Song of Kali (1985) by Dan Simmons

songofkali

A 300-page diatribe against Calcutta, which city evidently offended Simmons at some point.

His hero, Bobby Luczak, is a coward who behaves stupidly and illogically; he’s an effete literary type who one would think would treat his mathematician wife with some respect, but who repeatedly hides things from her and deserts her without reason. He claims to have a terrible temper, yet he’s impotent in a crisis.

He has a child, a 7-month-old daughter, whose very existence serves only one unpleasant purpose. His wife’s only purpose seems to be to show how stupid he is by contrast.

One character, the college kid who gets the plot rolling, tells Bobby a story about the worshippers of the evil goddess Kali. The story starts on Page 62 and ends on Page 111. Bobby doesn’t applaud at the end of it, despite the fact that it’s a bravura performance, complete with backstory, chapters, and narrative arc. Perhaps he withholds his approbation because he knows the story could have been drastically shortened, and even demonstrates this when he later condenses the boy’s 3-hour monologue to 10 minutes in relating it to his wife.

Very little actually happens in this story, though it is filled from end to end with repeated descriptions of the rampant squalor of Calcutta. Bobby decides this is because the people are evil. Makes it easier, I suppose, for him to feel nothing for them. He dreams of it disappearing in nuclear fire. For him, it’s a pleasant dream.

Simmons seems less interested here in plot than Lovecraftian dread. Lovecraft, however, didn’t write 300-page novels. I think there’s a reason for that.

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