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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

“The God Engines” by John Scalzi (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Scalzi’s debut novel, Old Man’s War, was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. His other science fiction novels include Agent to the Stars, The Android’s Dream, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale. He has also written several non-fiction books, The Sagan Diary novella, various short fiction, and edited the anthology METAtropolis. In 2006, John Scalzi won the John W. Campbell Award for Best Writer, and in 2009 won the Hugo Award for Best Related Book for Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008.

PLOT SUMMARY: Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this, and when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given.

Tephe knows from the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put—and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely...

CLASSIFICATION: Despite mostly taking place on the spaceship Righteous, “The God Engines” is not really science fiction. Instead, “The God Engines” is a tale of dark fantasy with parts of the novella falling into horror territory. Think Steven Erikson meets Tim Lebbon meets Clive Barker

FORMAT/INFO:The God Engines” is 136 pages long divided over eleven chapters. Includes interior illustrations provided by Vincent Chong. Narration is in the third-person, exclusively via Captain Ean Tephe. “The God Engines” is self-contained.

The God Engines” is scheduled for publication in December 2009 via Subterranean Press and will be available in two editions: 1) A fully cloth-bound hardcover and a 2) Signed/Numbered fully leather-bound edition limited to 400 copies. Cover art provided by Vincent Chong. ARC provided by the publisher upon request.

ANALYSIS: John Scalzi is another author I’ve never read before even though I own several of his novels. It’s an oversight I’ve been meaning to correct for some time now, but just never got around to doing. That all changed however, as soon as I heard about John Scalzi’s novella, “The God Engines”. Billed as the writer’s take on fantasy that “takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling”, “The God Engines” instantly intrigued me and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Much to my pleasure, “The God Engines” is every bit as good, if not better, than advertised…

In “The God Engines”, John Scalzi introduces readers to a dark and chilling world where gods not only exist, but can also be tortured, enslaved, or even killed. A world where science has been replaced by faith, where Defiled gods are used as ‘engines’ to power spaceships, where followers may be blessed with Talents—“a thing gods give followers to channel their grace, so the followers may use that grace to their own ends”—and where faith is a tangible power. A world of rooks, Bishop’s Men, and commentaries. A world that is highly imaginative, mostly original (parts of the novella reminded me of James Clemens’ Godslayer Chronicles), immersive despite having only 136 pages to bring the concept to life, and utterly captivating.

In this grim, yet fascinating world, readers will meet a small and well-drawn cast of characters—Captain Ean Tephe of the ship Righteous, Priest Andso, Commander Neal Forn, rook Shalle, the Defiled of the Righteous—who play a pivotal role in the events recorded in “The God Engines”. Events that are straightforward for the most part, but culminate in an explosive and mind-blowing finish full of dark twists and shocking revelations…

Negatively, I have just one complaint with “The God Engines” . . . it’s too short. Most of the novellas I’ve read before were set in established universes that I was already familiar with (Steven Erikson, Alan Campbell, Tim Lebbon, etc), and therefore worked extremely well as complimentary pieces or introductions to the author. As far as I know, “The God Engines” is not part of an already established universe, and is somewhat of a departure from the author’s other work, so it doesn’t really fall in either category. Instead, “The God Engines” is an epic-scale idea condensed into novella form. So even though the plot, setting and characters are handled skillfully in the short time allotted, it just seemed like parts of the novella felt rushed or skimmed over, and I believe “The God Engines” would have worked even better as a full-length novel.

That said, the novella as it is leaves an indelible impression on the reader and is a hauntingly powerful and provocative tale that will have John Scalzi fans, fantasy lovers, and newcomers alike talking about “The God Engines”…


PeterWilliam said...

Nice review, Robert. I too have yet to read any Scalzi and had The God Engines as an item of interest. FBC is one of a very few places I use to vet the books I'm interested in buying. Even though I review and blog, I'm very careful about where the money is being tossed (who isn't these days?) and am new enough not to be up on the radar of publishers. So, I check FBC daily in my google reader to see if any of my 'interest' books can be upgraded to 'buy.' Thanks again, to FBC.

The Fantasizer said...

I really like the "classification" subheading in the review. It really makes things easier for people if they know first off what genre the book being reviewed falls under, and which authors have a similar style.
If I could request one thing from all reviwers here at FBC it would be the inclusion of a classification paragraph for the book being reviewed.

The Reader said...

Hi Robert

The Vincent Chong cover is really fantastic & much more enticing than the other one which they had planned earlier. Great review :)


Robert said...

One reason I decided to break down my reviews into different parts, was to make it more organizational and easier for people to see if it's a book they might be interested in. So I'm glad you like the 'Classification' part The Fantasizer :) I don't always include it in all of my reviews, but more times than not, I try to. I can't speak for the other reviewers though...

Thanks Peter :) I appreciate the kind words, and believe The God Engines will be worth your time and money :D

Thanks Mihir! I agree that the new cover is much more striking...

Anonymous said...

I give Scalzi additional kudos for reducing the word count. Many other authors would have succumbed to the multi-part epic. Once again he sets up scenes we never quite see, as in the god being paraded, allowing us to read in so much imaginative detail and then having our jaws knocked around by the flashback details he does provide.

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