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Book Report: The God Engines

Your Humble Blogger is, as y’all know, down on this whole trend of publishing a novella in a separate volume. Which is odd, because I am not at all down on the 1930s (or so) trend of novels being extremely short. There’s an important contextual difference, there, but I have no idea what it is.

Anyway, when Subterranean Press published John Scalzi’s The God Engines, I didn’t get all excited about it. Nor, I have to say, did I get all that excited about it when I saw it on the library shelf. Nor, alas, did I get all excited about it when I read it.

It’s a grim, grim book. There’s a lot of nastiness in it, unpleasant scenes and unpleasant people and unpleasant social structures and unpleasant… entities. It’s well-written, mind you: they are effectively unpleasant rather than being mildly irritating or buffoonishly awful, or for that matter ineffectually evil. And while the metaphysical questions posted—mostly what kind of Divine would tolerate, much less encourage, a church given to institutional sadism—are troubling ones, I’m not sure that Mr. Scalzi brings anything new to them with this book by putting them in the middle of all this unpleasantness.

It’s interesting to me, by the way, in the whole subgenre slapfight sense of interesting, that Mr. Scalzi built up the book as his initial (published) foray into fantasy. I don’t disagree with the distinction he is making, but it does take place mostly on a spaceship. If the Germans want to slap a cover with spaceships and lasers, I don’t see what would stop them. There is very little in the book that addresses the Sources of Reader Pleasure specific to fans of fantasy novels, as they think of them: he sets up no system of majick, reimagines no fairy tales beloved of childhood, gives his hero no sword nor sandals, depicts no village on the edge of the maerchenwald, and provides no new versions of dragons, unicorns, trolls, ogres, elves or dwarves. Or dwarfs, for that matter. I know that many fantasy readers—YHB, for one—don’t require those sorts of things to enjoy a fantasy story. But then, many fantasy readers also like stories that aren’t fantasy at all.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,