The beauty of Ian McDonald’s prose keeps making me want to like his work, but it never pays off. At least I got through “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” in one pass. We begin with lots of poetical cats. How can you lose with cats? Within the framework of this cat circus, Vishnu Nariman tells us his life story, beginning with his parents’ cute meet: on a desk floating in a monsoon flood carrying them away from killer robots.
Vishnu tells of the birth of his elder brother, Shiva and his own gene-designed birth.Vishnu seems ungrateful about the gifts he has received, only using them where it’s easy for him. His brother Shiva works hard, pursues power, and spreads computing power far and wide. Vishnu seems to think all this effort to transform the world is directed at making him irrelevant. But he has already taken himself out the game. Just when he receives a call to action, to do something, his interminable, rambling story cuts short of a climax.
The world of the story is more interesting. India is at war with itself; the many states have broken apart. I love the way we see Indian culture absorbing the technology, especially the AIs (or as this story spells it,aeais). What I didn’t care for was the way we dance up to the edge of the Technological Singularity, and get left teetering on the brink.
It may not be possible for this story to have an ending.