I did it again. Just like I did with Terry Goodkind and Ben Bova (and should have done with R. Scott Bakker), I took a book back to the library after reading about 20% of it. I don’t plan on ever looking up anything by the author again.
Which is a shame. Ian McDonald’s River of Gods holds so much promise that I hated to put it down, but put it down I did.
To bring you up to speed: McDonald’s near future (2047) collage is set in India on her 100th anniversary, a moment of great unrest for the country and the world. Of course man-made global warming has brought about unprecedented changes and unpredictability in earth’s climate, here actualized by a drought leaving India with a waste of her heartland rivers. India (and the United States) have fragmented into conflict-ridden sister-states, and of course the novel is set on the brink of war.
Add into the mix a generous helping of late-late scifi chrome: aeai’s (AIs) are core to the plot, having been outlawed in the US because of Bible-thumping moralists, are springing up everywhere in India, such that enough go bad to cause the creation of a branch of law enforcement, the “Krishna kop”. User interface technology piques in the “’hoek”, a straight-to-the-brain Bluetooth device that rich people use to beam in their diets of information. Huge remote-controlled combat robots (the only ones we see are the ones created by the US, remote controlled by cowardly pilots half a world away, or stolen from them and put to more personal purposes) roam the humid streets destroying randomly (at least from the point of view of the plot).
And then, into this weave of technology, add a generous helping of social scifi—genetically engineered “Brahmins”, physical children who have the sexual appetites and financial resources of 14th century French aristocrats; “nutes”, surgically modified people with no external sexual organs, but with sub-dermal control panels that allow other intimate nutes to do much more with them than any mere physical genitalia ever would. All the modern and post-modern obsession with personal consumption and sexual license.
Stir and set into motion.
I found myself interested in where things were going, but increasingly tired of the usual dystopian tropes. Even 20% in I could see the nihilism and bracingly cold scientism teasing out the strands of the plot. And to top it off, the real deal-breaker was the relentless ultra-graphic sex scenes. I mean the kind that couldn’t be filmed without an NC-17 rating. Every five pages. Even if I wanted to see where this went, I’d have to wade through all that muck. And the America-is-the-devil-ism. And see-I-told-you-so environmentalism. And the gleeful abandonment of the human family at every level.
So back in the bin it went.
According to the web, this is the sort of book the people award highly (the author has a number of prestigious awards to his credit). Clearly this is forward thinking, progressive scifi at its best.
Fine, whatever. But who is writing good books in the genre these days?