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.
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About the Author
Ian McDonald is the author of Planesrunner, Be My Enemy, and Empress of the Sun, in the Everness series. He has written thirteen science fiction novelsincluding the 2011 John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner for Best Novel, The Dervish Houseas well as Brasyl, River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, Ares Express, Desolation Road, King of Morning, Queen of Day, Out on Blue Six, Chaga, and Kirinya. He's been nominated for every major science fiction award, and even won some. McDonald also works in television and in program developmentall those reality shows have to come from somewhereand has written for screen as well as print. He lives in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast, and loves to travel.
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RIVER OF GODS
August 15, 2047-Happy Birthday, India
By IAN MCDONALD
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Chapter One SHIV
The body turns in the stream. Where the new bridge crosses the Ganga in five concrete strides, garlands of sticks and plastic snag around the footings; rafts of river flotsam. For a moment the body might join them, a dark hunch in the black stream. The smooth flow of water hauls it, spins it around, shies it feet first through the arch of steel and traffic. Overhead trucks roar across the high spans. Day and night, convoys bright with chrome work, gaudy with gods, storm the bridge into the city, blaring filmi music from their roof speakers. The shallow water shivers.
Knee deep in the river, Shiv takes a long draw on his cigarette. Holy Ganga. You have attained moksha. You are free from the chakra. Garlands of marigolds coil around his wet pant legs. He watches the body out of sight, then flicks his cigarette into the night in an arc of red sparks and wades back towards where the Merc stands axle-deep in the river. As he sits on the leather rear seat, the boy hands him his shoes. Good shoes. Good socks, Italian socks. None of your Bharati shit. Too good to sacrifice to Mother Ganga's silts and slimes. The kid turns the engine; at the touch of the headlights wire-thin figures scatter across the white sand. Fucking kids. They'll have seen.
The big Merc climbs up out of the river, over the cracked mud to the white sand. Shiv's never seen the river so low. He's never gone with that Ganga Devi Goddess stuff-it's all right for women but a raja has sense or he is no raja at all-but seeing the water so low, so weak, he is uncomfortable, like watching blood gush from a wound in the arm of an old friend that you cannot heal. Bones crack beneath the SUV's fat tyres. The Merc scatters the embers of the shore kids' fire; then the boy Yogendra throws in the four-wheel drive and takes them straight up the bank, cutting two furrows through the fields of marigolds. Five seasons ago he had been a river kid, squatting by the smudge-fire, poking along the sand, sifting the silt for rags and pickings. He'll end up there too, some time. Shiv will end up there. It's a thing he's always known. Everyone ends up there. The river bears all away. Mud and skulls.
Eddies roll the body, catch streamers of sari silk and slowly unfurl. As it nears the low pontoon bridge beneath the crumbling fort at Ramnagar, the corpse gives a small final roll and shrugs free. A snake of silk coils out before it, catches on the rounded nose of a pontoon and streams away on either side. British sappers built this bridge, in the nation before the nation before this one; fifty pontoons spanned by a narrow strip of steel. The lighter traffic crosses here; phatphats, mopeds, motorbikes, bicycle rickshaws, the occasional Maruti feeling its way between the bicycles, horn constantly blaring: pedestrians. The pontoon bridge is a ribbon of sound, an endless magnetic tape reverberating to wheels and feet. The naked woman's face drifts centimetres beneath the autorickshaws.
Beyond Ramnagar the east bank opens into a broad sandy strand. Here the naked sadhus build their wicker and bamboo encampments and practise fierce asceticisms before the dawn swim to the sacred city. Behind their campfires tall gas plumes blossom skyward from the big transnational processing plants, throwing long, quivering reflections across the black river, highlighting the glistening backs of the buffaloes huddling in the water beneath crumbling Asi Ghat, first of the holy ghats of Varanasi. Flames bob on the water, a few pilgrims and tourists have set diyas adrift in their little mango leaf saucers. They will gather kilometre-by-kilometre, ghat-by-ghat, until the river is a constellation of currents and ribbons of light, patterns in which sages scry omens and portents and the fortunes of nations. They light the woman on her way. They reveal a face of middle-life. A face of the crowd, a face that would not be missed, if any face could be indispensable among the city's eleven million. Five types of people may not be cremated on the burning ghats but are cast to the river: lepers, children, pregnant women, Brahmins and those poisoned by the king cobra. Her bindi declares that she is none of those castes. She slips past, unseen, beyond the jostle of tourist boats. Her pale hands are soft, unaccustomed to work.
Pyres burn on Manikarnika ghat. Mourners carry a bamboo litter down the ash-strewn steps and across the cracked mud to the river's edge. They dip the saffron-wrapped body in the redeeming water, wash it to make sure no part is untouched. Then it is taken to the pyre. As the untouchable Doms who run the burning ghat pile wood over the linen parcel, figures hip-deep in the Ganga sift the water with shallow wicker bowls, panning gold from the ashes of the dead. Each night on the ghat where Brahma the Creator made the ten-horse sacrifice, five Brahmins offer aarti to Mother Ganga. A local hotel pays them each twenty thousand rupees a month for this ritual but that does not make their prayers any less zealous. With fire, they puja for rain. It is three years since the monsoon. Now the blasphemous Awadh dam at Kunda Khadar turns the last blood in the veins of Ganga Mata to dust. Even the irreligious and agnostic now throw their rose petals on the river.
On that other river, the river of tyres that knows no drought, Yogendra steers the big Merc through the wall of sound and motion that is Varanasi's eternal chakra of traffic. His hand is never off the horn as he pulls out behind phatphats, steers around cycle rickshaws, pulls down the wrong side of the road to avoid a cow chewing an aged vest. Shiv is immune to all traffic regulations except killing a cow. Street and sidewalk blur: stalls, hot-food booths, temples, street shrines hung with garlands of marigolds. Let Our River Run Free! declares a hand-lettered banner of an anti-dam protestor. A gang of call-centre boys in best clean shirts and pants out on the hunt spill into the path of the SUV. Greasy hands on the paint job. Yogendra screams at their temerity. The flow of streets grows straiter and more congested until women and pilgrims must press into walls and doorways to let Shiv through. The air is heady with alcofuel fumes. It is a royal progress, an assertion. Clutching the cold-dewed metal flask in his lap, Shiv enters the city of his name and inheritance.
First there was Kashi: first-born of cities; sister of Babylon and Thebes and survivor of both; city of light where the Jyotirlinga of Siva, the divine generative energy, burst from the earth in a pillar of radiance. Then it became Varanasi; holiest of cities, consort of the Goddess Ganga, city of death and pilgrims, enduring through empires and kingdoms and Rajs and great nations, flowing through time as its river flows through the great plain of northern India. Behind it grew New Varanasi; the ramparts and fortresses of the new housing projects and the glassy, swooping corporate headquarters piling up behind the palaces and narrow, tangled streets as global dollars poured into India's bottomless labour well. Then there was a new nation and Old Varanasi again became legendary Kashi; navel of the world reborn as South Asia's newest meat Ginza. It is a city of schizophrenias. Pilgrims jostle Japanese sex tourists in the crammed streets. Mourners shoulder their dead past the cages of teen hookers. Skinny Westerners gone native with beads and beards offer head massages while country girls sign up at the matrimony agencies and scan the annual income lines on the databases of the desperate.
Hello hello, what country? Ganja ganja Nepali Temple Balls? You want to see young girl, jig-a-jig; see woman suck tiny little American football into her little woman? Ten dollar. This make your dick so big it scares people. Cards, janampatri, hora chakra, buttery red tilaks thumbed onto tourists' foreheads. Tween gurus. Gear! Gear! Knock off sports-stylie, hooky software, repro Big Name labels, this month's movie releases dubbed over by one man in one voice in your cousin's bedroom, sweatshop palmers and lighthoeks, badmash gin and whisky brewed up in old tanneries (John E. Walker, most respectable label). Since the monsoon failed, water; by the bottle, by the cup, by the sip, from tankers and tanks and shrink-wrapped pallets and plastic litrejohns and backpacks and goatskin sacks. Those Banglas with their iceberg, you think they'll give us one drop here in Bharat? Buy and drink.
Past the burning ghat and the Siva temple capsizing slowly, tectonically, into the Varanasi silts, the river shifts east of north. A third set of bridge piers stirs the water into Cats' tongues. Lights ripple, the lights of a high-speed shatabdi crossing the river into Kashi Station. The streamlined express chunks heavily over the points as the dead woman shoots the rail bridge into clear water.
There is a third Varanasi beyond Kashi and New Varanasi. New Sarnath, it appears on the plans and press releases of the architects and their PR companies, trading on the cachet of the ancient Buddhist city. Ranapur to everyone else; a half-built capital of a fledgling political dynasty. By any name, it is Asia's biggest building site. The lights never go out. The labour never ceases. The noise appals. One hundred thousand people are at work, from chowkidars to structural engineers. Towers of great beauty and daring rise from cocoons of bamboo scaffolding, bulldozers sculpt wide boulevards and avenues shaded by gene-mod ashok trees. New nations demand new capitals and Ranapur will be a showcase to the culture, industry and forward-vision of Bharat. The Sajida Rana Cultural Centre. The Rajiv Rana conference centre. The Ashok Rana telecom tower. The museum of modern art. The rapid transit system. The ministries and civil service departments, the embassies and consuls and the other paraphernalia of government. What the British did for Delhi, the Ranas will do for Varanasi. That's the word from the building at the heart of it all, the Bharat Sabha, a lotus in white marble, the Parliament House of the Bharati government, and Sajida Rana's prime-ministership.
Construction floods glint on the shape in the river. The new ghats may be marble but the river kids are pure Varanasi. Heads snap up. Something here. Something light, bright, glinting. Cigarettes are stubbed. The shore kids dash splashing into the water. They wade thigh-deep through the shallow, blood-warm water, summoning each other by whistles. A thing. A body. A woman's body. A naked woman's body. Nothing new or special in Varanasi but still the water boys drag the dead woman in to shore. There may be some last value to be had from her. Jewellery. Gold teeth. Artificial hip joints. The boys splash through the spray of light from the construction floods, hauling their prize by the arms up on to the gritty sand. Silver glints at her throat. Greedy hands reach for a trishul pendant, the trident of the devotees of Lord Siva. The boys pull back with soft cries.
From breastbone to pubis, the woman lies open. A coiled mass of gut and bowel gleams in the light from the construction site. Two short, hacking cuts have cleanly excised the woman"s ovaries.
In his fast German car, Shiv cradles a silver flask, dewed with condensation, as Yogendra moves him, through the traffic.
Excerpted from RIVER OF GODS by IAN MCDONALD Copyright © 2006 by Ian McDonald. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents PART ONE: GANGA MATA....................1
2 Mr. Nandha....................9
3 Shaheen Badoor Khan....................22
PART TWO: SAT CHID EKAM BRAHMA....................79
11 Lisa, Lull....................95
12 Mr. Nandha, Parvati....................119
13 Shaheen Badoor Khan, Najia1....................33
PART THREE: KALKI....................179
19 Mr. Nandha....................215
22 Shaheen Badoor Khan....................259
PART FOUR: TANDAVA NRITYA....................309
27 Shaheen Badoor Khan....................320
29 Banana Club....................338
34 Najia, Tal....................378
35 Mr. Nandha....................385
36 Parvati, Mr. Nandha....................392
37 Shaheen Badoor Khan....................400
38 Mr. Nandha....................408
43 Tal, Najia....................438
45 Sarkhand Roundabout....................450
PART FIVE: JYOTIRLINGA....................453
47 Lull, Lisa....................569
What People are Saying About This
"Hugely adventurous and entertaining, sumptuously inventive and full of heart...it is likely to rank as Ian McDonald's finest creative achievement."
"A staggering achievement, brilliantly imagined and endlessly surprising...a brave, brilliant and wonderful novel."
"I will read anything that man writes-he is the most under appreciated genius working in the field today."
author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; coeditor, boingboing.net
"One of the best SF books I've read this year."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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 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 th
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 impressive.A very great book.
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 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
This book is certainly as imaginative as the back cover reviews say, but if felt disconnected to me. There were so many characters that it took me a few pages into each chapter to remember who I was reading about now. Even at the end of the book, I still didn't understand how some of the characters fit in -- they just seemed superfluous.River of Gods is an exciting and imaginative read, but I think it lacks the big picture needed to make it a _great_ book.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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. Recommended.