Monday, June 19, 2006

River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Every so often there is a science fiction novel that acts as a catalyst for change in the genre. A visionary with a tale so new and vivid that it spawns copycats and subgenres and critical thought -- true breakthrough works from forward thinking artists. Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Vernor Vinge, and now Ian McDonald.

River of Gods is the third major novel of modern speculative fiction set in the lore of India. The first, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny received the Hugo Award for best novel in 1968, and the second, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 and was voted the 'Booker of all Booker's' in 1993.

River of Gods outshines them both.

The meek need not enter, for River of Gods is as complex as it is lush, as forbidding as it is human. This is no Heinleinian juvenile, McDonald requires as much from the reader as he offers. If you'd but work through the gnarled and horny shell to get to the bitingly sweet and fiercely piquant juice underneath, what awaits is the best science fiction novel of this newborn century; the most important SF novel that has been released in my 18 years of fandom.

The story centers around a large, seemingly unrelated group of people in India, about 40 years into the future. Tantalizingly slowly, McDonald weaves these incongruous threads into a sumptuous tapestry of artificial intelligence, Hindu spiritualism, human desire, and staggering advances in foreign culture.

Justly and unfairly nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel in 2005, River of Gods hadn't a prayer of winning, due to it not having been released in the United States until early 2006. It's a crying shame too, because no novel has deserved the Hugo Award so obviously in twenty years. Thankfully it has yet to be nominated for the Nebula, and the SFWA has the opportunity to somewhat right a grievous wrong.

A relative newcomer to Science Fiction fandom, I'd always wondered what it would be like to have lived in the times that saw the releases of masterful works such as Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Foundation Trilogy, or Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I no longer have to wonder.


Collector's Notes:

Looking for a book to invest in? I can't think of a better choice than River of Gods. The UK hardcover from Simon & Shuster is the true first edition, and is already becoming scarce on the collectible market. The US first edition from PYR Books has been recently released (March 06), and is a steal at cover price or less. Ever imagine getting in on the ground level of Neuromancer or Dhalgren? Here's your chance.

Buy two, because you'll never want your library to lack this title.

**Pyr Books is a newcomer to science fiction publishing, but with River of Gods they gain instant credibility as a powerhouse in genre fiction. They've certainly gained my attention, and look for more reviews of their titles on this site soon.

Comments on "River of Gods by Ian McDonald"


Blogger RobB said ... (9:31 PM) : 

Nice review William. This was was pretty good. One of those books that DEMANDS a re-read.


Blogger Race said ... (4:38 PM) : 

One of the few times I prefer the US cover to the UK.
I'm weak. I ordered a copy last night.


Blogger William Lexner said ... (6:12 PM) : 

Rob - I agree. I wish I had time to reread it right NOW. But I have Paragaea, the second and third Temeraire books, The Crooked Letter, Conflagration, The Lies of Locke Lamora, a Kim Newman collection and others screaming for my attention.

Race - You won't regret the purchase, man. Amazing book.


Blogger RobB said ... (9:52 PM) : 


It sounds like you've got my reading list there. I just finished the second Temerarie (thumbs up!) and moving onto the the third. I hope you enjoy Williams and Roberson as much as I did.

Race - I prefer the US edition, too. I'm becoming a big fan of Martiniere's art.


Blogger Lou Anders said ... (10:59 PM) : 

Hi guys,
Thanks for the kind words re: Stephan's cover. I'm a big fan of his too. He's got a website at which has a pretty big gallery and is well worth checking out. I was thrilled when he got his first Hugo nomination this year.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:31 PM) : 

I thoroughly enjoyed River of Gods, although I was worried when I started: Gods, are these POVs going anywhere?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:47 PM) : 

Hi! Love you blog articles.
A passionate fan for years so I started my own blog :-)


post a comment