Tag Archive: Scalzi; John

Jan 25

Review: The God Engines by John Scalzi

The God Engines

This book is really short. Like read it in a sitting short to cleanse my mind after A Tale for the Time Being (which was so excellent I can still barely stand it). And I thought I was going to ding it on one major level, but then I was reading some other reader’s reviews to refresh myself on character names, and I realized that I had been had. But more on that in a minute.

So the story follows Ean Tephe, captain of a spaceship. Spaceships in this universe are not run on fuel; they are run on the power of gods that have been captured and chained in the engine areas. These gods bend reality, propelling the ship forward at the behest (and torture) of their captors. The gods were captured by the god of the empire that the spaceship is a part of. So basically, giant pantheon of powerful beings, but one has become much more supreme than the others. Kinda like Diana Ross and the rest of the Supremes.

The most supreme of them all.

The most supreme of them all.

Well, Tephe and his ship get called to a super secret meeting on the home world. Apparently, their god is worried that the other gods are trying to topple him, so he needs the good juju that new believers bring. Basically, the belief of people who have never believed is like the best meth in the world, and the god is jonesing for a fix.

They get to the new place, convert the populace, and the god shows up. But instead of being all benevolent and blessed are the meek, he starts absorbing the new believers souls, obliterating them entirely to add to his power. Well, come to find out, this is how this god has gotten all of his power, and all righteousness and honor that his believers have put in him is a sham. So their faith gets twisted and broken, allowing the trickster god powering the ship to trick them into delivering a sigil that can summon a god of the gods. The big god gets there and obliterates the soul-sucking god. This releases all the engine gods from bondage, and they are after revenge. The story closes right before the god in the engine room busts out to slaughter the crew en masse.

So, you know, super positive.

I enjoyed the story, but I did have a moment of rolling my eyes that Scalzi didn’t deserve. There’s a harem on the ship that helps deal with the problems that the officers by giving them someone that provides release (in all possible ways). So I was just thinking that this was a moment of your on-ship whorehouse with all your stereotypical science fiction women available for the menfolk. But apparently, and I didn’t notice this when reading, Scalzi doesn’t describe any of the courtesans and he gave them all gender neutral names. Whatever people envisioned was all their own doing. Which I think is a great stab for storytelling, but also points out the oppressive heteronormativity that I have internalized.

A nice story, an interesting take, and a fast read.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,


Dec 06

Review: The Human Division by John Scalzi

The Human Division by John Scalzi

I have to say, before I listened to the first Old Man’s War book, I was strongly resistant to them. Because, like the exquisite Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies, I thought that the title was dumb. I mean, it’s totally accurate, but I thought that there was no way that concept could translate into an interesting story.

Not only was I wrong, I was crazy wrong.

In the last year, I’ve read all five of the main stories set in the Old Man’s War universe. And the series also proved me wrong about my distaste for thematic sequels: sometimes, they actually do work. As in the case of The Human Division by John Scalzi.

The book was originally published as a serialized e-book, but I don’t do serials. I can barely choke down my cereal in the morning, much less keep out with things that come in a little at a time. I prefer a binging approach, so I listened to the audiobook after it came out in a collected volume.

The interlocking stories follow Harry Wilson, a technical advisor on the diplomatic spaceship, the Clark. Harry (who was a supporting character in the earlier books in the series) continues to find himself in the middle of trouble as diplomacy comes to the fore of the Colonial Union’s interactions with the larger universe. Due to the events in The Last Colony, which (spoilers) drove a wedge between the Earth and the Colonial Union, these diplomatic efforts of this b-level fire team are one of the only things that are keeping the peace in an increasingly hostile universe.

As with any collection of stories, there are going to be stronger and weaker tales. For instance, I really enjoyed the Glenn Beck slash Hearst-ian “A Voice in the Wilderness” take on a radio talk show host who gets used by shadowy forces to further their causes before he’s disposed of to further their plans even more. But even the quote unquote weaker stories are still a fun listen, and the entire book propels forward at a great speed.

One of the things that makes Scalzi’s books stand apart is the attitude apparent in his characters. None of his main characters lack a spine, and their inner strength turns them into quip machines who are all a little (sometimes a lot) on the sarcastic side. This is just Scalzi’s style, and once  get into it, it’s fine, but it puts me off a little bit right at the beginning. Maybe it’s because I’m not expecting it and it just feels…different. But I will always give him props for writing stories from a number of character perspectives and refusing to allow things to break down simply into good and bad guys. These stories live in the grey areas where no one is right all the time (well, except Harry) and no one is all evil. This nuance keeps the stories interesting.

I recommend the whole series. Don’t jump in here; the water’s too deep. But start at the beginning and make this a series to knock out when you need something assuredly good.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,