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The God Engines
John Scalzi
Subterranean Press, 59 pages

The God Engines
John Scalzi
John Scalzi was born in 1969. His first job out of college was as a film critic at the Fresno Bee newspaper in California. Since 1998, he has been a full-time freelance writer. As well, he is the Chief Entertainment Media Critic for Official US Playstation Magazine. He lives in the small rural town of Bradford, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

John Scalzi Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded
SF Site Review: The God Engines
SF Site Review: Metatropolis
SF Site Review: Agent to the Stars
SF Site Review: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded
SF Site Review: The Android's Dream
SF Site Review: Old Man's War

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Since his first novel, Old Man's War -- a universe where old men and women fight the wars that protect the colonists -- John Scalzi has made quite a splash. Unfortunately, it languished on my shelf as other books, stories and financial matters seemed more pressing. Last year, I learned my error after visiting two of his recent works -- The God Engines and Fuzzy Nation, two very different novels in style and theme. Both are admirable after three reads apiece, such is Scalzi's craftsmanship for story.

The God Engines may well be one of the best pieces of science fiction/fantasy works I've read in a while. Its SF is perfect: 1) its story and characters engage from the word go, 2) the world wows the imagination and only grows stranger, and 3) if your brain loves to chew on stories, this one will keep your brain-teeth gnawing for days. Why it didn't win an award is either because not enough people read it or the competition must have been fierce.

Ean Tephe is a starship captain whose engine is a god, unruly and kept in iron chains, which doesn't keep him from killing tormentors whom he fools despite his bonds. Three types of iron exist and inflict damage on gods depending on the number of times it has been forged in fire: third-made binds, second hurts, first kills.

Although Tephe believes in the god that has enslaved the god of his engine, he has to play good-cop, use diplomacy, yet reluctantly apply cruelty when necessary. His priest, Andso, on the other hand, only displays insults and cruelty because their god is superior to the engine, creating problems for Tephe when he wants his engine to move them from one star to another.

Tephe and Andso then witness their god do something so shocking to their moral fiber that spaceships cross across the universe to destroy them as well as the gods who had been enslaved.

spoiler alert

At first read this may seem to be Scalzi spinning a hopeless, grotesque, and cruel tale. A reader might ask, "Why would I want to read that?" The answer is something of a thematic spoiler, so you may not want to read any more of this paragraph. The reason is that there is not uniformity of personality among the gods, and since these human characters have compassion for others, the ending asks if there might be a god out there who is similar. Granted, the story ends there, so readers will never find out. Of course, readers also free to interpret this as a simple critique of all religion although such a reading narrows the breadth of the story's nuance and scope. The ambiguity, on the other hand, is worth exploring.

Like other readers, I'd love to see this expanded into a novel. Of course the problem is if a novel can actually add any more complexity of theme, concept and characters. If so, this hypothetical novel might be a shoe-in for awards.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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