Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Sagramanda

Today's book review is Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster.

As far as I can tell from the text and the cover blurb, this is a standalone novel.  It takes place roughly a generation from now, in a fictional megacity in India named Sagramanda.  (Perhaps there actually is a city of that name -- I am not at all well versed in Indian geography, culture, history, or much else -- but even if there is a place by that name today, the imagined future one is vastly different than the existing one.)  The main point of the book really seems to be speculating on how things might be in India in a couple of decades of ever-faster change.  And it's a fairly interesting imagining.  From what little I do know of the real India, I think this represents an optimistic but not utterly impossible vision of how things might be.  It's very definitely not a utopia, but it's workable, the problems seem to be managed, and one could imagine it getting better.  The actual story follows a surprisingly large number of different viewpoint characters, considering that this is a fairly thin book, but it actually does a pretty fair job of tying characters that start out together into an ending that fits fairly well.  Lots of breathless action; it just needs a few more explosions to be a great movie.  We don't have much time for character development or profound examination of the human condition.

Since I have to confess that I wouldn't have picked up the book if it didn't have a tiger on the cover, I will mention that a tiger is one of the characters.  He's even portrayed fairly well; Foster clearly did some research on tigers.  (It was otherwise accurate enough that it annoyed me that the tiger's paws were described as being as big as hubcaps.)  I wish I believed that tigers would be doing so well in a generation.

A fun book, reasonably well written, though the prose seemed just the slightest bit purple.  The speculation on how a city that big might be able to function rather than just grind to a halt is timely, given that the way things are headed, there probably will be cities that big in a generation, if they don't collapse under their own weight on the way.  I hope their chaos can be managed as well as Sagramanda's.  8 out of 10.

Having been chastised by Lois Bujold, I'll try moving the spoilery stuff to the bottom of these reports and include a warning inside the cut tag.


The book cuts between a bunch of different viewpoint characters, and I'm not going to try to remember the order they come in or how the stories are woven together.  The center of the story is Taneer Buthlahee, a research scientist for a nameless corporation who's made a very important discovery and decided to abscond with it.  It's worth an almost unimaginable amount of money, and he spends almost the entire book trying to arrange to sell it without getting killed by the corp he stole it from.  We also follow Dephali, Taneer's Dalit fiancée, who apparently caught Taneer with her remarkable good looks, but who seems to be honestly in love with Taneer and he with her; Anil, Taneer's estranged traditionalist father, who is bent on killing Taneer and Dephali for tainting the family honor by marrying an Untouchable; Sanjay Ghosh, a humble shopkeeper who happens to also sell illegal drugs, who serves as the first in a chain of go-betweens between Taneer and his buyer; a tiger who wanders into the outskirts of Sagramanda from the neighboring Sundarbans and develops a taste for human; Chal Schneemann, a human predator rather scarier and more lethal than the tiger, a corporate "fixer" whose current job is to "fix" Taneer and get the stolen whatever back; Jena Chalmette, an even scarier human, who became convinced while using certain drugs that she was the chosen of Kali, and has since been acting out that role, killing people at random with a sword; and Chief Inspector Keshu Jamail Singh, the cop who's trying to solve the case of the serial killer who's offed a couple of foreigners before the news gets out and becomes a tremendous embarrassment to the city.  The action heats up considerably as Taneer and Sanjay both pull off exciting narrow escapes from Chal and some of Chal's agents respectively.  They hurry up the sale that has been mostly arranged by this time, and decide on a restricted area of the national park abutting the city as a good secluded place to make the swap, just at the same time as the cops have traced Jena's identity and are following her trying to catch her in the act, and she follows a couple of biology students into the park, gives up on them when they join a busy encampment, and then happens to spot Taneer, Dephali, and Sanjay (who is pretending to be Taneer's bodyguard).  Chal is also converging on the rendezvous, having conveniently cracked Taneer's supposedly quantum-secure communications.  Just as Taneer and company are in the process of making the swap, Chal shoots the buyer's bodyguard, the tiger jumps Chal, killing him and starting to eat him, and the others scatter and flee.  Jena, though, decides that the tiger is the mount of Kali, so she approaches it and starts doing a sacred dance, unfortunately proving the non-divine nature of the tiger when she gets too close and he defends his kill, killing her.  The police reach the scene then, scaring the tiger away from his meal but not hitting him with the shots they take, but they don't try to pursue the others who were present, since Jena was the one they wanted and the others have not apparently committed any crime other than sneaking into the park.  Taneer pays Sanjay the $3 million commission he's due out of the briefcase of cash he came away with, and they agree to not see each other again.  Then Taneer and Dephali return to their apartment to get their bags and go to Zurich to collect the rest of the payment and release the electronic keys to the rest of the information, only to discover Anil in the apartment.  They escape, leaving Anil waving his gun impotently in the street as their electric rickshaw departs.  Keshu plants the handful of seeds that the fleeying Russian dropped in a window box, and later when they sprout wonders why there was such a fuss over weed seeds.  And the Russian corp who bought the secret starts industrial scale production of a special variety of a common hardy weed -- one genetically engineered to give off commercially useful amounts of hydrogen gas as it grows.
Tags: alan dean foster, book review, sf
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