Song of Kali: Fantasy Masterworks 44
(Gollancz, £7.99, 311 pages, paperback, first published 1984,
this edition published 10 March 2005.)
Indian poet M. Das disappeared seven years ago and was assumed dead.
Now he's re-emerged in Calcutta and has written a new poem. Robert Luczak
is an American poet who is commissioned to travel to Calcutta -- with
his Indian wife and their baby daughter -- to write an article on Das
and to negotiate a translation of the poem. But is Das really alive
-- or has he returned from the dead? And does his poem proclaim the
song of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction?
Published in 1985 but set eight years earlier, Song of Kali
was Dan Simmons's first novel. Although it won the World Fantasy Award,
it's tended to be overshadowed -- not just in length and ambition --
by the novels Simmons published at the end of the decade: Carrion
Comfort, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. Song
of Kali is certainly smaller in scale than those epics and has a
few first-novel faults. The first few chapters, set in the USA, betray
a lack of assurance -- odd, as Simmons had that quality in spades not
four years later. Also, the narrative has its predictable turns: the
presence of Luczak's wife and daughter is a giveaway that they will
come under threat, though it's no less harrowing when they do.
However, what this novel has in its favour is a tremendous sense of
place. Calcutta is a major character in Song of Kali, with Simmons
doing a considerable job of portraying the city as a latterday hell
on earth: foul, teeming with rubbish and vermin, a place where different
laws of reality apply, and an appropriate venue for anyone to sing Kali's
sweet song of pain and death. And it's the place that stays with you
afterwards, long after the details of the plot have begun to fade.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: