Sunday, June 13, 2010

The God Engines

The God Engines by John Scalzi

A fantasy novella from 2009, subsequently appeared on the shortlist for both the Hugo and Novella. Fairly widely praised in genre commentary--even a lot of people who don't like Scalzi found this one his most effective work, while previous Scalzi fans were even more supportive. For my part, this was the first of his stories that I found both unambitious and unenjoyable, and am thoroughly puzzled by the good press.

The piece has a strong and distinctive atmosphere, with the story continually positing a dark mood of cosmic dysfunction, horror linked to mechanical efficiency and a general pattern of brooding. However the story doesn't do much with this atmosphere, seemingly content to establish a setup of tortured gods driving starships as an end in itself. The setting is ultimately incoherent and unbelievable, with a number of prominent elements that make sylistic sense but also lead to a thoroughly arbitrary and unbelievable invented universe. The plot feels unclearly sketched, more about moving characters across the board and providing exposition than doing anything engaging. The characters are two-dimensional. The larger story is dull, and even at a hundred and thirty pages feels padded and very slow.

It's not clear to me why Scalzi thought his premise--which has been done ad nauseum by productions like Games Workshop and Stargate--was so unique it could be presented with no real grace or appreciable adorning and people would eat it up. Highly disappointing.

Worse than: Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

Also worse than: The Fountain of Youth by Nancy Kress

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