It took me a bit longer to read Cyberabad Days than it did River of Gods, Ian McDonald’s novel that established the mid-21st-century Indian setting used in all of the stories in Cyberabad Days — despite the fact that the novel is more than twice the length of the entire short story collection. Despite the multiple plot strands of River, it has an continuous (multiple) forward drive of events. By contrast, Days is made up of independent self-contained stories, which allow the reader to come up for air in between them.
Many of the stories in the collection have children for protagonists, or at least begin during the childhood of their protagonists. Also, most especially with the novella “Vishnu and the Cat Circus” which closes the volume, the future history of the setting is made more explicit and set into a wider framework. In these respects, the book’s status as a sequel reminded me of that of Ares Express, McDonald’s novel continuing the far future Mars of his debut Desolation Road.
I had wondered and seen some discussion about whether this book could be profitably read before River of Gods. My tentative verdict is: about half. The first few stories could certainly be read without having read the novel, and “The Little Goddess” would actually make an interesting prologue to it. Among the later (and longer) stories, however, “An Eligible Boy,” “The Djinn’s Wife,” and “Vishnu’s Cat Circus” increasingly involve potential spoilering of some of the most surprising turns of the River. At the same time, these were some of the most satisfying to read after the novel, enlarging on themes and ideas that were introduced there.
The Cyberabad future is not one that leans on pre-fabricated tropes or genre cliches. McDonald’s stories are full of fresh, big ideas about technology, social and cultural change, and human destiny. But the foreground is always taken up with interesting, compelling characters: their ambitions, cares, affections, and trials. [via]
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