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River of Gods

(India 2047 #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  5,598 ratings  ·  417 reviews
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 dec
Hardcover, 597 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by Pyr (first published June 7th 2004)
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prcardi I only saw the Cloud Atlas movie, but yes, this is a book with criss-crossing plotlines and main characters that tell multiple stories and eventually …moreI only saw the Cloud Atlas movie, but yes, this is a book with criss-crossing plotlines and main characters that tell multiple stories and eventually weave them together into one big tale. The connection between storylines is more obvious here than it was in Cloud Atlas, and you don't have to wait as long to piece things together. Also, I'd say that the intersection of storylines, while entertaining, is not as important to the story (or the author's point). McDonald is really showcasing the world he has made, and the big cast of characters give him more of an opportunity to do so. Oh, and I wouldn't call this a dystopia. Simply near-future science fiction. (less)

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Richard Derus
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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—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
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I liked this more than Necroville which I liked a lot and which served as measuring stick for this book since old McDonald's writing style makes it hard to compare it to anything else.

Like in Necroville we again have near future setting, far enough to fully implement lot of new technology and near enough not to let go of old ways yet. India is atypical setting for sci-fi and with McDonald's unusual brand of writing creates experience with strong and unusual flavor.It's colorful setting where tra
Plenty of bang for the buck, but it takes some bucks of effort to keep up with all the balls being juggled here. The nut theory of art applies here: that getting more out of a creation takes more effort. So despite having to set it aside for several months, I still give a top rating.

The time is 2047 (40 years from the book’s writing in 2007), and the setting is Varanasi, an ancient and holy city on the Ganges in north-central India. The intertwining voices of eleven main characters weave the tal
6.0 stars. A staggering, literary achievement. McDonald is a superb author and this may be his best book ever. I was absolutely blown away by the original, well-thought ideas crammed into this book.

Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Novel (2005)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2005)
Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2005)
Winner: British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (2005)
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
(Friends, I may be rewriting this because I am not satisfied that I have effectively conveyed my thoughts and reactions to this book.)

This book is being touted as science fiction because McDonald has put his stories in the future, 2047, when the modern state of India has been in existence for 100 years. But the science is, in many ways, less the focus than the ways it affects the characters and hovers behind their actions.

Yes, there are significant changes to the world and to the subcontinent in
You know you're probably not going to write a rave when you find yourself skimming hundreds of pages at a time to reach parts of the book that matter to the plot.

Four things really bothered me about River of Gods, Ian MacDonald's latest about how humans will react when they create beings greater than themselves (i.e., AIs). In no particular order:

1. I'm not a Puritan - sex? profanity? violence? I can deal with it if it's part of the plot or character but outside of romance novels or explicitly p
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Drawing on 60’s New Wave SF(especially Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar), Cyberpunk, and the mainstream novel, McDonald pulls off this incredibly ambitious novel. A near future India broken into different countries and three sexes(a new pronoun is used) which the reader gets immersed in through nine intertwining character lines. This is a future that lives and breathes and is incredibly convincing, and even though the technology is quite interesting(including a frightening look at cybernetic warfare ...more
Jason Pettus
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

As I've mentioned here several times before, there are many of us science-fiction fans who believe that the industry has entered a whole new "age" in the last ten years, one major enough to be compared to the four eras that came before it (to be specific, the historic "Golden Age" of the 1930s and '4
Matthew Rivett
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, sci-fi, cyberpunk
I respect what Ian was trying to do with this novel, I really do, but his ambition, I think, exceeded the execution to the point of muddling ambiguity. Mr. MacDonald's a wordsmith, there's not doubt about it, and some of his descriptions are small morsels of pure prose desert. He is truly a master of the language and plays with it beautifully. The issue, however, is that one will read pages, perhaps a chapter, and realize how very little actually occurred in the scene and how little it contribut ...more
Apr 11, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sff
The one set in a near-future India, where a non-natural object is found in the asteroid belt which is older than the solar system and contains pictures of three humans currently alive. Leadership and scientific struggles at the nation's largest power company; a religious revolt; a Muslim government minister brought down by his passion for an artificial third gender called nutes; AIs thousands of times more intelligent than humans, outlawed and hunted down by a police branch called Krishna Cops.

Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
When you pick this up and hold the hard cover in your hands, its heft is a little intimidating. When you put it down 597 pages later, you’ll wonder how he managed to keep it so focused, how he kept it from wandering all over the place. Not that it doesn’t have a tremendous scope (borders on “epic” but I feel I must reserve that adjective for a space opera review) but McDonald keeps it moving at an aggressive pace. Every back alley detour and out-of-town foray is very deliberate and very much par ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Full disclosure, I'm a fan of this author. However, I’m not a slavish fan. Some of his books really shine, and others don’t. For example, I really liked New Moon (Luna #1) (my review) , but did not finish Desolation Road. This book is somewhere in the middle. It’s well written and richly detailed. The story had an old fashioned cyberpunk feel to it. It also feeds into my current fetish for stories of the historical British Raj. The near-future world building was exceptionally good. Frankly, it ...more
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A kitchen sink novel of catastrophe, salacious sex, and gritty businessisms buoyed together amidst a well-executed cohesion of theme, culture, and linguistic rhythms. McDonald throws it all in: AI, multiverse theory, Urban Combat Robots, media obsession, third gender and does it with style and purpose. A world where gods and data collide.
Florin Pitea
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Aahh. It doesn't get much better than this. The bad news is that the novel is over. The good news is that I still have a collection of short stories set in the same fictional universe, "Cyberabad Days". ...more
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is much like the country it takes place in. You get off the plane, go through immigration where notions of standing or cuing in line are meaningless. People always cut in front of you or that family of 20 is holding place for the other 20 that are coming. You get your luggage and have to fight the man who is trying to help you,meaning he is going to grab your suitcases, put them on a cart and try to take you to his taxi,hotel or whatever other service he may be in cahoots with. It is n ...more
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have been wanting to read this book for so long mainly because it was a futuristic SF set in India in 2047 and there has been some highly positive reviews around. So, I have managed to get my hands around it finally and here are my thoughts.

Most of my reactions and feelings are mixed. I loved some aspects of the story while some of the things I didn't like very much. First I will talk about the things that I really liked. The setting is one of the most unique that I have ever read. I am sure t
Oct 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
on reading the synopsis i really wanted this to be something akin to The Windup Girl but what i got was more of an anthropological study mixed with a dull political intrigue thriller. the science fiction aspect was minimal but the major plus is the realistic depiction of a near future society, one that could quite easily happen within the timeframe set out.

i wanted something excellent and i got something simply ok that was actually a chore to finish. i'm left with a disappointment in a novel for
A unique science fiction tale of India at its centenary told through the inter-locking tales of nine extremely different characters. There is Mr. Nandha,the Krishna cop tasked with exterminating artificial intelligences (or aeais as the book terms them) who break beyond their programming restrictions to a higher threshold of intelligence. There is Shiv, a gangster fallen on hard times forced to work for genetically-engineered titans. There is Tal, a nute (or neutral-gendered person) drawn into i ...more
Catherine Siemann
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I read about this book in a study of postcolonial science fiction, and was motivated to want to read it. It's vast and sprawling in a way that enables it to do justice to its subject. The setting is Bharat, a portion of what once was India, in 2047; Bharat is at war with one of the other former-Indian countries, sectarian violence continues, there is a long-term drought emergency, and meanwhile a flourishing entertainment industry. Most importantly are the aeai, the sentient artificial intellige ...more
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I doubt it's intentional, but Ian McDonald seems to be translating the great treasures of magical realism into scifi, and doing it masterfully. Where Desolation Road reads rather like One Hundred Years of Solitude set on Mars, River of Gods feels like someone gave Salman Rushdie a time machine so he could rewrite Midnight's Children a hundred years later. The result is something completely new, and breathtakingly imaginative and ambitious. The plot reads like magical realism, but McDonald has ap ...more
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, speculative
Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig


Ultimately, the story of this book could have taken place anywhere, and India mainly serves as a metaphor for the complexity of our planet and our species. It also makes for a colorful backdrop, and the Indian pantheon allows easy links with software avatars. All that doesn’t take away the feeling I have that the reason McDonald chose India as the story’s setting has more to do with the stereotypical images we Westerners tend to have of India: ev
Nov 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one substantial story - both in sheer mass of the book, and in the plot itself. McDonald tells the story of India, 50 years into the future. I find his speculation on what may happen to India is believable, and his spec fic elements are plausible. The culture of India seems particularly suited to McDonald's storytelling style - he brings together all of his plots coherently, finding a certain underlying theme to the chaotic and disparate subplots he's working with.

The tale is voyeuristic
Irena Rašeta
Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had great difficulties reading the first half of the book because I mainly read it on the tram, on my way to and from work. And this isn't a kind of book you just read for 20 minutes a day. Too much stuff going on you just know it's going to be relevant later.

I finished reading it on my vacation when I couldn't put it down. Everything came together in most interesting and delightful way, taking me by surprise. Masterful storytelling and a story beyond ages and universes, combining tradition a
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
A sci-fi book set mostly in India year 2047.
The book left me with mixed feelings. While I enjoyed the specific descriptions and “Indian” atmosphere, I had difficulties following the plot and basically lost it. Adding some mysticism, robots, half robots and magical reality into it added to the confusion. In some stages the book reminded me of “
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and from my point of view this is not a very good comparison (I did not like that book either).

Basically it describes
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A century after the 1947 partition and independence of India, the Ganges still timelessly winds through numerous successor states. In particular, Varanasi is the capital of rump Hindu state Bharat, and is facing a water war with neighboring Awadh, while the combined States of Bengal have towed in a big chunk of Antarctic ice shelf to instigate local climate change. While technology has advanced among the scientific elite, the economic and service-heavy stratification that is characteristic of In ...more
As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business..... In the next few weeks they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.

Intriguing concept and the first chapter was compelling. I recently heard about Ian McDonald with high praise for New Moon series. Saw this in my library and a science fiction novel set in India seemed like a good read. Especially for Asian Heritage month. Unfortunately this novel was not for me. And honestly I should ha
Nicholas Whyte
Dec 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing

In 2047, a hundred years after independence, India is embedded in ecological troubles and accelerated technology. The cast of characters includes a comedian who inherits a business empire, a journalist, a policeman hunting rogue AI's, an American scientist, a politician, a neuter, a small-time crook, a Big Dumb Object, and India itself. McDonald keeps all these balls hurtling through the air, to dazzling effect. A great book.
M.S. Hund
Sep 28, 2009 rated it really liked it

That's the best way to describe how I felt on finishing this book. Obviously, I enjoyed it for the most part, otherwise why would I give it four stars? That said, the last section was a letdown.


(1) It felt overly hasty, like the strands of plot were all drawn together too quickly given the pace and depth with which the book was building.

(2) It felt overly hasty, part II. Was it just me, or did there seem to be an inordinate amount of "draft relics" in the later stages? The differen
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Interesting concepts, but dramatically overwritten and hard to follow because he's colored his prose a deep purple. See what I did there? I totally used a silly turn of phrase to make a simple statement more confusing. Gosh I'm so clever.

That's kind of how his writing style feels.
May 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
McDonald is obviously most at home when it comes to setting a scene, and there are gorgeous 'here you are in this moment' passages.

This one is a lot of work, though. I had trouble keeping some characters straight. Everyone is promiscuous and succeeds at it. Everyone has a secret dark past. There are great details, but I felt like the characters muddied... particularly Najia the reporter. She started out startling, this bloodthirsty, man-hungry, up-and-comer ... but by the end I was thinking "Wai
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Ian Neil McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He used to live in a house built in the back garden of C. S. Lewis’s childhood home but has since moved to central Belfast, where he now lives, exploring interests like cats, contemplative religion, bonsai, bicycles, and comic-book collecting. H ...more

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