A stand-alone science fiction book.
Publication year: 2002
Page count: 422
Jayachanda Nihalani, Jaya, is the daughter of a conjurer, a scam artist who preyed on the gullibility of the poor and desperate people around him. He claimed that his magical powers came for the gods and the people wanted to believe him. However, Jaya could really hear voices from someone or something outside herself and her father made use of that, too, and Jaya became known as Jaya Devi. Then Jaya got involved in a civil war, supporting the side who didn’t want the old Indian caste system to come back. Her side lost.
Now, years after her father’s death Jaya is suffering from a debilitating disease called Selengue and a creature appears whom Jaya at first thinks is a goddess but it claims to be a rakasha, a demon. However, it turns out that the creature is neither, but an alien who has come to Earth to make the planet part of a vaster interstellar empire. The empire seeded the Earth long ago and now considers the planet and the people its property. Jaya is the first Receiver who is able to hear the alien depth ship in orbit. The alien Ir Yth doesn’t seem to care about Earth or the cultures on the planet. However, then another alien arrives, Sirru, who might be more interested on Earth. Jaya hopes that the aliens might be able to cure the disease but don’t know if she can trust them.
Jaya’s country, India in 2030, has suffered under various conquerors and Jaya is very skeptical about the aliens. She knows that colonizers bring disease and suffering. Her caste, the untouchables, are already suffering from the Selenge which even the Westerners can’t cure.
In this near future story, India has brought back the caste system. People who have been used to having lives and careers are suddenly unemployable, and of course not happy about it. The alien ìrRas empire has also a rigid caste system but one where it’s possible for a person born in one caste to improve his or her whole caste’s position. One of the castes is apsara: a courtesan-translator. The aliens claim to use sex as means of communication rather than for pleasure and procreation. However, we only see this communication aspect used once and I’m not entirely sure how it would work or why it would be needed on their own planet.
The aliens use living technology; even their houses are alive and it’s difficult for the aliens to grasp of living in a place which has never been alive. They seem to be empathic; they can project their feelings and thoughts to each other, and communicate more through them and through controlled pheromones than words. They also have implants which control their emotions and devices, which are technically illegal, which control what emotions they are projecting.
There are some satirical elements in the story: the Westerners are not happy that the aliens didn’t land in US and many of the Indian people aren’t happy that their representative is from the untouchable caste. From the alien side of things, they aren’t evil conquerors or monsters, but more like bureaucrats doing their paperwork about Earth and how it will fit into the Empire. I also got the feeling that they aren’t terribly competent. Also, a movie is being made from Jaya’s life and the lead actress decides that she’s more important the Jaya.
This isn’t an action/adventure tale but focused on scheming. Jaya isn’t sure who she can trust, if anyone. There’s a strong sub plot set in the center planet of the empire where Sirru’s lover gets mixed up in politics. The story explores also colonization and alien use of diseases.
The ending leaves many things unanswered and feels to me more like a first book in a series. I would be happy to read more about this world.