The God Engines, by John Scalzi

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My apologies for the brevity of this post, I’m writing with an odd tremor in my left hand and that’s throwing me off.  Anyway…

If you’ve read my previous reviews of Scalzi‘s work, you’re already familiar with how much I love it.  There’s something about his style that I find captivating, perhaps unreasonably so.

The God Engines is no exception to my love for Scalzi’s writing.  It features space travel powered by faith and subjugated gods, and eschews many of the “upbeat” qualities (for lack of a better word) that I’ve come to recognize in Scalzi’s other pieces.  It’s short, sweet, and ultimately horrifying, and I would happily recommend it to anyone who would like to read about holy war in space.  Having just written that, yes, the setting does feel a little like Warhammer 40k, but not quite in the same grandiose grim-dark fashion for which 40k is pilloried.  I don’t want to say any more that might accidentally spoil sections of the story for the especially perceptive, I’ve already had to rewrite this bit several times to cull possible references to spoiler material.

Also, well done Scalzi for writing an entirely genderless character.  I’m not sure I understand how they fit into the larger scheme of things that you devised for this setting, but they felt wonderfully human in a way that some might have ignored.  And while I loved the appropriate ending of the story, I was sad that it meant that I wouldn’t get to learn more about the world that encompassed all these wonderful and terrible things.  I suppose that means you hit the perfect length for the piece.

I really liked the fact that no character felt like they were entirely “good.”  Some were certainly more sympathetic than others, but mostly people seemed very human: they wanted, they feared, and they cared (or didn’t) in ways that pulled me into the piece.  It never felt like we went very deep with any of them, perhaps due to space restrictions, but I got enough of a sense of them to feel connected before the end of the book.

Would I recommend this book?  Yes, definitely.  It’s short, it’s an easy read (I went through it in one sitting), and it’s a lovely look at a frightening concept.  It’s a quick piece of horror writing done well.

p.s. Oh, and here’s Scalzi’s favorite negative review of The God Engines.  It’s pretty good.

Hurricane Fever, By Tobias S. Buckell

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I first heard about this book through Scalzi’s Big Idea feature on his blog.  I was captivated by Buckell‘s premise, a spy novel set in the Caribbean with a protagonist who actually lived and grew up there instead of simply going there to vacation, infiltrate, or establish a villainous lair.  It pays special attention to what it’s like to have your home relegated to the status of a playground for the wealthy, and how a pan-Caribbean federation might look in the near future.  Hurricane Fever is a fast paced delight that delivers on its premise and offers the best Bond movie I’ve read in years.  It’s a violent and active spy-thriller, and one in which the main character is more often mistaken for a member of the waitstaff than a tourist.  I found it both engaging and refreshing, and now I want to read Buckell’s other work.

Read on for more detail.  Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from undue spoilers.

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The Human Division, by John Scalzi

Usually by the time that I hit book five of a series, I need a break.  I’ll feel a little tired of the author; I’ll have come to expect their turns of phrase, I’ll know some of the ways in which they think, and I often have some inkling of where the story will go before it ever gets there.  Tired isn’t quite the right word, but you get the idea.  It’s right around then that I start looking at other books longingly and prepare to binge my way through a different series.

But John Scalzi has completely avoided this predicament.  I mean, sure, maybe I expected some of what was coming from Zoe’s Tale, but that’s mostly because it covered a lot of territory that I had already read in The Last Colony.

Where am I going with all of this?  Here: The Human Division is great, and I want more.  In fact, I want to see the next book in my hands as soon as possible.  I accept that this might take some time, as I am certainly aware of the frustratingly slow pace at which stories are often written, but nevertheless.  This series is exceptional, and reading it feels a bit like I imagine being sucked out of an airlock must feel.  Except that the frigid void of space is actually a deeply engrossing series of story lines, and you don’t end up boiling your liquids out through your pores while freezing at the same time.  Ok, look, the analogy was a bit forced, but these books will grab you and pull you along mercilessly with all the force of an explosive decompression, only freeing you once you’ve come out the other side.

Treat yourself to a good time and read this series, you won’t be disappointed.  Would you like to know more?

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Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi

We now return to our scheduled review of Scalzi’s book Zoe’s Tale, the “odd one out” in the series started by Old Man’s War.

Zoe’s Tale is the parallel novel that accompanies The Last Colony.  I’m impressed that Scalzi even attempted to write a second book covering much of the same temporal territory, and I’m even more impressed that he was able to write something that stood on its own despite the fact that I already knew (almost) exactly what was going to happen.

I understand that some people (like my friend Ben) don’t like Zoe’s Tale as much as they like the other books in the Old Man’s War universe.  And I can see why: if you were looking for a totally new story, Zoe’s Tale isn’t the place to go.  On the other hand, if you are just looking for a good read and are ok with covering some ground that you’ve already been over before, Zoe’s Tale is perfectly solid and enjoyable.  My opinion of the book may be influenced by the fact that I didn’t have to wait for it to come out and didn’t have to wait for the next book in the series; there are a number of failings which instant gratification will fix.

But I don’t think it’s fair to call the repetition in Zoe’s Tale a failing.  Maybe I just feel this way because I’m impressed by Scalzi’s ability to weave a second story in behind all the elements that I already knew, but I really do think that Zoe’s Tale is quite excellent.  Scalzi manages to take a story that I’ve already heard before (right down to many of the essential details, and occasionally even the conversations) and offers it back up in an exciting fashion, following a character that I’ve only ever seen moving around on the sidelines before.  It’s great.  Also, damn, what a climax.

Enough of generalities!  Let’s get down to some specifics, shall we?

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