Kali, and gods are being hunted there.

Those gods are artificial intelligences, aeais, who hide in the networks of businesses, sundarbans where illegal software is written, and even in the
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computing infrastructure of Town and Country, the nation's wildly popular soap opera. American pressure and international treaties forbid all those aeais above a certain level of intelligence. Krishna Cops like Mr. Nandha hunt them down and perform a lethal "excommunication". But in the burned out remanents of one sundarban he finds subtle evidence of a new monster.

The war between the new and regulated, man and the creatures emerging from the cybersphere of his world, ultimately snares many characters beside Mr. Nandha. There are Shiv and Yogendra, two hoods with a serious debt problem after their organ legging business has dried up. Shaheen Badoor Khan advises the Prime Minister about a water war with Awadh, another state born of India's fragmentation, after it dams the Ganges. Vishram Ray's stand up comedy career is aborted when his father, founder of the country's premier energy company, Ray Power, pulls a King Lear and divides the company up between his three sons. Naji, the Afghan-born journalist, has ambition and bloodlust and the determination to make a name for herself whether it's interviewing one of the aeais who plays a character on Town and Country or leaking information in a political war between fundamentalist Hindi politician N. K Jivanjee and the Prime Minister.

Also playing their part in this war, this drama where aeais and humans are gods in each other's worlds, are two Americans generally in favor of advanced artificial intelligences. Lull has dropped out of academic life to hang out in India where he encounters Aj, a young woman with creepy knowledge of people's lives and a disturbing ability to control machines. And looking for Lull is one Lisa Darnau, proxy for the American government, who would like to know why her and her former colleague's picture are in an alien asteroid seven billion years old.

And there is Tal, a nute, a new gender born of extensive surgery, their lives precisely and deliberately scripted with hormones, their sexuality push button. Joining nutes and aeais are Brahmins. They are children of the rich, engineered to avoid the decrepitudes of old age even if it means their bodies - but not their minds - age half as fast as normal. The fears and hopes around those creations and the aeais form a major theme of this novel.

Artificial intelligences as gods, nutes, Brahmins, alien asteroids, water wars - none of these are original ideas to McDonald. What he has done is sampled these ideas and set them in a totally new context - a future India. McDonald has made something of a career picking novel settings, specifically Third World settings. Terminal Cafe (a future Mexico), the Chaga novels (a future Kenya), and Brasyl all remind us that people in those parts of the world will have their own futures affected by advancing technology or alien encounters.

That does not mean McDonald's novel is a tiresome attack on the West, a guilty paean to a culture not his own. His India has its problems. Muslims and Hindi, after years of peaceful co-existence, go suddenly murderous. More than one character calls India a "deformed society", and it is not just the presence of Brahmins, a new untouchable caste, that has deformed it. It is the practice of selective abortion which has deformed it, the shunting of educated and talented woman out of public life to the purdah. McDonald confronts India on its own terms and acknowledges its energy and contradictions.

And, yes, McDonald does actually use Hindu mythology in this story. Certain characters gradually come to be associated with certain Hindu gods though the correspondence between god and character is not as explicit as it would be in a Roger Zelazny novel. And the story, with its many betrayals being a major theme, seldom forsakes the gritty world on the banks of the Ganges for a virtual world or cyberspace.

There are some minor flaws. McDonald leaves the fate of one of his gods a bit unclear, and Tal seems less like a member of a new gender than a gay man. The scenes of violence sometimes seem, on the aeais' part, too slow and the combat seems a bit too much like mecha anima at times. Still, I admired this novel very much and will return to this fascinating universe with McDonald's anthology Cyberabad Days.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
Even as a fan of the genre I can admit that River of Gods is one of those rare treasures - a well written science fiction novel. Perhaps this is the sort of thing that Margaret Atwood prefers to call "speculative fiction?"

However, McDonald's careful writing is ultimately, for me, the book's
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downfall. Writing that works well in the first half providing a careful, slow development of events turns during the second half of the novel into a sluggish, drawn out climax. The prose in Gibson's Neuromancer may have been ropey at times but it propelled the story along and gave the book a real sense of heightened energy. I felt that River of Gods cried out for some of that towards the end. McDonald lights the fuse but the big bang never occurs. Events in the story certainly build up towards their tipping point and then kick off but the author's precise prose left me feeling detached from the characters caught up in the chaos. Perhaps the book is just a little too long as well. There were characters whose storylines I thought could be removed at little loss to the overall plot, whilst helping to greatly speed up events.

As for the book's more fantastical elements, I wasn't overly impressed. McDonald's India is very nicely considered but, for the most part, it doesn't seem all that different from today. There were elements of high-end, futuristic technology in places but down on the street it all seemed very ordinary. TBH, I don't imagine the world changing that much in the next 40 to 50 years, so the author is probably correct on that front... but did leave me a bit disappointed, as a genre fan, that the story wasn't set another 100 years in the future with a more radical outlook.

I've sounded harsh in this review but River of Gods is definitely a book I enjoyed and I'll definitely read the companion short stories in Cyberabad Days at some stage. Yet a very promising start did leave me slightly disappointed by the end. The story never quite took off and as a result the extended final section did have me tapping my feet slightly impatiently. Not bad by any means but only read if you're in the mood for some slightly more serious SF and not something pulpy that races along from start to finish.
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LibraryThing member John5918
I want to review this book because I really enjoyed reading it, but I'm not sure how to describe it. It's an intriguing work of imagination set in India in the mid-21st century, told through the experiences of several widely differing characters, with lots of surprises. Fascinating. And I think
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it's so good to see a work of this genre which is not set in North America or Europe.
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LibraryThing member SChant
Excellent book - big, sprawling, large cast of characters, plenty of action and good SF. Tiptree longlist 2004
LibraryThing member Clevermonkey
Future India, inscrutable A.I.s, and an object from another universe. Terrific characters and setting, loaded with amazing ideas. Long book but a serious page-turner.
LibraryThing member multiplexer
In August in 2047, in the city of Varanasi in the country of Bharat in central India, nine people converge on one singular event that changes everything for mankind. For some, it's an asteroid containing the alien relic the Tabernacle. For others it is chasing down AIs. And for others, it is about
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finding themselves in the midst of a water war when the monsoon rains no longer come and the Ganga runs dry.

The good: River of Gods does very interesting things with the arc of the growth of computers and computing into every corner of life. Even the very popular soap, "Town and Country," is completely computer rendered with fake AI actors having fake AI-based weddings and entire "People Magazine"-like publications fawn over the imaginary private lives of the AIs inhabiting the rendered soap opera. Everyone has a cellphone-like device, even the most poor. Everything is wired together. And AIs (called aeais in the book) fill every corner of existence -- driving cars (but apparently not the taxis), running heating and cooling systems, injecting themselves into medical devices, everywhere. One of the main themes of the book is hunting down rogue AIs, those who have somehow "evolved" through illicit programming or through happenstance to become "Generation Three" AIs, those AIs that have developed full native intelligence. The question the book grapples with is not only how these beings come about and flow through the interconnectedness of all computers, but how they see existence and how their consciousness is represented by copying millions of copies of themselves. The other is how humans react to the super intelligent AIs, hunting them down, and "excommunicating" them with huge EMP pulses and destroying all the copies hiding in the machines.

Another bit of good comes from grappling with how humans are forcing their own evolution through selective breeding, gene therapy, and remaking themselves with extensive surgery. From this comes a shortage of women, strange children who age at 1/2 the rate of regular human beings called Brahmins who have no empathy for the human race, and nutes -- a group of people who have surgically removed all gender. The reaction from normal humans is revulsion but the book implies this is the forward trajectory of humanity and the normal people will soon be an out-bred relic of the past.

The bad: I generally like books with multiple viewpoints but River of Gods has nine and it felt overdone. The themes of the book were focused over the actual characterization of the characters. Only the nute Tal really stood out as a distinct personality. The rest of the characters tended to flow together into one amorphous mass. All the characters _do_ get a different view of the actions during August 2047 to give a perspective on how the whole plot comes together in the end -- with a little bit of Science Fiction Plot Device thrown in.

The science fiction is a little too precious at times. Sometimes it wants to be Arthur C. Clarke and sometimes it wants to be Blade Runner with just a dash of the original Philip K Dick and it doesn't seem to know which is which.

The Hindi sprinkled through is not much of a challenge. However, the kindle version of the book lacks bookmarks so looking up terms in the back of the book is a major challenge. Also, the kindle version is sprinkled throughout the text with enough typos for it to be called out.

The ending is about middling for a science fiction book. It's not awful. It's no Sphere. It's not a total collapse like Snow Crash. The book ends very definitively.

River of Gods by Ian McDonald is an awful lot of book. It's big. In parts it goes on and on and on and on. Some of it drags in places when it goes BEHOLD MY INDIA OF THE FUTURE! For an easy comparison on pure word count, it's about 1 Red Mars. Figure out how long it took to read Red Mars, add a tax for having to look up all the words in Hindi in the appendix in the back, and that's about how long it takes to get through River of Gods.

So, not bad. I made it all the way through. It definitely does have some good ideas and it is one of the better science fiction novels floating around. It's in the "pretty good" category but it's not Childhood's End or anything. It's a decent read but it's not one of those science fiction novels that lays hooks in your brain that lie there and fester until they get disgorged in some argument one day. I give it about a 3.75 stars but the rating system isn't that fine grained so I round it up to a four. It's not quite a four star book. It's very much a 3.75 star book.
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Hugo Award (Nominee — Novel — 2005)
Chesley Award (Nominee — 2007)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (Shortlist — 2005)
British Science Fiction Association Award (Shortlist — Novel — 2004)


Original publication date


Physical description

583 p.; 9.06 inches


0743256700 / 9780743256704
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