|Paul J. McAuley: Child of the River|
Avon Science Fiction (Paperback), ISBN 0380792966
Bob: Hey Dick, I heard the princess kissed a toad and it became a prince!
Dick: (Waving his DNA cutters) Hey Bob, give me a toad, and I'll make her a prince!
Paul J. McAuley's Child of the River springs upon the unsuspecting reader somewhat like a five-foot tall rubber ducky sporting blood-dripping fangs --unbelievable but still rather fun. The book revolves around the terraformed world of Confluence, populated by hundreds of races genetically engineered from every known creature. This geneticist's dream lacks only two races: the Preservers, who invented terraforming; and the Builders, the genetically engineered race that provided the elbow grease to terraform Confluence according to the Preserver designs. I mean, it's all very logical, terraform a planet then just disappear….
Okay, so the Preservers and Builders didn't quite vanish. Yama, found floating as a baby in the river (ala Moses), quite obviously belongs to the mysterious race of Builders. Since the religion of Confluence revolves around the Preservers and the Builders, Yama's appearance understandably perturbs the locals. This heightens the divisions between those who believe the teachings supposedly left by the Preservers and the so-called Heretics.
The Heretic faction grew from a group of Builders who accidentally landed on Confluence a few hundred years prior to the events recorded in Child of the River. The unexpected visitors received a hearty welcome from a number of local groups seeking to exterminate them. Some citizens of Confluence believed the visitors' message, however, ultimately forcing followers of the Heretics and the Preservers to settle their differences the old-fashioned way -- through a bloody civil war.
The Aedile, an old archaeologist, adopts the orphaned Yama. Although living under the cloud of his own Heretical past, the Aedile rules a small town (the City of the Dead which sits down-river from the main metropolis, Ys), as much like a Preserver as possible. The Aedile attempts to protect Yama from what the Aedile believes to be the youngster's heritage. But Yama's Builder-like ability to communicate via thought with all of the thousands of machines remaining within the lands of Confluence complicates the Aedile's efforts on Yama's behalf.
Thus begins the adventures of a boy and his… well, whatever genetically adapted friend accompanies Yama at the moment. In book one they are the cat and mouse, Tamora and Pandaras, respectively.
Full of interesting ideas and concepts, Child of the River unfolds in a readable style that keeps the reader's tension high. But the pace slows a bit when the plot segues into a kind of road trip. In addition, Yama's rescues and escapes sometimes appear a little contrived. The meandering plot lowers the book's rating, as does the cliffhanger ending -- which I particularly dislike in a novel. It frustrates me to be forced to wait until the next volume in the series becomes available.
But over all, Child of the River provided an interesting read, and I look forward to reading the second volume of Confluence soon.
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