Review: The God Engines

The God EnginesThe God Engines by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very short book. Well, technically it’s a novella – it even says so on the jacket flap. The MSRP is $25 and I think it’s not worth all that for how short it is. However, it’s $9 for hardcover or $5 on Kindle right now and I think that’s a fair price. Because it is so short, I finished it in one day over about two hours, but that’s actually an indication of how good I found it. Last night, just before bed I planned to read 2 more pages to finish the chapter I was on. But I was very intrigued by what had just happened in the book. I didn’t want to stop reading. I look at at how many pages I had left and spent the next half hour finishing the book. Had it been a longer book I would have put it aside and gone to bed.

If you don’t like spoilers before you read something – I say you should buy or borrow this book. Read the description on Goodreads and that’s about all you can know about the book without giving too much away since the story is so short. It’s a good sci-fi/fantasy mix. Ok….spoiler time!

Scalzi does an excellent job keeping things moving and world-building. I’ve been listening to a lot of science fiction short stories via Clarke’s World Magazine and Escape Pod and The God Engines follows the same structure. World building has to happen as the action happens because there isn’t time for an info dump before the pages run out. What caught my attention with respect to this book was the fact that the description says the spaceships are powered by enslaved gods. By definition it seems it would be difficult to enslave a god, so I wanted to know what was up.

Scalzi employs the same trope as Terry Pratchet’s Small Gods in which a god’s power is directly proportional to the number of followers he has. One of the gods, referred to as Our Lord by the main characters, gained so many more followers than the other gods that he was able to subjugate them all and force them to obey his followers. I appreciated the way Scalzi utilized the older than dirt trope of faith being so important to winning battles. Anyone who has spent time studying the old Testament will know that whenever the ancient Jews faltered it battle it was blamed on a lack of faith or too much faith in a god that was a rival to Yahweh. So, extra bonus for those with religious knowledge.

The awesome climactic reveal that Our Lord was a vengeful and evil god was quite a surprise (good job, Scalzi) and once again echoes to the dissonance between Old Testament Yahweh and New Testament Yahweh. Nearly as fun for me was the reveal that this story takes place in our future or a future of a world nearly the same as ours. I’d gone the entire book believing that this was just some alternate world where instead of the usual science fiction space flight, they had god-powered space flight. But the god of the Rightous reveals that humanity in this universe had once had science-powered space flight, but Our Lord had caused humanity to forget in order to make them dependent on him.

At first I found the Rookery (on-ship whore house) to be the usual bit of annoying science fiction sex trope – meaning, for some reason there tends to be random explicit sex in science fiction whereas other forms of fiction don’t tend to have sex that’s nearly as explicit, if it’s mentioned at all. (I’m not naive of reasons why this trope exists, but that would also require stereotyping) However, Scalzi actually finds a valid reason for making them not be gratuitous. (Just as Joss Whedon did with Firefly) During World War II we warned sailors to stay away from prostitutes for fear they would divulge secrets. Scalzi has Captain Tephe speak with the head prostitute (well, they’re more like religious prostitutes in this universe) to gain knowledge of how the crew’s faith is holding up since they tend to open up to the prostitutes.

Given how explicit Scalzi is with the sex in this novella, I feel comfortable in expression my feelings of the book thusly: It’s like being interrupted mid-coitus or having your partner climax too quickly. Scalzi does such an amazing job with the world-building and with the story-telling and then it ends so abruptly. That’s not to say that it has a non-ending like some of the early Neal Stephenson books. It has a satisfying ending. But I just wanted to see so much more of this universe and it’s over too quickly.

At any rate, between Redshirts and this book, Scalzi has made a fan of me. I’ll probably read another of his books next. If you buy the book at Amazon via this link you help support this site: The God Engines

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Oh, I can’t believe when I was writing the review I forgot to note the parallels between the gods as a source of power in this book and the plot of quite a few Final Fantasy games.