Page 1 of 5
By Patrick (2006-11-19)
Q: For the benefit of those of us new to your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is RIVER OF GODS.
A taste, you say? An Indian thali then --a selection of small, intensely flavoured snacks on one plate. . There's a computer-generated soap opera where all the characters are played by Artificial Intelligences --who also play the actor's playing the characters, because the gossip-column world outside the soap is as important and the soap itself. There's an embattled Prime Minister being drawn into a water war with her immediate neighbour to save her career and her government from the threat of a Hindu fundamentalist populist party. There's a Krishna Cop whose job it is to track down and excommunicate unlicensed 'aeais' --Artificial Intelligences. There's an American scientist gone native down in Kerala who is drawn back into the world to interpret a seemingly impossible astronomical event. There's a stand-up comedian who inherits a power company, there's a new third sex --that doesn't do sex. There's cricket (and if you haven't been to India, it's hard to imagine how important cricket is there: it is to India what soccer is to Brazil: any open space, someone will set up stumps and make a bat from a piece of old wood. We were there for the 2003 final of the cricket World Cup --India versus Australia. I read recently that China has officially decided it is going to adopt cricket, because it reckons it's a sport at which it can excel. That makes it at a stroke the world's biggest sport. China/India test matches will be the planet's biggest sporting fixture. There are street criminals, glittering parties, gods and monsters, scandal, intrigue... Just another couple of months in India --or what remains of India-- in 2047.
Q: What made you decide to set the story in India? With its myriad gods, cultures, etc, how much of a challenge was it to get every little detail "right?"
India had never featured in SF. Africa, well covered, China --when the US (and SF is still a largely US-centric genre) thinks of Asia it tends to think China and Japan --East Asia. When did you ever see an India on Star Trek? Or, for that matter, a Brazilian? (Trek has always reflected US internal ethnicity and foreign policy --the bad guys are who the administration wants everyone to be scared off at that time. Klingons were of course the barbarous red horde, the Borg the faceless drone Korean car worker destroying the US economy, the infiltrating, sleeper shapeshifters and the fanatical Jen Hadar, well, 'jemadar' is a Hindi word fro a sergeant in the Indian Army...) On our side of the Atlantic we've always had a much closer historical and colonial relationship with South Asia and, when the first wave of outsourcing broke, the bright idea was to outsource cyberpunk along with it. Bruce Sterling wrote in the introduction to Mirrorshades about wanting to 'distil the weak beer of space opera' into something stronger. I wanted to distil the weak beer of cyberpunk into something stronger --and funkier. At the same time fashion was changing in the UK: for a while it had been cool to be Irish (no, really); then Brit-Asian became the fashionable ethnicity: Talvin Singh won the mercury Music prize, all of a sudden the desi thing was on the horizon, and the proper responses of a science fiction writer to these things is to ask, well, what about?
Research: well, 90% of your research you never use, but you have to do it because you never know what that 10% that lifts a book --I think of it like yeast in bread- and makes the reader think, yes, this is real, he's seen/experienced this. Any writer will tell you that quite a lot of imagination-stuff can be raised by one true, real-world insight. Research began in 1999, writing in 2003, after I'd been out on the research trip, which took in the usual touristy destinations (and why not?) and a three day trip sailing down the Ganges, camping on sandbars, into Varanasi, which is the only way to arrive, IMHO. Then up into Nepal, which I had initially thought of as an add-on, which spawned the companion story The Little Goddess. In terms of difficulty, there's a huge amount of material out there to draw from and source; Brazil was much much harder to research. It may be the fifth largest country in the world (you can drop the conterminous states comfortably into Brazil) but there are twelve times as many books on tiny (but fashionable) Cuba. Then again, I like to think I'm that wee bit ahead of the curve, so Brazil should be appearing on the mass popular radars about the same time the books comes out. I'm reading about Turkey now. My projects tend to be long slow and painstaking --I'm a slow writer and a slow reader.