River of Gods - Ian McDonald You know you're probably not going to write a rave when you find yourself skimming hundreds of pages at a time to reach parts of the book that matter to the plot.

Four things really bothered me about River of Gods, Ian MacDonald's latest about how humans will react when they create beings greater than themselves (i.e., AIs). In no particular order:

1. I'm not a Puritan - sex? profanity? violence? I can deal with it if it's part of the plot or character but outside of romance novels or explicitly pornographic ones most authors should really stay away from sex beyond the implied. Imaginative readers can supply their own scenes; real "Puritans" will be happy enough not to have to deal with it. Violence belongs in the same category. I may have become oversensitized to its frequency but I found MacDonald guilty of insipid sex scenes and gratuitous violence too often for my comfort zone.

2. Too many unimportant and uninspired characters (engaging in pointless sex and mayhem). For example, in the "Kalki" section, POV shifts nine times in 100 pages. In terms of the plot, only three characters (Lisa Durnau, Thomas Lull and Mr. Nandha) are crucial to the story, which could have been told in a long short story or novella.

3. Uninspired writing. Beyond the basic story (which I found tame, formulaic, and relied too heavily on the deus-ex-machina antics of the AIs), MacDonald's evocation of a near-future India just kind of falls flat. I didn't believe it. Despite protestations to the contrary from various characters, I never felt I was seeing the world in a uniquely "Indian" or "Hindu" point of view, rather than the point of view of a Western observer. (And before you complain that I only "skimmed" it, how could I really know, I was faithfully reading every word up through page 200 or so. Plenty of time to establish bona fides, IMO.)

4. My last issue with the novel is that I've read it before. Or it feels that way. I'm not a great fan of this kind of near-future, urban, cyber-punkish SF, so it takes a particularly talented author to hold my attention - early Alastair Reynolds (oh, I hope he can return to form soon), Dan Simmons (off and on), Tony Daniel, Iain Banks, A.A. Attanasio, among others - and MacDonald didn't in this case.

None of the reasons above were sufficient to make this book a failure for me; I have plenty of three-stars on my shelf that are guilty of one or more of the above offenses. Together, however, they conspired in this caper to make the experience of reading less enjoyable than the author probably intended it to be.