“It is time to whip a God,” John Scalzi wrote in this Hugo Award-nominated novella, The God Engines. The God Engines, is a lot of things. Dark and cruel, fantasy, horror, and religion all blended in a twisted story of power from a writer customarily known for his charm and humor. But this, this is Scalzi out of his usual comfort zone. There is no charm or humor in this story. This is him reaching into the darker parts of his storytelling ability and bringing forth the cruel and worm filled and serving it on a silver platter.
“Captain Ean Tephe entered the god chamber, small lacquered, filigreed chest in hand. He found blood on the deck, an acolyte spurting one and lying shivering on the other, and a god prostrate in its iron circle, its chains shortened in the circle floor… The God giggled into the iron its mouth was mashed into and flicked its tongue over red lips.”
It is time to whip a God. ― John Scalzi, The God Engines
There is one true God in this land. One God, above all others. He is attended to by the Bishopry, much like a church of believers. This God is nameless, and all the other gods must be defiled and abased below him. So much so that their abasement, and suffering, power the Bishopry ships. The ships are fueled by faith. Because above all things, religion and belief are what give a God the highest power. Ean Tephe is the captain of the Righteous, one of the Bishopry’s ships. His job is to control the God powering his ship and cower him.
“Tephe took the whip from the case, stood, and lashed hard into the God, the slivers of iron tearing into its flesh. The God screamed and kicked as far as its chain would allow. Godblood seeped from the gash.”- John Scalzi, The God Engines
But Gods are growing bold, fleet-wide. They are attacking and lashing out at their captors and are not cowering in fear as they once did. Tephe is summoned to the council and told of the true God’s plan on obtaining more faith. Faith can be found in the fires of a fresh convert.
You can see where the story is going.
Scalzi has crafted a story here that integrates faith and what religion is and how it is interpreted. Who is a god? Is a god one who has more power than another? Are humans Gods to ants? If you are looking at a deity, and consequently whipping them, what is faith then? It is an exciting thought. Maybe the “gods” are not gods, but other extraterrestrial beings, and this is a war for power, with humans as pawns. Scalzi touches on many of these in this tight novella. The plot moves at a brisk pace and keeps the reader engaged. I would have loved for this to have been written as a full novel, as backstory and dialog could be explored more. But as at stands, this is quite an engaging read. Well worth the nomination it received. It goes to show you that Scalzi is not a one-trick pony. He can write both the dark and light of fantasy.
Buy The God Engines by John Scalzi