4 April 2011

Cyberabad Days

This book is a sequel to BSFA-winner River of the Gods. I haven't actually read the previous book, but now I think I definitely should. Ian McDonald is an author I'd been thinking of reading for a while, but I'll admit I only read this book because my boss was commenting that it hadn't had many issues.

Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
The book is made up of seven stories, all set in India during or around the 2040s.
The stories capture the feel of the settings, from quiet, isolated villages, to bustling, noisy cities. I thought it felt pretty authentic and well-researched, although I'm far from an expert on India or its culture. The book is about futuristic changes in technology but it is always clear that these changes are rooted in a traditional society with a varied history. Indian words are used, but they are explained either within the story or in the context of their use. There is also a future vernacular that includes words like robotwallah and dataraja.

The contrast between the poverty of poorest and the luxury of the middle and upper classes is massive. I liked that McDonald took account of the fact that advances in technology can drastically widen the gap between rich and poor. In our own society the digitally poor are can get left behind, McDonald extrapolates this to create a massive divide.

There is a fairytale feel to some of the stories, especially The Dust Assassin, Little Goddess, and The Djinn's Wife. There is a sense of wonder to some of the technological changes that take place in the book, enhanced by the way connections are drawn between tech and mythology, between future and past.

The Stories
  • The first story is set against the background of the conflict(s) that break India into a variety of separate states. A young, robot-obsessed boy idolises the anime-influenced teens who control battle mechs.
  • A western boy in a gated development is introduced to an advanced VR evolution game and the real India beyond the walls by his friend Salim.
  • A sheltered heiress is used as a weapon in her family's war against a rival corporate family.
  • A young man gets virtual help in his quest to find a bride in a society where men outnumber women 4 to 1.
  • A little girl is chosen as a temple goddess until she becomes a woman. Temple life doesn't prepare her for finding her own place in the world.
  • A famous dancer falls in love with an artificial intelligence, but a relationship with a disembodied entity has its own problems.
  • A story of genetically engineered super-children and rapidly advancing computing technology.

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