four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
By: 
Ian McDonald
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Return to the India of 2047

A-Cyberabad DaysIan McDonald, one of the many award-winning writers leading a renaissance in science fiction from the British Isles (among them Richard K. Morgan, Paul J. McAuley, Alastair Reynolds, and Charles Stross), charts India’s future in his latest collection of stories, Cyberabad Days. McDonald’s fiction includes River of Gods, Brasyl ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection July/Aug 2007), and Sacrifice of Fools, among other novels and short fiction collections.

The Story: Set in the middle of the 21st century, Cyberabad Days contains seven stories—all but one of them, "Vishnu at the Circus," previously published—that posit a future India steeped in technological transformation (the Hugo Award–winning novelette "The Djinn’s Wife"), a changing culture ("The Eligible Boy"), and war ("Sanjeev and Robotwallah" and "Kyle Meets the River"), an India where "aeais" (artificial intelligences) and mortals coexist. The stories, gritty and hauntingly plausible, detail a growing world, rich and poor, struggling with increasingly precious resources as humans and their machines confront questions whose answers aren’t always apparent. All the stories work as stand-alone pieces and further explore the world first brought to life in McDonald’s 2004 novel, River of Gods.
Pyr. 330 pages. $15. ISBN: 1591026997

Green Man Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"McDonald is rightly praised as one of the industry’s preeminent SF authors and Cyberabad Days is a showcase of his talent. The world he has created on the bled-dry banks of the Ganges is richly textured and alien, detailing lives that are mundane to the characters but foreign and exotic to the readers." Tammy Moore

Fantasy Magazine 4 of 5 Stars
"McDonald displays the assurance of a mature talent immersed in his fictional world—yes—but also the deep, multi-layered understanding and compassionate man immersed in the 21st Century. … These stories are beautifully crafted, with no shortage of suspense and action, and they are emotionally rich." Holly Phillips

Sci Fi Wire 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite the stress lines in his closing novella, McDonald succeeds in making his collection something more than the sum of its parts, weaving the individual tales into a fascinating history of an India unborn. Ambitiously extrapolated and beautifully written, Cyberabad Days doesn’t just demonstrate the unique virtues of SF, it makes them a pure pleasure for readers." Cynthia Ward

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the great pleasures of science fiction is the escape it offers readers from commonplace, everyday surroundings into strange new worlds, and nobody does it better than Ian McDonald. McDonald’s vision of a newly repartitioned India, warring over water and at the cutting edge of technologies based on artificial intelligence, is practically hallucinogenic in style and intensity." Lisa Tuttle

The Telegraph (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"India, it seems, is coloured rather than changed by the technology and the central concepts of the stories—the marriage market, tribal rivalries, population imbalance—are conventional rather than futuristic." Peter Ingham

Critical Summary

Ian McDonald’s chops as a storyteller and visionary have become apparent over two decades of cutting-edge SF—in short stories, novels, and the trickier novellas and novelettes that have often formed the springboard for longer works. The stories in Cyberabad Days showcase those skills, distilling the author’s extrapolation of the present into a cyberpunk, dystopian future that is still fundamentally human despite the increasing dominance of technology in "a world that manages to be convincingly, sympathetically India, but is still created with such light strokes of McDonald’s pen that the reader never gets bogged down in the world-building" (Green Man Review). No matter what form his fiction takes, McDonald has become one of the surest bets in SF.