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Child of the River
Confluence is an artificial world, created by the godlike Preservers. The Preservers populated Confluence with people of thousands of Bloodlines, each engineered from different animal species, then emigrated from known space via a convenient black hole. Millennia later, the constable of Aeolis finds a baby boy of an unknown Bloodline floating in the arms of a dead woman on the Great River that runs the length of Confluence. The boy is named Yamamanama, "Child of the River," and raised in Aeolis alongside a vast cemetery that holds generations of the forgotten dead and fascinating scraps of forgotten technology.
Yama grows up obsessed with discovering the secret of his Bloodline. His foster father intends to make him a clerk in the vast bureaucracy of the upriver city of Ys, but Yama intends instead to become a soldier and fight in the great war downriver against the heretics. The heretics, however, have their own ideas; they want to recruit Yama for his mysterious ancestry and his rare talent for persuasion with the intelligent machines that maintain Confluence.
If Gene Wolfe had written Ringworld, it would have turned out much like this. I consider Wolfe's Book of the New Sun one of the most important works in the field of science fiction. The similarities to it in Child of the River are much too strong not to be deliberate, but McAuley is telling a very different story.
Well, a fairly different story, anyway.
McAuley's writing is not quite as rich and exotic as Wolfe's, but he has the same talent for evoking a sense of wonder while thoroughly disorienting the reader. It's too early to tell whether he has the same vast scope. Child of the River is the first book of a trilogy, and it ends in mid-stream, although not in mid-crisis. The narration is humorless and rather dry, and will not be to all tastes; but Child of the River is a complex and ambitious book, full of mystery and Really Big Ideas.
-- Christina Schulman.
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