by Ian McDonald
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Benjamin Wald
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781591026990
Date: 24 February 2009 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
McDonald's newest collection, Cyberabad Days, returns to the future India of which is the setting for his award winning novel River of Gods, by collecting all of the short fiction which the author has written in this setting, along with a new novella which explores some of the outcomes and consequences of the action which occurred in River of Gods. River of Gods gave us a magnificent vision of a futuristic India which is both engagingly futuristic and as richly textured as our own modern world, and it is a treat to explore once more the India of 2047.
The stories in this collection include a Hugo nominee and a Hugo winner, and all of them are well worth reading. I loved River of Gods, and it was a delight to revisit the most original science fiction setting I have come across in years. These stories explore in greater detail many of the fascinating ideas McDonald worked into his future India. For example, in "A Suitable Boy" we see firsthand the consequences of the demographic imbalance which sees four times as many men as women among the middle classes, due to sex-selection of foetuses. In "The Djinn's Wife" we see the consequences of human/AI interaction and even romance. And in one of my favourite stories, the band new "Vishnu and the Cat Circus", McDonald brings us inside the head of one of the genetically engineered Brahmin supermen, who live twice as long but at the cost of aging half as fast, stranding them in a multi-decade childhood, tormented by the intelligence and desires of adulthood. What really makes all of these stories sparkle is the way that SF tropes like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering are refreshed and refracted through the foreign setting, and the author's prodigious imagination, to render them fresh and new.
On reading these stories grouped together for the first time, a certain melancholy which pervades them all becomes apparent. Most of the stories track an individual's life for an appreciable number of years, and the characters end up being forced to confront a world which doesn't conform to any of their expectations. McDonald's future India, much life our present day one, is caught between the rush of the new and the strength of an emerging superpower and the ancient traditions which connect it to the past. The characters in these stories must try to find a place for themselves in this rapidly changing world. Some fail and see their dreams in shambles, but others succeed in transforming themselves along with the world they find themselves in, and carve out a niche for themselves amid the rush of the new. This is not just the predicament which India faces, of course, but our own situation as well. We must all try to define ourselves by our relation to our traditions and the relentless changes of the future. Seeing it through the eyes of another culture allows us to appreciate the challenges of modernity from a new angle.
I would recommend this collection to everyone and anyone. If you liked River of Gods, this collection is a must-have. It expands and deepens the fantastic world McDonald has created, and re-acquaints us with the bustling wonder of the India of 2047. If you haven't read River of Gods, this collection should show you what you're missing, and provide an introduction to this fascinating world. Even if you've read some of the stories before, reading them all together gives a new perspective on the themes which tie these stories together, the brand new story is a treat you won't want to miss.