Asteroid mining newbie Ivan Pritchard and the crew of the Mad Astra seem to have made the strike of a lifetime. But there is a mysterious artifact close by. When the crew investigates, Ivan triggers an ancient alien booby trap, and is changed into… something else.
The story is cleverly constructed and moves along briskly. I couldn’t put it down. While rather tightly focused on a small cast of characters, the scope quickly expands, encompassing broad themes of existence, self and societal viability. Fundamental questions about the Drake Equation and the Great Filter are asked, but without detracting from the enjoyable nature of the narrative. Unlike many authors who dabble in mysterious alien artifacts and “what do they want with us?”, Mr. Taylor manages to pull off a plausible and logical conclusion that does not smell of Deus ex Machina. The signs of ecological catastrophe on Earth, initially giving the impression of being just window dressing, also contribute to the urgency of the situation presented.
India one hundred years after nationhood is divided into multiple states. The monsoon has failed in the past several years, heralding an impending war over water between Bharat and neighbouring Awadh. Bharat is not a signatory to the international Hamilton accords limiting the intelligence of AIs, choosing instead to allow some development and self-police through its Krishna Cops. Bharat is a haven for datacenters but there is always the risk of a rogue AI ruining everyone’s whole day. Meanwhile, AIs are the actors in India’s premiere soap opera Town and Country, which harbours deeper complexities than anyone imagines.
The world of River of Gods is immensely detailed, chaotic and complex. Reading the first third of the book leads the reader into massive culture shock as he is forced to navigate the storylines of multiple complex characters. The characters are many. Tal, the “neut”, who has surgically eschewed gender and risks persecution by a mob too easily turned to violence. Mr. Nandha, a Krishna Cop bound to his duty. Lisa Durnau, a cosmologist who researches the structure of universe, only to find that the reality is far more intriguing and disturbing. Thomas Lull, Durnau’s mentor, who is sought out by a mysterious woman who knows everything about everyone and can control machines with her mind. Vishram Ray, the scion of a powerful family who escaped to be a comedian in Scotland and has now been forced back into the family business. And many more major and minor.
It is sometimes tough going through the first half of the book, as there seems to be no real story, but as the novel progresses the plotlines become more defined and come together. The underlying theme is the nature and meaning consciousness and intelligence, or “the meaning of life,” if you will.
The final triumph of understanding is deeply rewarding to the reader. Having said that, I did feel that the book was overlong and that some of the secondary plotlines could have been culled, no matter how much Mr. McDonald’s dazzling prose is a pleasure to read.
It is hard to tell what this one is about from the blurb. Between the covers is postmodern science fiction well grounded in current physics. A mysterious entity known as “The Festival” arrives on the backwater colony of a neo-Victorian Empire, quite literally showering manna from heaven on the populace in return for “entertainment” in the form of information. The Empire attempts to retaliate, and all the while a pair of agents, one for the UN, hover and observe. These agents work a pair of mysterious powers that seek to ensure that humanity is not destroyed by the mysterious Eschaton, an powerful entity that brutally punishes causality violations. Technology now allows time travel as a biproduct of (apparent) faster than light travel, and the Eschaton is merciless on those who violate its causality edicts.
In the middle of this dangerous universe, the two secret agents develop a strong personal relationship. Stross skillfully manages to focus on their story and it’s pertinence while the worlds around them spirals towards an uncertain future. At the same time, he does not forget to show the humorous side of those who refuse to accept self-evident realities. Innovative and deeply insightful, but ultimately pretty boring. My big gripe is that I didn’t feel any empathy whatsoever for the characters.
Book one of Engines of Light. This post-singularity novel has received quite some critical acclaim. While I can appreciate the good prose, I was not drawn in by either the characters or the story. MacLeod has some cool ideas but I gave up after about one hundred pages.
This novel is published both as a singleton and in the omnibus edition Across Realtime together with its prequel The Peace War.
The sequel to “The Peace War” jumps 50 million years into the future. The 300 remaining humans travel forward through the eons with Bobbles, the invulnerable stasis fields introduced in “The Peace War”. One of them is left behind. The only remaining cop in the world must solve the mystery of why she had to die marooned in “realtime” while the rest jumped ahead in time. This book is absolutely fantastic. The factional disputes, the feeling of disconnection, the sheer human suffering of losing everything you ever knew, is portrayed masterfully. It delves deeply into the question of what should we, as humans, really do with our lives and our race. Some wish to recreate the human race now that enough people are simultanously “in realtime” (not in stasis). Some with to travel forward through the eons and see what awaits at the end of the universe. Some, it would seem, want to continue the nationalist struggles of a long-lost past. What a ride!