(c) 2005-2007 Oliver Bonten
Oliver's book reviews
Some years ago, I came across Ian McDonald's short story "The Little Goddess", which took place in an India of the near future, and described the life of a little girl who is venerated as a goddess in Kathmandu (a Kumari Devi, for those among you who know Hindu traditions). The introductory text said that McDonald learned of the Kumari Devi tradition while doing research for his novel "River of Gods", so I became interested in this novel.
To cut it short, it is a fantastic book. Dense, fast-paced, full of not-too-unbelievable future scenarios. The year is 2047, 100 years after India gained independence. India is fragmented into several independent countries along the lines of the larger Indian states of today, with some of them at the brink of a water-war. Economically, India has a booming IT and biotechnology industry in a world in which AIs smarter than men are technically possible but outlawed by international treaty, and India makes a lot of money with AIs that are just a bit smarter than what is legal in the rest of the world, but not smart enough to convince other countries to take serious action against India. But not all AIs are within legal limit and there is a police division that hunts and shuts down rogue AIs. Meanwhile, Bollywood uses just-barely-legal AIs to create virtual movie stars that not only appear like living actors on screen but also have a virtual private life.
The book revolves around a bunch of almost stereotypical Indian and non-Indian characters: there is the painfully middle-class Krishna cop (i.e. one of the guys who are hunting rogue AIs) and his countryside wife, the Muslim politician (from an old Muslim-Indian family) who is the most trustworthy advisor of the prime minister of an almost fanatically Hindu state, the black-sheep son of an incredibly wealthy tycoon who suddenly inherits a fortune (and a secret research project), an American scientist who is drawn by a mysterious artifact found in space to her long-lost former colleague who lives as a drop-out in India now. And not to forget a mysterious girl about whose past and origin little is known, and who seems to know things no one can know.
The scenario and storyline is chaotic, like traffic on an Indian street, but all those threads come together in the end and resolve in a way that, fortunately, would make a sequel unlikely. But the book introduces a universe in which more stories could be placed, and McDonald already has written another short story taking place in this universe ("The Djinn's Wife"). Anybody who is somehow interested in India should read this book.
More fiction about India
Book: Midnight's Children
Book: River of Gods
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