Amazon: Average: 3.3. Mode: 5 stars.
Goodreads: Average: 3.59. Mode: 4 stars.
Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this -- and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given.
Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It’s what he doesn’t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put -- and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely...
Author John Scalzi has ascended to the top ranks of modern science fiction with the best-selling, Hugo-nominated novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. Now he tries his hand at fantasy, with a dark and different novella that takes your expectations of what fantasy is and does, and sends them tumbling.
Say your prayers... and behold The God Engines.
I love me some John Scalzi, though mostly I love his blog, Whatever. I'm a bit lukewarm on his fiction. I read one of the books in his Old Man's War series and was kind of, "Meh."
Anyway, The God Engines is rather like the last book I reviewed, Out of the Dark, by David Weber, in which a military SF author with a substantial following from previous series decides to do something different and mix sci-fi and fantasy.
The God Engines isn't painful, boring, and stupid, like Out of the Dark, so that's point one in its favor. Point two is that it's a novella, which means if you do think it sucks, you'll only suffer for a short time. It's also available as an ebook from Baen Books for only 5 bucks, so it's a minimal investment in both time and money.
I quite liked it, though it didn't quite bring me around to the "OMG! John Scalzi is awesome and I must read everything else he's written!" camp. It's a space opera in a dark fantasy setting. The title is quite literal, as starships are powered by enslaved gods. We learn quickly that Captain Tephe's interstellar empire is ruled by his Lord, a god who rules above all other gods, and the story is allegedly about faith as much as it is about god-wars and space battles. This aspect felt a little flat to me, because for the most part, gods in a polytheistic setting competing for worshipers is a fantasy invention, not something that happened much in the real world, and so when Scalzi uses that trope here, it felt a bit like Terry Pratchett's Small Gods through a dark, Lovecraftian lens.
I wasn't thrilled by the ending, which was pretty much inevitable but (oh, you saw this coming, didn't you?) was a bit of a deux ex machina, and had the feeling of "Well, this is a novella, only got a few pages left, better wrap things up!"
The God Engines also has a bit of a Joss Whedon feel to it (I'm thinking specifically of Firefly, and more specifically, of Serenity). Adding to this Whedonesque vibe was the "rookery" aboard Tephe's ship, in which "rooks" serve the physical and emotional needs of the crew. Interestingly, the rook Shalle is deliberately never referred to by a gendered pronoun, and even the sex scenes are written in such a way as to make it unclear what gender Shalle is. It's also not clear if this is meant to imply that all rooks are of indeterminate gender, or if Scalzi was just being precious about this one character. It led me to believe that the rook(s) had some major part to play in the denouement, and Shalle was in fact critical to the climax, but not in a way that made the character's gender or lack thereof relevant. So, I'm not entirely sure what Scalzi's purpose was, other than to maybe mess with the readers' assumptions a bit.
Verdict: A good, brisk story mixing dark fantasy with science fiction. It's quite different from Scalzi's normal work, so not the best sample to see if you like his writing, but for the length and the price, if you find the description moderately interesting, you can't go wrong checking it out.