The God Engines, by John Scalzi

I wasn’t sure what to make of this novella at first, it’s sort of science fiction, but within the trappings of a hyper-religious society who must both display consistent and underwavering faith in their god while at the same time enslaving other, presumably lesser gods that somehow power the starships they command.  But I wouldn’t really call it fantasy, the intent seems to be to take the “sufficiently advanced technology” aspect of fantasy as a given without really providing any basis other than faith for how it works.  Tephe is the ship captain who is sent on a special mission by his religious order to a planet where he comes face to face with the true nature of his god, and as you might expect it’s not pretty.  Scalzi provides some visually bloody and compelling scenes, as well as a convincingly evoked terrorist attack and its immediate aftermath, but mostly gives us something outside the normal Heinlein pastiche that he is known for, opting here instead for some kind of Blish or Zelazny mashup of science and superstition.  While the fantastical elements of how the gods manifest their powers is presented in such a way that it could have some basis in science, the characters don’t think of it that way.  There’s a lot of backstory here that is glossed over, and the way this setting is presented and how Scalzi ends it leads me to believe he wasn’t planning on returning to this universe any time soon.   Certainly not what I was expected, and I wouldn’t want to read a lot of it, but Scalzi is to be commended for trying something different and by and large succeeding.

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