Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 Hugo nominee, novella: THE GOD ENGINES by John Scalzi (Subterranean)

John Scalzi is one of the hottest sf writers out there. His first novel was published in 2005, but he had already racked up three novel nominations by 2008. He’s also the President-elect of the SFWA. As with most of the writers who hit in the 00s, I hadn’t read any of his work until now.

The premise of this novella is original and a bit odd, but it’s also quite straightforward: starships are powered by imprisoned deities. The gods are of the Lovecraftian variety – they’re immensely powerful and arcane beings who don’t necessarily fit into our ideas about conventional reality, but they’re not necessarily divine. People worship and fear them, but, as far as we know, they’re just mind-blowing aliens. At some point, humanity encountered these gods and became involved in a war between them. One of the gods vanquished and enslaved the others – humanity became servants of this god, and bound the others in iron chains, forcing them to transport human ships about the universe so they could prosthelytize for their Lord.

We focus on one ship, the Righteous, and its captain Tephe. Tephe must navigate the tensions with the priestly class that shares power aboard ship, and he’s in love with one of the Rooks (priestesses/harem girls) that “comfort” the ship’s crew.

It’s a fairly fantastic set-up, but, and maybe this is the result of its length, it’s all set-up. The characters tend to speak in exposition, and spend all of their time telling explaining their world and roles to each other (though they should obviously already know these things). The characters fall a bit flat as well, and they tend to slot into generic roles (heroic officers, incompetent priests, hooker with a heart of gold). The ideas are great though, and I’d consider reading more novels set in this world (though the horror ending doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room open for sequels).

Grade: B

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