REVIEW: Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster
REVIEW SUMMARY: Would you believe there’s another fine book set in futuristic India?
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the near-future Indian city of Sagramanda, a corporate scientist and his “untouchable” girlfriend try to sell a secret formula; company hires assassin to stop him; shopkeeper tries to broker the deal; father tries to kill scientists and girlfriend; cop tries to catch sword-wielding serial killer; and a dangerous tiger prowls unsuspecting victims.
PROS: Wonderful depiction of Indian culture; fast-paced; entertaining characters and back stories; excellent finish.
CONS: Too many separate plot threads that took too long to converge.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine near-future thriller and a fun, engrossing read.
Alan Dean Foster‘s near-future thriller, Sagramanda, could easily be described by its cast of characters since the book is largely structured as a set of parallel story threads, one for each of them. Here, then, are the players…
Corporate scientist Taneer Buthlahee is on the run. He has stolen from his employer a ground-breaking formula. His plan is to sell the valuable secret, with the help of streetwise shopkeeper Sanjay Ghosh, and live as a rich man with his beautiful girlfriend Depahli, a member of the untouchable caste; a relationship, by the way, which does not sit well with Taneer’s father Anil, who wants to kill them both to preserve family honor. Taneer’s former employer, not one to take it lightly, has hired an assassin named Chal to retrieve the formula. Meanwhile there is a psychotic French serial killer named Jena Chalmette roaming the streets of Sagramanda, randomly killing citizens with a deftly wielded sword in search of the finger belonging to the god Kali, whom she worships as much as the drug rapture-4. That’s bad news for Chief Inspector Keshu Singh who would like nothing more than to catch her. Oh, and did I mention that there is a vicious, hungry tiger skirting the fringes of the city?
There is no one main character in Sagramanda besides the city itself, which is wonderfully full of culture and cool tech like personal air cars, control bracelets, electric rickshaws, a virtual-reality Kama Sutra, personal tech and such. Otherwise, the separate character threads play out more like independent stories, some of them are related to one another (Taneer, Depahli, Sanjay, Anil and Chal) and some are not (Jena, Keshu and one nasty-tempered cat). While the individual stories are solid and interesting unto themselves, there are perhaps a bit too many and they are kept separate for way too long. I get the feeling that one or two of them could have been published as separate short stories were it not for how they finally (and coincidentally) converged.
That said, Foster’s straightforward writing does provide enough in-depth characterizations to make the people seem real. Interestingly, there are no moral winners among the bunch of them besides Chief Inspector Keshu. Everyone else is either a killer, thief or otherwise working outside the law. Taneer seems to have stolen the secret formula, whose exact nature is withheld until the last pages, for money rather than any altruistic reason. Depahli the “untouchable” not only condones the action, but also helps to plot the sale of the merchandise, apparently as payback for the treatment she receives from society even though the caste system is supposedly outlawed. Sanjay has worked his way up from poverty to successful shopkeeper but he still dabbles in illicit drug sales that don’t do much to improve the human condition so blatantly (and wonderfully) displayed on Sagramanda’s crowded streets an alleys. Needless to say, the killers – hired hand Chal and psycho samurai Jena – are far from sympathetic as well.
Even with all of this moral ambiguity, even though most of the characters were not quite likable, their stories were consistently and thoroughly entertaining. And that is as it should be. It helps that the story moves along fairly quickly and has a fair amount of action; there were no slow parts. As I said, each character’s story was probably kept independent for a bit too long. The story is noticeably better near the end of the book when the detached threads unite into a nail-biting, Tarantino-like finale.
All told, Sagramanda is a fine thriller and a fun, engrossing read.
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