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River of Gods Paperback – September 30, 2007

91 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This ambitious portrait of a future India from British author McDonald (Desolation Road) offers multitudes: gods, castes, protagonists, cultures. Nine disparate characters, including a cop, a scientist and a stand-up comic, act out their related dramas—be they personal, political or of the mystery-thriller variety—in successive chapters within each of the book's five sections. In the India of 2047, genetically engineered children comprise a new caste, adults can be surgically transformed into a neutral gender, a water war has broken out as the Ganges threatens to run dry, AIs are violently destroyed if they approach levels akin to human intelligence, and something strange has just appeared in the solar system. The deliberate pace and lack of explanation require patience at the outset, but readers will become increasingly hooked as the pieces of McDonald's richly detailed world fall into place. Already nominated for both Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke awards, this is sure to one of the more talked-about SF novels of the year. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"A staggering achievement, brilliantly imagined and endlessly surprising...a brave, brilliant and wonderful novel." -- Christopher Priest, Guardian

"Hugely adventurous and entertaining, sumptuously inventive and full of heart...likely to rank as Ian McDonald’s best creative achievement." -- Nick Gevers, Locus

"I will read anything that man writes—he is the most underappreciated genius working in the field today." -- Cory Doctorow, author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town; coeditor, boingboing.net

"One of the best SF books I’ve read this year." -- Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 599 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr; Edition Unstated edition (September 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025958
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025955
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Abigail Nussbaum on June 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
Ian McDonald's River of Gods envisions India in the year 2047 - a country still torn between the third and first worlds. In the holy and profane city of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges, ten people come together come together to start wars, end marriages, commit terrible crimes, fall in love and change the world.

McDonald describes Varanasi in loving, intricate and believable detail. He has a wonderful eye for the way technology changes the way people live and yet leaves them essentially the same as they ever were. As foreign as his future can sometimes be, it is also eerily familiar - you find yourself believing in places like a boat town on the banks of the river where extra-legal organizations conduct remote-controlled gender-nullification surgery and create super-intelligent computer programs. McDonald uses this familiarity to discuss topics that have relevance to our lives today, especially the relationship between India and first world nations such as the US and European countries and the internal divisions that threaten to tear this fledgling nation apart. Although he doesn't spare Western imperialism, McDonald doesn't paint India as a despoiled saint. He sees the country in all its contradictory glory and shame, and gives the Western reader an edifying and fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of this fractured nation.

McDonald's characters span all levels of society, and most of them are fresh and original. There are some beautiful touches here, such as Nandha, a policeman so obsessed with doing his job that he forgets about right and wrong, Najia, a reporter discovering her conscience and her humanity, or Khan, a politician who wants to do the right thing but finds himself struggling with socially unacceptable desires.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Conrad J. Obregon VINE VOICE on August 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Picture this: A novel set in 2047, just far enough ahead so that the reader can be shown some extremely possible developments of today's society, and not just in technology, but in politics, social structure and sexual relations. But a novel set in India rather then western society so that the developments are thrown into a strange side-lighting where the shadows give shape to events. A situation just different enough to show us something we may not have noticed about western society. A group of characters who are well developed enough that we can empathize with them, even when they seem very different from us. A suspenseful mystery that can keep us turning the pages, even when we want to slow down to understand the characters, the society and the science. That's "River of Gods".

Some of the developments seem to be quite reasonable given our present day world. For example, India is no longer a single nation, but rather, has been balkanized into smaller states similar to those that existed before the Raj. Some humans have found ways to change themselves biologically so that they avoid the problems of being either male or female. At the same time, many elements of this society are recognizable and unchanged like the undercurrent of hatred between Hindus and Muslims on the subcontinent.

And picture a society trying to cope with artificial intelligence, not wanting to abandon it, but not wanting to let it get out of hand. And picture a Hindu policeman whose job it is to track down possibly self-aware a.i.'s and who calls each of the programs that he uses to do the job by the name of a Hindu god whose area of expertise relates to the god's role in the older society.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. Brian Watkins VINE VOICE on October 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An impressive work. I enjoy encountering an author that is confident enough to leave the reader to explore the world of his (or her) creation without a map. And what a world McDonald creates... Set primarily in the India of the not-so-distant future, the author masterfully plays our unfamiliarity with Indian culture against our unfamiliarity with the future he creates. The author's skill is evident in the manner whereby our discovery of both the old (Indian Culture) and the new (the future of 2047) progress on roughly the same time frame. On one level the book can be read as a mystery complete with a hardcore police officer out to save the world and bad guys straight out of central casting. On another it is a Stephensoneque ramble about power politics, computer hacking, mass media and the effects of technological and environmental changes upon society. On even another level "River of Gods" is a speculation on the nature of intelligence and the universe worthy of Arthur C. Clarke. Though at times a bit confusing--the author pulls it off and at the end of the book you realize that the themes were infinitely more vast than originally suspected. Much of the pleasure of reading this book is having the disparate thematic threads resolve into a very satisfying whole--the effort demanded of the reader in keeping track of the various plots and subplots is very richly rewarded.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Vishrut Jain on October 10, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
As an Indian how do I react to this book? On the one hand I like the idea of a work of science fiction set in India. On the other hand the author gets so many subtle details wrong, that I am left irritated and dissatisfied. A good editor with a brutal pen, and a first hand knowledge of India would have done wonders here.

My gripes in no particular order,

a) people and place names are subtly off, not as wildly as Conan Doyle mixing Sikh and Hindu names, but the name combinations, sirnames and spelling don't feel realistic for the setting of Varanasi. This goes for almost every Indian name in the book. Where he gets the names right, the spellings are off and represent how someone in South India would spell the names, highly unlikely in Varanasi e.g. Nandha is more likely to be spelled Nanda, and Najia as Nadiya. People with sirname like Rana are also unlikely to feature big in Varanasi politics. Same goes for place names, especially villages. They are plausible but unlikely.

b) they way india has divided into separate states seems wrong. Not the idea of division, which is a very likely scenario, but how the future state lines are drawn. For example, there is little chance that Awadh and Varanasi would split - not only because they form a uniform ethnic and linguistic group, but also the Ganges-Yamuna civilisation is tied together with in-extricable supply chains, with no natural boundaries between the landmass.

c) the description of india of the future feels antiquated even by existing standards. If you have lived in India you would understand that modes of thought and speech represented in this book have more in common with Kipling's colonial biases than the reality of even contemporary India, let alone the future.
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