River is the story of India's 100th birthday, when the great nation has fractured into warring subnations on caste, religious and cultural lines. Like McDonald's other great novels, the story is beyond epic, with an enormous cast of richly realised characters and a vivid, luminous vision of techno-Hinduism that beggars the imagination. Take, for example, Town and Country, a soap-opera acted out by AIs (or "aeais") who lead double-lives -- each AI character has another role, as the actor who plays the character, in a "meta-soap" where their squabbling, indiscretions and marriages are tabloid fodder for the soapi magazines that dote upon them.Link
This is just one of dozens of conceits in a novel that combines the best themes from books like Out on Blue Six and Desolation Road, handles them with the masterful hand visible in Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone and the Sturgeon-award-winning Tendeleo's Story, and folds in all the contemporary themes in sf like the Singularity and the cratering of cyberpunk memes and spits out a 575-page epic that I couldn't put down until I'd finished it.
Ian McDonald has been one of my favourite writers for some 15 years now, and the amazing thing is, he's getting even better.