Thus begins Dan Simmons visceral, violent travelogue through the dark, murderous underbelly of Calcutta This was an excellent read, but you should know going in that this is NOT a warm, fuzzy, feel better about humanity story In fact, you might want to have your favorite blankie or stuffed animal or a bottle of Scotch and some happy pills with you before you begin reading this to help hold back the glooms Here s the basic set up PLOT SUMMARY M Das, one of India s greatest poets, mysteriously disappeared many years ago and was believed dead Recently, however, new material purporting to be Das work has begun circulating in Calcutta Robert Luczak, writer, columnist and our main character, is sent with his family to Calcutta by Harper s Magazine to find and interview Das, verify the new work is authentic and bring back a copy for publication in the United States.Luczak s search for M Das leads him to an ancient, brutal cult of Kali worshippers who practice a whole host of depravities including human sacrifice of children As Bobby delves deeper and deeper into the history and customs of the cult, he discovers a bizarre connection between the cult and the re emergence of Das whose new verse is a celebration of the goddess of death.From there you re on your own That s the plot in a nutshell, but it doesn t convey the feel of the novel and the dark, deeply disturbing atmosphere that Simmons manufactures with his sense laden depictions of Calcutta Quick Aside For the record, I m not endorsing Simmons extremely negative portrayal of Calcutta I ve never been there and my praise is for the effectiveness of Simmons writing while ignoring any judgments on the accuracy thereof. From the moment Bobby arrives in India with his wife and baby girl, he is swallowed up into a grim netherworld of festering violence, callousness and a palpable sense of evil Simmons prose makes you perceive Calcutta as a living presence The stifling, sticky heat, the claustrophobic pressing in of the crowds and the filth and squalor of the living conditions All of this comes right off the page and Simmons imbues it all with an overarching sense of tangible, directed malevolence Can you tell that I think Simmons is a pretty special writer As very good as this was, it is important to note that this was Dan Simmons first published work Thus, fans of Simmons should know going in that Song of Kali does not reach the level of quality and polish of his later works, most notably the Hyperion Cantos However, since only a handful of speculative fiction works have EVER reached the level of the Hyperion Cantos, I don t think this is much of a criticism This an accomplished tale a real horror and at just over 300 pages, is considerably shorter than his later works which generally approach the size of doorstops.I m very glad to have finally scratched this off my to read list But be warned, despite being a fast and relatively easy read, it has the potential to leave a chilling impression on you lasting far beyond the final page It certainly had that effect on me 4.0 stars HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Winner World Fantasy Award for Best NovelNominee Locus Award for Best Horror Dark Fantasy Novel 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. Excellent Dan Simmons is fast on his way to becoming one of my favorite authors.I felt horrified during a lot of the book, and saddened during a lot of it, but I like the way that it isn t totally and completely engulfed in despair Though pretty depressing enough I like the way that the protagonist decides to fight back.It s not scary as in boo but it is horrific in it s stark depiction of the horror lurking in the human soul.The reason why I rated this so highly, is that it worked very well as a horror thriller for me.I think there was enough foreshadowing to give one an idea that something bad was going to happen, but you kept hoping that what you think might happen, wouldn t happen it develops into one of those thriller type scenarios, where you keep thinking Oh, watch out be careful, don t do that..and yet, the author manages to be subtle enough for it not to be pat.It also managed to grip this cynical reader deeply enough to feel both horrified and sad.That, for me is crucial, I guess immersion, and this novel definitely did that for me, heck, I was gripping the edge of my seat all the way through I also liked that the end was sort of sad and senseless just like real life sometimes is.I ll take away one star because of Simmon s rather unbalanced portrayal of Hindu culture, which is of course a rich and varied culture with many aspects to it, some of them wonderful and positive, as opposed to the negative aspects highlighted in this novel.Though this specific view might have been quite representative of a Westerner s impression of Calcutta at that point in time, I do feel that Mr Simmons could have added a few of the positive aspects of Hindu culture to balance out the negative aspects that are represented especially by for instance the Kali cults that feature in this narrative.ETA In retrospect, I do think that perhaps the whole point of the horrific aspects of the situation is that the protagonist originally romanticized his Westernized wife s Indian background, and was totally unprepared and unequipped for the realities of the situation he had to come to grips with in Calcutta So, I suppose the whole point was for the protagonist to be naive and not to have a lot of street smarts, so that at times, you actually felt like shaking him He, like many Westerners, seems to have been expecting India to be all incense and smiling children with beautiful dark eyes and beautiful saris and delicious though extremely hot food without knowing about the darker aspects of that alluring land I admit that I had not known about some of them either I ve been to Bombay, but my visit there wouldn t have prepared me for anything like some of the things that the protagonist had encountered in this book Please note Some of the comments below in the comments thread, may contain spoilers. Dan Simmons is known for his massive novels This is not one of them Why Well, it s rare that you ll find a horror author who started out their career with a massive tome as their debut novel Why Because money, that s why Straub had Julia, King had Carrie, McCammon had Baal, and Simmons had this one What do they all have in common They re all debuts that are around 300 pages long from authors known to write gargantuan books Horror is a risky business Publishers are frugal when it comes to taking a chance on my poor, beloved genre No one wants to push out a 600 plus page flop for a debut and lose their shirts over it Longer novels are notoriously hard to market, and almost impossible to find reviews for To succeed as a horror author in the literary community, you should have at least two novels under your belt before you reach into the realm of the Tome Doorstop, and one of those two novels should have won some kind of award a Stoker award is good a World Fantasy award is best Then, and only then, will Penguin Random House or HarperCollins allow you to publish that epic horror novel concerning shapeshifting, post apocalyptic ferrets hellbent on creating a great, stinking plane known as Musk World, wherein a band of quirky heroes must defeat High Lord Fear It and bring a jasmine and vanilla Glade scented freshness back to their once proud land Song of Kali can be mistaken for a xenophobic outing I guess, anyway If you actually read and digest the text, I believe you ll find the exact opposite Because there are several places where Simmons ruminates on the ugliness of Calcutta But there are just as many sections where Simmons riffs on the nasty underbelly of America, too In one such section, two men are discussing how Calcutta isn t so much different from some cities in America Flint, Michigan being one such place A woman chimes in that there is a supernatural evil overtaking Calcutta that, at its heart, the city is evil The local laughs it off and explains that the atrocities found in Calcutta are no different from the atrocities found in America How exactly is a book xenophobic when it shows both sides of a coin Are we to say that Simmons is intolerant of India AND America If so, what land does Simmons favorite It is Simmons s unbiased approach to this story that I appreciate than anything else He could have taken the Indians and Arabs are all evil approach, but he did not Instead, he showed that any place can be evil, no matter the social order, and that India s class system is no better or worse than America s own class based system It is blind faith in any god or religion that Simmons is attacking The power of indoctrination I have a hard time reading Stephen King s Pet Sematary because of Gage s fate This book has a similar scene that is all the soul rending due to its brevity The scene of which I speak could have been handled numerous ways, but the way in which Simmons handles it is nothing short of genius Still, due to this scene, I ll likely not reread this book When I got to this crushing chapter, I was sitting in a doctor s office, waiting to hear the bad news about my back I ended up having my fifth back surgery a week after completing this novel , and upon reading this scene, muttered out loud, Oh, fucking hell The people in the waiting room didn t appreciate my outburst I apologized, but I wasn t really sorry Because I felt that Oh, fucking hell was the perfect descriptor for my feelings at that moment The father in me couldn t handle the scene Oh, fucking hell was my way of coping without crying in public.The scurrying Kali in the dark sequence is disturbing as hell, too I ll not forget that one for years to come I don t quite know how Simmons pulled off that scene It s a true mystery, that level of atmospheric mastery Such scenes authors spend entire careers hoping to accomplish, but Simmons did it in his debut Bravo Overall, I think Simmons knew what he was doing here He created a pretentious poet of a main character, one who muses that Stephen King novels are trashy , even though King and Simmons have a great respect for one another They ve even blurbed each other s novels on than one occasion To attach the MC s viewpoints and xenophobia to the author is to ignore the rules of fiction This story is fiction, and a good author can inhabit anyone and see all sides of a story without subscribing to those beliefs I mean, are we to believe that Simmons thinks it is possible to reanimate the dead for the purposes of writing a poem in the hope of pleasing a multi armed goddess No Because he and we know it s fiction If you can ignore the blatant racism of H.P Lovecraft, a racism that runs rampant throughout both his life and his work, then you should be able to get through this novel without frying a circuit Or maybe not To each their own, I suppose.In summation A brief excursion to a truly disturbing place It s nice to see how Simmons has grown since his debut, and I feel I have a greater respect for his journey now that I ve read where he started Three stars because it s not something I would read again, but I do not regret reading it.Final Judgment Divisive. I read SONG OF KALI 15 years ago and it remains one of the most well written, frightening books that I ve ever read Still one of my all time favorite reads, in any genre. Song of Kali isn t one of Dan Simmons best works, but it is a fine example of what makes him one of my favourite writers his range.Simmons loves history, mythology, authors, writing and reading, and his loves have led him to create one of the most varied bodies of work amongst active writers although it appears he will soon be challenged for the crown by China Mieville He s written about John Keats in space, Ernest Hemingway in the Gulf, the Greek Gods, Franklin s lost Arctic expedition, retold Dickens unfinished novel, and in Song of Kali he tackles the bloody Hindu goddess of eternal energy, Kali, in a nasty, modern day Calcutta.It s an urban fantasy horror novel with some genuinely freaky moments, made all the freaky by their macabre banality To become a member of the Kali cult, for instance, one need only bring a corpse to the first meeting It s irrelevant how you get your corpse You can kill it, dig it up, steal it, whatever works for you, but it makes for a frightening sequence, fraught with what ifs and holy shits And all of this is offered as a reflection of what humanity truly is, even when most of humanity is gleefully hiding its ugly nature behind a saccharine humanism.There s much of violence and its cost running throughout Simmons work another reason I love him , but it appears in myriad forms And always from a different genre direction Historical fiction, urban fantasy, hard sci fi, horror, historical horror, whodunnit, poetry, mythos, and whatever else works.Simmons is an author among authors, and if you have never read him this is a good place to start Song of Kali may not dazzle, but it will pique your interest and get you ready for his daunting books of which there are many chokengtitiktitikchokengs I don t care if you think I am crazy or what he thinks, for that matter I love him So there. What an exceptional book within the horror genre a true masterpiece and extremely hard to put down.The problem with reviewing it is that it is hard to comment without spoiling To appreciate it you have to cast your mind back to the period when, and the places where, it was formed in the mind of Dan Simmons as a young American liberal and literary intellectual in the India and the US of the late 1970s and the early 1980s, just as the former looked like an intractable social problem of never ending poverty and consequent cruelty and the latter was still in or emerging just from a recession similar to the one that we are now entering.The book could not be written now The South Asia of that period of hopelessness has been replaced by a vibrant, expansive India though let us see what the recession brings and the despair has shifted to a declining West The book is filled with a vision of the teeming filthy hordes of Calcutta that would be regarded as insulting, almost racist today In that sense, this book is oddly much closer to the imperial adventure tales of the thuggees of the Raj than it is to our modern world only 25 years on.There is also an undercurrent of despair at the Holocaust and nuclear destruction that somehow has also become attenuated Rwanda and Srebenica have not normalised the horrors of the 1940s but, as the survivors of older horrors die of natural causes, modern small genocides seem managable to liberals if only the UN could get its act together Such massacres are no longer placed in that category of all encompassing global existential evil that excites hopelessness like Calcutta does to Simmons narrator Similarly, the war on terror is scary but the opponents are gangsters not the corporatised mass murdering bureaucrats of competing ideologies Gangsters, despite Simmons hero s experience, are very bad but not capable or are they of destroying the world Maybe that is the one doubt that nags at us tweenty five or so years on that maybe gangsters, terrorists and insurgents can bring the Kali Yuga to pass.And this is the point of the book it is not pure psychological horror nor is it the horror of monsters and demons but it is something different again, a novel of cultural horror of its own time and place with elements of both I do not recall the phrase Kali Yuga being used but that is what it is about a deeply conservative sense that the Age of Kali was upon us.And it is beautifully and clearly written with scarcely a wasted word indeed, my heart sank in the first few pages because I thought I might be lumbered with that great American literary vice, the egoistic first person story that slows down the story with precise and self indulgent description of place and sentiment I was very wrong The prose is, well, perfect.Simmons takes the standard literary model and subverts it into a narrative that works precisely because we can see a highly cultured but often weak and often dim one of us be out manouevred and out classed by a cunning underclass of consummate brutality It is a novel about crime and criminality as much as it a novel of horror and the horror is visceral because it is real, the filth, the mortuary, the decay of the human body, the disease, the fear of the dark, of monsters and the last chapters will shred you if you know anything of love There is even a skilled irony as the hero notes the difference between his position and would happen in a movie about his position.This is a masterpiece that might be read as a companion piece to Ligotti and King s The Stand It does offer some small hope in a way that Ligotti does not I cannot say without spoiling the tale and it is much better than The Stand written around the same period as Simmons book , if only because it is real , but all three are explorations of the dark side of the condition of humanity from a uniquely American perspective The sense of decay and of impending evil that was felt by some in the age of Jimmy Carter may be coming around again but these books may also be read to show that such fears are both reasonable but also exaggerated and that, unless one s philosophical back is broken like Ligotti s, the dark may, again, be replaced by the light Perhaps we are not, in fact in the Kali Yuga but only in a simulacrum of it that will pass in its due time. Calcutta A Monstrous City Of Immense Slums, Disease And Misery, Is Clasped In The Foetid Embrace Of An Ancient Cult At Its Decaying Core Is The Goddess Kali The Dark Mother Of Pain, Four Armed And Eternal, Her Song The Sound Of Death And Destruction Robert Luczak Has Been Hired By Harper S To Find A Noted Indian Poet Who Has Reappeared, Under Strange Circumstances, Years After He Was Thought Dead But Nothing Is Simple In Calcutta And Lucsak S Routine Assignment Turns Into A Nightmare When He Learns That The Poet Is Rumoured To Have Been Brought Back To Life In A Bloody And Grisly Ceremony Of Human Sacrifice Sometimes there is only pain And acquiescence to pain And, perhaps, defiance at the world which demands such painDan Simmons, Song of KaliHorror is not my normal territory It isn t my alternate either As far as genre fiction goes I probably reach for a horror novel as often as I reach for a fantasy novel But this is Dan Simmons we are talking about After reading Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, I was intrigued How poetic could Simmons make horror How literate I liked the Song of Kali It was a good story I m just not sure I d count it as great horror It wasn t that scary It was definitely psychological and mental than most It seemed like a strange mixture of H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King, all with a big glob of Calcutta madness and poetic mysticism.Anyway, I liked it I ll keep reading Simmons when I want a vacation from the classics or an escape into literary genre fiction, but I don t think I will need to steel my nerves with any tonics or leave the lights on to go to sleep after I close the book at night I might, however, rethink vacation plans to Kolkata and West Bengal Screw THAT This is a literate genre novel than most The story was gripping and propulsive even when I had a hard time suspending disbelief But the images of Calcutta seemed somewhat stylized Dickensian squalor without the redeeming Dickensian prose and the characters didn t exactly wow me with their depth Then again, this is a genre novel, so maybe my expectations were a little off Maybe Still, in the end I liked it well enough.