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 so, 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....
Author John Scalzi has ascended to the top ranks of modern science fiction with the best-selling, Hugo-nominated novels Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale. Now he tries his hand at fantasy, with a dark and different novella that takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling.
Say your prayers... and behold The God Engines.
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"Really well written and very dark. The story itself is enthralling and manages to have some Lovecraftian moments that make the goosebumps come alive on your skin. It seems to me that Scalzi is in his story trying to make some remarks about religion and clergy as corrupt as well as faith as a crutch and a hindrance to progress. If that is a correct assumption then his efforts fall fairly flat to one degree or another. One problem is that by having the gods be these real, powerful and capricious alien beings which have dominion over the definitely real, according to the logic of the book, souls and spirits of men it seems that Scalzi is trying to have his cake and eat it too. It is hard to take seriously the message that Scalzi may, or may not, be trying to convey when he is basically using a modernized version of the Olympian gods as a template for his gods. Although it is fun to read about, it does not engender belief, especially when you consider that no historic accounts of powerful gods are ever straightforwardly about what they seem to be about. There are layers upon layers of meaning contained in pretty much all religious scripture and stories, which is why they live as long as they do. Scalzi's story and his gods on the other hand are straightforwardly what they seem to be. If you have to any degree studied religions and their spiritual interpretive framework then you'll see the cognitive dissonance between the story and its supposed meaning. I can't really say if this is how Scalzi meant the book to be read but as a symbolic tale it doesn't really score very high but as a straight-faced scifi story it is awesome.
(view spoiler)[The same argument as used above can be used about the conflicting scifi and fantasy elements in the book. It is clearly stated the people in the book were once scientifically minded but that after meeting the gods left behind science. The gods using magic and people using it through the gods could be explained in a Dying Earth fashion, i.e. that the technology of the gods had progressed to such a degree as to be indistinguishable from magic. The problem again are the spiritual elements that are added to the book, these undermine the idea that the gods are merely very advanced aliens. (hide spoiler)]"
Jakob (4 out of 5 stars)