Song of Kali

October 27, 2008

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons was a fitting book to follow Fangland in that they both dealt with destructive, ancient evil awakening and seeking to take over the world.  In Song of Kali, Simmons explores whether an entire city can be evil and rotten. 

Writer and editor Bobby Luczak, his wife and baby daughter travel to Calcutta to obtain a new manuscript reputedly written by a famous Indian poet long thought dead.  Though warned by several people not to go, Bobby blithely heads out.  The Calcutta he encounters is nasty, dirty, backwards and full of misery.  Everyone seems to have an agenda, and what Bobby naively envisioned as a simple acquisition of Das’ manuscript is anything but that. Somehow Bobby becomes entangled with a murderous group of Kali (fun fact: one of our servers at work is named Kali, which amuses me) worshipers who do not hesitate to sacrifice humans for their goal of bringing the goddess of death to life.   Soon everything begins to go horribly, horribly wrong for Bobby and his family. 

Song of Kali was Simmons’ first novel and as he demonstrated in The Terror, he is a master at evoking atmostphere.  If nothing else, Simmons succeeded at making you feel and smell the stink and heat of Calcutta, see the misery.  You almost want to take a bath after reading the book.  He also succeeded at creating a palpable sense of terror.  You know something bad is going to happen.  As I’ve said about other books, you know it will end up badly.  And you pretty much know what is going to wrong from the beginning.

The book was a quick read, and overall, an ok one.  There were a few fantastical elements that seemed a little out of place for a book so grounded in reality otherwise (the whole Kali issue); I had a similar impression about the end of The Terror. Some have called this book racist, but I don’t know about that.  It doesn’t paint a great picture of Calcutta or its residents, but it was set in 1977 and written around 1985, and attitudes were different then.  Bobby’s character was a little too naive. For an effort by a first-time author, it wasn’t bad at all.

Also recommended: The Terror