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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    May '08 Discussion: River of Gods by Ian McDonald

    What did we think of this one? Looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts.

  2. #2
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    I enjoyed this one quite a bit when I read it last year. McDonald did a great job of balancing character, plot, and world-building in the novel. I thought maybe there were too many characters.

    Here's a bit of what I said in my review:

    The only, minor, problem I had with the book was really settling into the novel. McDonald throws quite a bit at the reader early on, by no means is River of Gods a breezy read. In terms of the "widescreen" and "epic" I’d compare him with Peter F. Hamilton, despite the novel taking place primarily on Earth with events spanning only days, rather than years and galaxies.

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    I see this book has been particularly popular Only one comment from someone who read it ages ago. (should add that I am not reading it)
    It's a shame but I think the SF bookclub is maybe a bit dead.

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    In the interest of discussion, Ropie, why aren't you reading it?

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I have a few things to put out there, but just haven't had the moments. Maybe I'd do better to just do a point or two a post instead of trying to find time to get them all out there at once. So here's a few:

    One of the things I found most interesting was the storytelling style. Much like Hamilton, as Rob mentioned, there are quite a few characters here, nine or ten mains. Given the length of the book, many of them are getting only about 50 pages throughout the entirety of the book. Somehow, even in that short space of time McDonald manages to paint very clear, interesting characters that held me through their own personal and overarching issues.

    The depiction of AI was also unique in my reading experience. Very often we have the story of either the beneficial AI, happy to go about helping mankind, or the hostile AI, happy to go about trying to destroy mankind. Here is the first time I've seen a largely impartial, uninterested AI. The AIs are really only interested in their own survival and they only begin to clash with mankind when it encroaches on their living space, much like things work in nature. Snakes aren't a problem until men start pushing them out of their natural environment. Are there any other novels with a similar treatment of AI entities?

  5. #5
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    I thought the AI depiction pretty clever, too.

    As much as I enjoyed this novel, I simply could not get into the short story associated with the novel The Djinn's Wife (I think), nor any of his other short fiction I've attempted. I know this thread is to specifically discuss River of Gods, but has anybody else had this same experience?

  6. #6
    I honestly didn't like this one all that much. It's one of the few books I've read recently that just never clicked.

    My issues are as follows:

    1. The time period he set it in felt unrealistic for the technology that was presented. This is a problem I have with all "futuristic" books that set a date, but especially so when it is so close in the future. I really just didn't think some of the things are possible within the next 50 years.

    2. The writing style just never really warmed up with me. I think a lot of this was lack of detail.

    3. Most of the characters felt very underdeveloped. I remember clearly one point late in the novel when it was going from the viewpoint of one of the main characters and I suddenly realized I honestly didn't care what happened to them.

    4. Pointless devaitions. Some of the plot threads just honestly felt worthless. It's been about six months since I read it so I can't remember the specifics, but I just remember wondering what some of the plot had to do with anything.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob B View Post
    I thought the AI depiction pretty clever, too.

    As much as I enjoyed this novel, I simply could not get into the short story associated with the novel The Djinn's Wife (I think), nor any of his other short fiction I've attempted. I know this thread is to specifically discuss River of Gods, but has anybody else had this same experience?
    I did not enjoy Djinn's Wife that much but I liked Little Goddess much better. The novel itself was very good - and the good-natured digs at some famous contemporary sf authors were funny - but I did not like the ending, seemed a bit wasted after all the build-up. All the Indian pov chapters/main characters were interesting while the Western ones were mostly boring.

    Overall, it was a career book for Mr. McDonald and propelled him in the rank of top sf authors.

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    Registered User vicki_girl's Avatar
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    I have been wanting to get into the book clubs more, so I picked this book up at the library. I gave up after ~3 pages. While there was a glossary/index, there were several things not in it that were used in those first pages. I spent about half an hour on the computer looking things up just for those first few pages. I decided I just didn't have time for that.

    (If this is not appropriate discussion of the book, my apologies)

  9. #9
    Registered User Raule's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob B View Post
    As much as I enjoyed this novel, I simply could not get into the short story associated with the novel The Djinn's Wife (I think), nor any of his other short fiction I've attempted. I know this thread is to specifically discuss River of Gods, but has anybody else had this same experience?
    Interesting that you should bring that up, because I read The Djinn's Wife and thought it was just okay... nothing about it made me want to run out and try this particular book. I have been, however, interested in trying something else by McDonald, so sounds like this is still worth picking up at some point. Summer is my most expensive time of year. I won't be buying any more books until the fall when expenses go down again. :-(

  10. #10
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Vicki - that's fine and you just let us know your reaction. The book isn't an easy novel on many fronts, and that isn't a slight to anyone. It's "out there" and might be one of those "you have to be in the right frame of mind" for it books.

  11. #11
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob B View Post
    I thought the AI depiction pretty clever, too.

    As much as I enjoyed this novel, I simply could not get into the short story associated with the novel The Djinn's Wife (I think), nor any of his other short fiction I've attempted. I know this thread is to specifically discuss River of Gods, but has anybody else had this same experience?
    Interesting. I only read "Djinn's Wife" after I read River of Gods, and I enjoyed it a lot more than the novel. I'm a big fan of MacDonald's, and I find he's generally better at Short fiction than at novels.

    I thought the themes were very well developed in Djinn's Wife, and the idea of what an AI is comes across much clearer. (AJ Rao is as much a fiction as the soap, and so - presumably - is his death.) The story's very intricately structured, down to the choice of the narrator (whose identity is pretty much the punch line, heh).

    Perhaps his novels are as intricately structured, but I'm just not focussed enough to catch that in a novel? Anyway, the main attraction of River of Gods for me was MacDondald's wonderful prose (one of the best current stylists inside genre and out, IMO), and the "cultural snapshots" (rooftop cricket with fresh fruit, country wife caught between husband and mother, nute culture - in their own enclave, the rogue [forget his name] and his sister talk about Christianity...).

    I thought the American Scientist's ending was quite strong, emotionally; but I didn't really warm to the AI's secret playground story line.

    I understand why the opening image is in present tense, and sometimes the present tense does help put a magnifying lense to the setting, but generally I'm not sure it's very effective here. I don't see it working too well with anything that has to do with the dam. It's not that I mind the present tense while reading; it's just that I'm used to MacDonald having a good reason for every ounce of his narrative technique ("Djinn's Wife" is actually a good example of that, I thought), and I found that, maybe, a more mixed technique would have worked better? Unsure, here.

    Compared to the novels of his I read:

    Necroville: This one's the most like River of Gods in that it also follows various strands and brings them - loosly - together. The idea is that nano-tech is used to "resurrect" the dead, who then turn into a zombie-workforce, who live in designated city areas, is quite interesting, and well executed at that; but - like River of Gods - I felt it was a bit of a pastiche - either too much plot, or too little. I find River of Gods is the better book of the two.

    Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone: A very slim volume, but I ejnoyed it quite a bit. A regular chap, who finds his hands tatooed with "highly suggestive pictograms" on either hand (one heals, the other kills) goes to a cyberpunk Japan on a pilgrimage. The book could have been better, I think, with less action and more setting, but I'm not complaining. I prefer the booklet to both N & RoG.

    Sacrifice of Fools: Alien colonies in London, racism and the IRA. My favourite of his novels. It's paced like a mystery, but the resolution lies in the alien's biochemistry. It's a twist on the detective (here: a chauffeur) who goes into a strange sub-culture to solve a crime and works beautifully. Needless to say, I enjoyed it more than River of Gods.

    So from my (selective) experience, RoG is a pretty avarage MacDonald's novel, which at times shines really bright.

    Still, I think MacDonald's real strength lies in short fiction.

  12. #12
    Yobmod Yobmod's Avatar
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    As much as I enjoyed this novel, I simply could not get into the short story associated with the novel The Djinn's Wife (I think), nor any of his other short fiction I've attempted. I know this thread is to specifically discuss River of Gods, but has anybody else had this same experience?
    Interesting. I only read "Djinn's Wife" after I read River of Gods, and I enjoyed it a lot more than the novel. I'm a big fan of MacDonald's, and I find he's generally better at Short fiction than at novels.
    I also read the novel first, and didn't really enjoy it at all. The Djinn's Wife and Little Goddess were better imo.

    My opinion from nearer to when i read it (from the thread about Rob's review)

    've also finally finished Ian Macdonald's River of Gods. I had very high hopes for this as it was nominated for lots of awards (Hugo, ACC, BSF), and the infinity plus review said it was 'head-and-shoulders above the competition; by far the best sf book published in 2004.'

    Unfortunaly i was very disapointed It simply read as a bloated (nearly 600 pages!) unoriginal cyberpunk novel with a twist. The twist being that instead of the usual sino-american setting we were given a (cliched) indo-american one. Almost eveything else read like a rehash of a Gibson book. The idea of computer programs becoming intelligent, and taking god-like avatars, and manipulating the human race - none of it felt new. And the unoriginality streched to include the characters and plot; we get cyber-criminals (in the indian equivelant of the Yakuza), singleminded cyber-police, the kooky american scientists.

    Other problems i had ranged from the 'nutes' - who were supposed to be genderless, but without fail were depicted as desexed men or women, and referred to by an annoying pronoun of 'Yt' - to the inclusion of hundreds of completely needless indian words. English has perfecly useful words for cigerette, or hoodlum, or beaurocrat, or thug - replacing them with indian words just made many paragraphs unreadable - the glossary had to be referred to at least once a page.

    The plot is supposed to follow 10 people that are important to the AI revolution - but in the final few chapters we find that only four or five of the charatcers were really important at all. The rest of the characters just die, or leave, and have no input to the overall plot except to double its size.

    Other than that, the writing wasn't really bad, and some of the scenes were good individually - overall i gave it 4.5/10 - not recommended to any but cyberpunk fans who have already read all the decent titles.
    Last edited by Yobmod; May 21st, 2008 at 11:49 AM.

  13. #13
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yobmod View Post
    Other problems i had ranged from the 'nutes' - who were supposed to be genderless, but without fail were depicted as desexed men or women,
    I had the same reaction and talked to my sister about it. I invariably thought of Tal (was that the name?) as male, she as female. It appears we both superimposed our own genders onto yt (sorry ), much like the characters in the story. I thought that was interesting. I thought about what evidence I had for my impression, and couldn't come up with anything.

    (Anyway, I thought the nutes were only briefly interesting - when they were amongst themselves.)

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Yobmod View Post
    Unfortunaly i was very disapointed It simply read as a bloated (nearly 600 pages!) unoriginal cyberpunk novel with a twist. The twist being that instead of the usual sino-american setting we were given a (cliched) indo-american one.

    Other problems i had ranged from the 'nutes' - who were supposed to be genderless, but without fail were depicted as desexed men or women, and referred to by an annoying pronoun of 'Yt' - to the inclusion of hundreds of completely needless indian words. English has perfecly useful words for cigerette, or hoodlum, or beaurocrat, or thug - replacing them with indian words just made many paragraphs unreadable - the glossary had to be referred to at least once a page.

    The plot is supposed to follow 10 people that are important to the AI revolution - but in the final few chapters we find that only four or five of the charatcers were really important at all. The rest of the characters just die, or leave, and have no input to the overall plot except to double its size.

    Other than that, the writing wasn't really bad, and some of the scenes were good individually - overall i gave it 4.5/10 - not recommended to any but cyberpunk fans who have already read all the decent titles.
    i agree wholeheartedly with all of this.

    the thing that annoyed me most was how useless some of the characters really turned out to be. they got pages and pages dedicated to them, and just melted away from the plot, not mattering at all

  15. #15
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    It was slow to start but by the time I was done, I was very impressed. The first time I read him was the outstanding novel "Chaga". Since then, I've liked his short stories better than his novels. With "River of Gods" he's produced a stunner.

    It took me a few chapters to get into it; there were so many characters, so many plot threads going on. I found it to be a book where you have to pay attention - it didn't dumb things down for the reader. I really liked the portrayal of a future India, one where the gulf between rich and poor was still wide, one that (like today's India) was a riot of contrasts.

    The main plot takes a while to get going, but ends in a triumphant climax, very nicely, and satisfyingly pulling the plot threads together. I found it to be a complex layered tale. It deserves all the praise it's received.

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