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29 January 2010

#6 River of Gods

This book is an impressive undertaking! Imagining the near future of a foreign and constantly developing society is more than I'd attempt, but Ian McDonald managed quite well. River of Gods focuses on a large cast in their daily lives, which all intersect through the actions of 3rd Generation AI's. It examines all walks of life in India 2047, from street gangsters to politicians and social dropouts to university scientists.

In 2047, the humanity is wired, information in instantly uploaded to the brain. Artificial Intelligences run everything from monetary markets to entertainment soapis, but the U.S. government has placed a limit on how high that intelligence can get. Bharat, a sub-state of India, allows AI's to reach a higher level and has become a haven for programmers and their software, who set up electronic sundarbans to develop and hide their work. Mr. Nandha is a cop who investigates and destroys high-level AIs. His new wife Parvati, fresh from the country, is trying to fit in to her new society and longs for a genetically engineered Brahmin baby made with the technology that Mr. Nandha hunts. Shaheen Badoor Khan tops high society as a special consultant to the Prime Minister, though his life is no cup of tea as he fights trouble in the government and trouble at home. Najia Askarzada is an aspiring journalist covering soapi stars who stumbles into information on Khan's home troubles. Tal is a soapi set designer and a nute, the one who caps off Khan's home troubles. Lisa Durnau is an American professor and researcher who designed a set of her own, not for entertainment soapi but for evolutionary theory; computers control projected evolution of life on earth from early ages. She was guided through her work by Thomas Lull, preeminent AI theorist and programmer. He walked away from his life when his wife left him, but now his government needs him to solve a galactic mystery. Aspiring comedian Vishram Ray is recalled from his university life in England to run his father's energy corporation, which just might have the answers that Lull needs. Their adventures create the story which is River of Gods. It's a very exciting story, well imagined and just close enough to our technology to be quite believable.

McDonald's writing good enough to carry the story, but that's about it. The story reads towards a clearly pre-determined ending. The plot and world is rich enough that this didn't bother me as I was reading the book, but it detracts from the overall quality of the book. The characters are all well-defined if not well-rounded, and none of them go through any true development. In the case of some of the characters, the development that would make them real is described, but it all happened previous to the actions of the book. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the book, but the story carried the writing rather than the other way around.

All in all, I found River of Gods to be a fun, engaging read. McDonald provides an action-packed romp through a world that is almost, but just past, what the Western perspective says India today. Anyone versed in the near-future scifi genre should get a kick out of this book.

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