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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars River of Gods
River of Gods marks a return to form for Ian McDonald, after the dissapointing Ares Express. It's set in a near-future India, splintered into smaller states. The book takes awhile to get going as there are several protagonists and we are introduced to each in turn, as the plot starts up. This takes time, but is rewarding as we see a multi-faceted view of the society that...
Published on 19 July 2005 by johnfredcee

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stream of Demiurges (or Danger of Oxbow Lakes)
This is quite a tough book to review. There's much to admire here and it deserves to be a wholly successful piece. But it isn't. McDonald has an impressive imagination and he weaves a complex and convoluted narrative. However, the complexity is purely character-based. There are many main characters and many plot threads, some of which, although quite interesting in their...
Published on 23 April 2011 by sft


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars River of Gods, 19 July 2005
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
River of Gods marks a return to form for Ian McDonald, after the dissapointing Ares Express. It's set in a near-future India, splintered into smaller states. The book takes awhile to get going as there are several protagonists and we are introduced to each in turn, as the plot starts up. This takes time, but is rewarding as we see a multi-faceted view of the society that Indida has become in the near future, and the changes to the human condition that have come with biotechnology and climate change.
The plot is layered and keeps us guessing to the very end. I can't discuss it much here whithout giving too much away, but it's as satisfying and twisty-turny with the same mythic ties as the original Desolation Road, only the mythos here is Indian, not African, and a great deal more interesting. There are occasional passages where he holds up a latter-day mirror to the current-day West, but it's done stubly and doesn't interfere with a read as tightly plotted as a thriller.
In short, a very rewarding read.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars woo hoo, woo hoo hoo, 20 Aug. 2004
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
Three years after the so-so Ares Express, but it's been worth the wait. This is a big steam-roller of a book --you don't so much read it as experience it; it's a shock to the system in almost every way. There's so much going on it it's almost impossible to adequately describe --Mysterious Artefacts in space, artificial intelligences, a completely computer generated soap opera (it's only a question of time really)weater wars, political intrigue, third-sex 'nutes', genetically engineered 'Brahmins': this is wide-screen SF. More than that, it has the feel of John Brunner's classics: Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, --it's a lived in future, not just a wam-bam story. And it's India! This is a world as alien as any you'll read in a wide-angle space-opera...
Great characters, who generate the story, rather than get pushed around by it, and a cosmic-scale denoument that is perfectly set up, but I for one didn't see coming.
Not the easiest book I ever read, but you come out of it with your head reeling and our world seems dull and pale by comparison.
Oh, and there's cricket too!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and expansive, dissapointing ending though...., 3 Nov. 2004
By 
Damon Doyle "damonde" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
A roller coaster ride with superlative character development and prose that really paints a picture of the difference in culture between east/west and the rigid societal and religious issues in India. Also greatresearch went into this book as it is authentic in its intepretation of Indian culture. Great SF elements to the story, although feel some of the ideas have been copied from other books (but thats inevitable....I liked this book alot and after spending most of the year reading mediocre old hash, this was refreshing. Good material for a film, maybe Bollywood can come up with something....BUT and its a rather large BUT.....after all the great writing, ideas and the pictures in your head he paints, the ending is something of a damp squib....should have been a bit more grandiose i feel to match the earlier parts of the book. Altogether though worth every penny and ill read it again....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stream of Demiurges (or Danger of Oxbow Lakes), 23 April 2011
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This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
This is quite a tough book to review. There's much to admire here and it deserves to be a wholly successful piece. But it isn't. McDonald has an impressive imagination and he weaves a complex and convoluted narrative. However, the complexity is purely character-based. There are many main characters and many plot threads, some of which, although quite interesting in their own right, are too obviously engineered to flesh out the story. The effect of this approach is that the minimal plot is made even thinner despite the scale of the work. This is more of a character study than anything else. Now there's nothing wrong with that: most fine literature is character-driven. And, in a genre that's constantly criticised for a lack of such depth, this is good to see. But RIVER OF GODS is something of a pretender. It teases the reader with the promise of a typically big SF story, and in the early stages of the book it appears it might deliver. But then comes the resolution, and it's a bit of a damp squib. My other reservation is that MacDonald's prose is often rather too florid. He tries too hard to impress and his language tends towards the profligate. On the whole though this is an impressive book and worth reading despite its flaws.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars River of Gods, 13 May 2005
By 
Bob simms (Rochester, Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
River of Gods takes you into an alien (at least alien to my western mind) world of India 50 years hence, with a mix of hi-tech gadgets and third-world slums, Hindu mythology and Bollywood artificial intelligences.
The book consists of the lives of several seemingly unconnected individuals all gradually colliding into a crescendo finish.
It takes a little effort to get into the story, especially as the book is littered with Indian terms mixed with future technology. The Glossary at the back was helpful, though even without it the general context of the phrases can be understood. But pretty soon I was hooked.
An excellent read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed But Worth Reading, 9 Jan. 2008
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
Once or twice a year I like to try out a recent science-fiction title people are buzzing about, just to get a sense of developments in the genre. The stellar reviews and near-future Indian setting of this book caught my attention, so I dove into the sprawling story. Featuring ten main characters who appear in alternating chapters over the course of almost 600 pages, it's a lot to absorb. Like a bountiful buffet of Indian food, it's really too much for the senses -- you end up with a plate piled with a plethora of delicious tastes, all competing with and sometimes negating each other.

The story is far too complex to summarize adequately, but here are a sampling of the elements: A strange alien artifact older than the solar system is discovered in an asteroid and an English AI researcher is brought to space to examine it. Meanwhile, her former mentor and lover hides out in India as various powerful entities try to track him down to tap his expertise. At the same time, an Indian "Krishna cop" goes about his duties locating and destroying rouge AI entities while his wife seeks romance with her gardener. Also at the same time, the benevolent founder of a large Indian energy company suddenly resigns, leaving his sons to run it. One of the sons is a standup comedian, the other a cunning business shark, leading to an unexpected power struggle. Then there's Shaheen Badoor Khan, the top advisor to a prominent politician, and his secret sexual attraction to "nutes" (gender neutral people created through painstaking -- and painful -- microsurgery). There is a new caste of genetically engineered "Brahmins," a popular TV show starring digital personalities, wars conducted via weather, black market AI, ethnic street battle, and much much more.

Some of this stuff is great, and some of it isn't. Particularly compelling are the strands of the story that deal with the attempts of various AI entities to avoid being wiped out by humans who are afraid of losing control of the world. This touches on politics, society, morality, and also makes for some pretty nifty action sequences. The Indian setting is great, clearly well-researched, and vividly described. However, like a great deal of science fiction, the book is just too sprawling and unwieldy for its own good. There are far too many major characters, and several of them have little to no bearing on the main story. It seems like the author fell in love with each of them to such an extent that he wanted to explore the lives of even the more peripheral ones in much more detail than was necessary. All of which has the effect of dragging the book to a halt at times. Cutting several main characters and about two-hundred pages would improve it a great deal.

It also has to be said that the manner in which all the various storylines are suddenly tied together is both abrupt and underwhelming. And yet, despite these various flaws, it is worth reading if you're into contemporary science fiction. Structural problems aside, McDonald has a pretty deft way with words, and his ability to paint an imaginative near-future scene is fairly impressive. All in all, it's good enough for me to take a look at his other books and possibly give him another whirl.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book - too short though, 10 July 2006
By 
da ding (Helsinki, Finland) - See all my reviews
Ok. After over a decade of reading I.M. books I've been completely amazed by this mans imagination, way with words (those adjectives, still can't believe it) and the staggering amount of research he puts into his prose.

At first I started with the fast and 'light' (heh) 'Terminal Cafe' (aka Necroville) and have read every book and short story I've been able to get my hands on ever since.

Mcdonald's India, as he portrays it, is surely tangible, true and believable, and the characters, again, come to life as before. However, it lacks the depth that developed over the years around Africa in the Chaga series. Hopefully later books will put some more 'meat' around the environment. I cannot, for the life of me, remember if i felt the same way about the first Chaga stories (it was a short story, oh no can't remember the name). And, as someone already pointed out, the ending was hurried; The story was moving along quite swimmingly but suddenly: the conclusion, although as satisfying and imaginative as ever. And Shiv, a central character with lots of hope for redemption, in the end has little or no bearing on the story at all. Deadline approaching a little too soon, maybe?

But anyway, a great read. Maybe not at par with 'Desolation Road' or 'Hearts, Hands and Voices', and definitely lacking the 'silent grandeur' of the Chaga/Africa environment, but better than 'Sacrifice of Fools'. And the writing style, which I always find completely immersing, is still there.

In the end, my favourite I.M. story is still 'Floating Dogs' in the 'Speaking in Tongues' short story collection.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Culturally and technologically rich, almost too much, 11 Aug. 2013
By 
2theD "2theD" (The Big Mango, Thailand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
Ian McDonald is a new author for me and my picking up the tome which is River of Gods was a daunting endeavor. Don't you hate choosing a new book, voluminous to say the least, and end up hating the author's writing style in a matter of pages? I've had that experience with Spinrad's Child of Fortune (1985) and Lafferty's Arrive at Easterwine (1971). I managed to choke down Arrive at Easterwine and regurgitate a review, but Child of Fortune had too many alarums flashing before me, thus I closed the book and sold it after less than 20 pages.

Thankfully, Ian McDonald has impressed me with River of Gods. It's a cultural and futurological immersion which is both intoxicating and disorientating, yet the reader doesn't experience each separately--the synergy of the two is an experience itself!

Rear cover synopsis:
"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 is 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 a nation."

------------

There are many plot threads which intertwine in a dazzling amount of ways, some of those character plots are central to the story and recur frequently, while other character plots add ambiance to the story. However, take any one of those away and it would all unravel. To the best of my ability, this is the synopsis of the synopsis, which should be titled "Meanwhile":

Ray Power Electric, owned by the successful and reputable father of three sons, suddenly decides to forego the life of an eclectic billionaire and seek life as an ascetic guru. Mr. Ray divides his lumbering giant of a company into three parts, one for each son. Most importantly, Vishram Ray, once a stand-up comedian living a frugal life in Scotland, now owns the Research and Development portion of Ray Power Electric. Vishram reluctantly takes the reins of the department and becomes intrigued with one of its latest budding success: zero-point energy, being fed energy by tapping into higher universes. Maintaining his father's immaculate reputation and following his work ethic propels Vishram toward the promise of free energy for the world.

Meanwhile in India, Mr. Nandha the Krishna Cop is tracking down artificial intelligences (aeais) which exceed the internationally-agreed limit of Level 2.0, thanks to the Americans' Hamilton Act. Rouge aeais are always being found in computer systems around India, aeais which panic in their floundering power and inadvertently maim humans and attack the Krishna Cops who are there to execute it. An aeai Level of 3.0 is mythical in some circles, but Mr. Nandha has been tracking down curious leads which point to a massive multinational collaboration involving shell companies, transfer of large amounts of cash, and investment in esoteric research. Sadly, his private life isn't as thriving as his work life--his socially displaced wife, from a much lower village caste to the city's government worker's caste, is awkwardly assuming her newly found place among the elite. However, a trip to the cricket test match reveals her true unreservedness of her caste, a shame which descends upon her and her home wrecking mother.

Meanwhile in America, the government has spotted an erroneous asteroid, one which seems to be shifting its direction of flight to coincide with Earth's orbit. The government is quick to realize the alien possibility of such an action and assemble a team to delve into the orbiting rock which is imprinted with a vast triskelion. Lisa Durnau is called upon to examine the enigmatic find at the center of the asteroid. The archeological dig into the "Tabernacle" discovers a rippling sphere of black and white bits which, while undulating in mesmerizing ways, only conveys three pieces of information: the face of Lisa herself, the face of her missing ex-colleague Thomas Lull, and the face of an unknown girl. Recently, Lisa has been in charge of an advanced and accelerated push as artificial intelligence which utilizes an evolution based on organic principles, all mimicked by her powerful and handy computer. Millions of years have passed and life breeds on the artificial Earth for an aspiration to, one day, breed a genuine intelligence without human interference. This amazing concept is the brainchild of Thomas Lull, who abandoned his own project and sought a quiet life in India.

Meanwhile, wandering in India in search for Thomas Lull, is Aj, a young girl with a mysterious past and in search for her parents. Her ability of foresight and seeming omniscience marks her as a prophet or sage, but the grounded Thomas Lull is intrigues by the photograph of her parents--two of his fellow scientists, the supposed mother with a barren womb. Aj's calm demeanor and gifted intelligence are indicators of tampering, a dark possible truth which hangs like drooping vines of guilt from his shoulders. The recent death and possible assassination of Aj's parents upsets them both and reaffirms some of Thomas's suspicions.

Meanwhile on the war front, possible assassinations are being linked to the American autonomous military robots which scour the urban streets in stealth warfare against domestic and international insurgents. The daily battles which span the city echo the tensions on the Kunda Khandar border where the Awadh dam has caused tensions for the drought-stricken Indian nation as well as the intercity tensions with fundamentalists taking place around Sarkhand Roundabout. Shaheen Badoor Kahn is the president's advisor and heads many of the truces, agreements, and talks with the afflicted parties. Renown for his opalescence and dedication, a developing affair creates a schism between himself and his superiors which, on a greater scale, upsets the political balance of a nation at the fulcrum of war and peace, death and drought. His love affair with the eunuch Tal, thus, goes beyond mere lust.

Meanwhile on TV, the hit soap opera named Town and Country and ubiquitously taken the nation by storm with its aeai-directed cast, some of whom have such stardom that the population is entirely unsure whether they are real or not. Tal, a gender neutral human by choice, has created many of the sets for the soap opera. Yt's (the pronoun chosen for those who have chosen to be gender neutral) knack for interior design and contacts within yt's media company has shown yt a wild life of fame, fortune and, ultimately, human fallacy. Without the organs needed to naturally produce hormones, yt is able to alter yt's metabolism and array of artificial hormones in order to meet the circumstances in which yt finds; this comes in handy when yt becomes the hunted party.

Meanwhile, poised to break news as it happens, it the Afghani-native journalist Najia, whose past is as veiled as the dark underpinning of the war of assassination, the sheer amount of power being wielded by politicians and corporate entities, and the precipice of external and internal war the century-old nation of India finds itself on. Her sympathetic nature and astute awareness of the tides of change allow her to be a mercurial investigator amid the swathes of the corruption, decadence and war footing.

------------

This review is being written two weeks after finishing the book, a circumstance which attests to the strong nature of the plot and its characters. The brilliance of the combined cultural and technological foreignness captivates the mind much like the dangling of a keychain in front of a baby; however, the dangling of the culture and technology in front of the reader is able to extend for hours on end, as long as the reader has an affinity for rich narration and seemingly alien foundations.

The one thing which River of Gods does not lack in is color--that vague notion of "color" extends not only to the visual pictures which McDonald paints of rural and urban India but also branches out to depictions of sexuality in the year 2047, graphic acts of seduction and illicit acts of passion, and the cultural thrusts of intrinsic motivation for each character's parrying. The only aspect really missing from the heavily spiced curry which represents McDonald's affection for India is the international element to ground it, just one additional perspective on the heap to give it a global feel; Sri Lanka, America and China are all mentioned in passing but none play a pivotal role in viewing the circumstances which India is entrenched in. This would have been an excellent opportunity to try "very tight limited third person" where an outsider would view the wild chaos of elements from their own perspective while the native southern Indians would not eye such commonplace elements.

Therefore, is River of Gods too rich for its own good? If the book were half of its size, the novel would have been easier to consume but given its voluminous existence, it's difficult to grasp, masticate, and digest the kaleidoscope of language, culture, geography, nomenclature, etc. I didn't find the web of characters to be difficult to understand; this had a long wind-up but proved fruitful in its execution well into the novel. The word count would probably match some of McDonald's other contemporary British science fiction authors of Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton or Iain M. Banks. It's dense, it's heavy--consume if you have the appetite!

The technology prevalent throughout River of Gods is a mix of author-projected plausibility and some unlikelier elements. Where the visual electronic interface of the "hoek" is among the most plausible and versatile, the alcohol-fueled cars are also plausible but becomes repetitive for its own good. Some technologies in McDonald's year 2047 seems too implausible: (1) the explosive growth of artificial intelligence, (2) the mechanization and autonomy of military robots in urban centers, and (3) the electronic counter-measurements. The author is fairly casual about using EMP grenades (pages 233, 474, 475 and 509). The most outrageous technological feat is the Bangladeshi towing of an Antarctic iceberg to the coast in order to reset the monsoon which had been absent and causing drought.

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I'll quote myself: "It's dense, it's heavy--consume if you have the appetite!" This is definitely an intricate though massive novel which whets my appetite for another McDonald cultural and technological exploration such as Brasyl (2007) and The Dervish House (2010). If I feel compelled, like I did a month ago when I started River of Gods, to open another tome, I am gifted with a number of voluminous novels on my shelves... so McDonald will have to take a backseat for quite some time. Anyway, I need a copious amount to resettle my appetite for another of McDonald's sci-fi banquets.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex and well written, 16 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
Complex and well written, with a clever interweaving series of first person narratives I enjoyed this and also purchased Brasyl and Cyberbad days. This is a story that builds momentum and has shocks and surprises as a selection of interesting characters try to thrive and survive in a very coherent future India, along the way they fall in love, make mistakes and behave in very human ways.

An author I will be looking out for in future.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too many plot threads, 4 Sept. 2010
This review is from: River of Gods (Paperback)
The premise behind this book is indeed interesting, and could have made for a very interesting novel. There are, however, some problems associated with having eight different storylines in a 600-page book. The resultant mess makes the plot difficult to follow at best, almost unreadable at worst. Admittedly, I did read this book over a rather long period of time, but there were points that the novel would return to the perspective of another character, and I'd have to flip back through the book to remember who this person actually was!

In short, McDonald falls into the all-too-common trap of trying to include too much in one book. If the book had focused on a smaller number of characters, and cut down on some of the extraneous details that didn't influence the overall plot, it could perhaps have lived up to its ambitions.
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River of Gods
River of Gods by Ian McDonald (Paperback - 9 July 2009)
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