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Song of Kali
Dan Simmons
Gollancz, 311 pages

Song of Kali
Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1948. With a B.A. in English from Wabash College in 1970, and a Masters in Education from Washington University in St. Louis in 1971, he worked in elementary education for 18 years. Simmons has been a full-time writer since 1987 and lives along the Front Range of Colorado. In 1995, Wabash College awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contributions in education and writing.

Dan Simmons Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ilium
SF Site Interview: Dan Simmons
SF Site Review: Worlds Enough And Time
SF Site Review: The Crook Factory
SF Site: Dan Simmons Reading List
SF Site Review: Rise of Endymion
SF Site Review: Song of Kali
Dan Simmons Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Berlyne

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At the beginning of Dan Simmons' World Fantasy Award-winning debut novel, his protagonist Robert Luczak is something of an innocent idealist. A poet and journalist, he is commissioned to write an article on M. Das, a famous Indian poet who disappeared some years ago and is now rumoured to have resurfaced (or perhaps have been resurrected) in Calcutta. More than this, Das has apparently written a new epic work and Luczak is to negotiate for the rights to publish this in America. It all sounds fairly straightforward -- go to India, meet the man, offer the money and reap the kudos, but by the end of Song of Kali, Luczak has journeyed to the very centre of Hell itself and the man who returns with nothing, is a man who has lost everything in the process.

Simmons' really hits the ground running with this hugely accomplished and beautifully plotted first novel. From the outset there is a grim sense of foreboding, exemplified by Luczak's old friend and mentor asking him not to go -- the request is made very simply, without drama or histrionics -- indeed it forms the opening sentence of the first chapter and from that moment on, the reader knows that Luczak should have heeded this advice. But of course, he doesn't, instead choosing to make the trip and to exacerbate his vulnerability in the reader's mind, Simmons has him take along his beautiful wife and baby daughter. And so the tension is wound tight early in this novel, but it is when Luczak arrives in Calcutta that Song of Kali begins to turn the thumbscrews on the reader and the result is as harrowing a story as I've ever read.

In Song of Kali, Calcutta equates to chaos -- the city as evoked by Simmons is a savage, uncontrollable place, aggressive and filthy, unfathomable and alien. Immediately upon arrival, Luczak is plunged into the foul, sweating heart of the place and we soon learn that his search for M. Das will be far from simple. Instead he is lured further and further into the dark underbelly of the city where he uncovers a chilling story of ancient cults and human sacrifice.

Song of Kali is an extraordinary novel, particularly so given that it was Simmons' first to be published. Any more plot summary and I'd be ruining it for you. What strikes me most about it is its freshness and immediacy. If you watch a movie from 1985, you generally have to do so whilst overlooking the things that have dated it -- not so with novels and certainly not with this one. Instead Song of Kali is one of those rare pieces that makes the reader feel a little soiled by the end of it. It is a grim, relentless, unforgiving and ultimately compulsive read and it is not hard to see why its author has grown into one of genre's most important figures.

Copyright © 2004 John Berlyne

John Berlyne is a book junkie with a serious habit. He is the long time UK editor of Sfrevu.com and is widely acknowledged to be the leading expert on the works of Tim Powers. John's extensive Powers Bibliography "Secret Histories" will be published in April 2009 by PS Publishing. When not consuming genre fiction, John owns and runs North Star Delicatessen, a gourmet food outlet in Chorlton, Manchester.


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