“River of Gods,” set on a wartorn Indian subcontinent in 2047 (India by this time, one hundred years after winning her independence from Britain, has split up into several countries), is about the emergence of several post-human artificial superintelligences (McDonald makes a case for calling them “gods”), and the people who variously thwart or assist them in achieving their unexpected goals.
There’s a Krishna Cop, whose job is to track down and eliminate any artificial intelligence that has become too dangerously intelligent (there are laws designed to forestall the Singularity in this world). There’s a scientific researcher who turned his back on the world, and is trying to live a quiet, simple, hermetic life, in classic Indian style (though he’s an American). There’s the woman he used to love. There’s a new woman in his life, who seems to be able to “see” the “gods” and take advantage of their powers. There’s a ruthless “raja” (which, in this context, means “street hustler dealing in body parts and illegal technologies”) and his even more ruthless sidekick. There’s a “nute,” a person who has had “yts” gender stripped away surgically — not to become the other gender, but to become neither. There’s an unhappy housewife. There’s a political terrorist. There’s this character and that one, and another and another and another and another and another and, yes, another and another and another and another.
An elevator pitch for “River of Gods” would go like this: it’s “War and Peace” for the Technological Singularity, done up with Bollywood panache. It is a long, good, often vexing read. Vexing because there are so many POV characters, and so many subplots, that it’s impossible to keep up with them. You just have to keep reading and not worry about it, I found. Good because it does come together, finally, though you’d never imagine that it would. Long because the promising beginning and fantastic ending are interrupted by entirely too much middle. Would I have cut it? I don’t know. I think I probably would have, but I don’t know how. That’s a writer’s problem, though. As a reader, just be prepared to slog through a bunch of stuff that seems like it’s uninteresting or confusing, because the payoff, finally, does happen to be worthwhile.
I should mention that the Kindle Edition, which I read, was plagued with easy-to-fix, probably OCR-related typos. For example, “comrnunity” instead of “community.” While we don’t yet have Singularity-level intelligence, even the spell-checker that comes with Microsoft Word would have caught that error, I’m fairly certain. I’m no stickler for this kind of thing. I could have easily dealt with it if there had been one or two or three, or even twenty little inconsequential errors like this. There were three or four on every page. This isn’t a cheap eBook, nor was it self-published, and one doesn’t expect such unforgivable sloppiness from an important and popular imprint of a major house. Get your act together, Pyr.