I really didn’t expect to like “The God Engines,” by John Scalzi as much as I did. For one thing, most of his work makes me crazy. For another, the story is written in a clunky fantasy style that makes you wonder if he’s practicing for next year’s Kirk Poland. I mean, what else can I make of lines like this?
He found blood on the deck, an acolyte spurting one and lying shivering on the other, and the god prostrate in its iron circle, its chains shortened into the circle floor.
I had to read the opening paragraphs several times before I found the nerve to go on. But by the end of the first chapter you understand that the hero, Tephe, is the captain of the starship Righteous, and what he calls a “god” serves like an engine, providing the power to travel between the stars. And you understand that the particular clunky fantasy style being emulated is Lovecraft.
Though it’s only a novella, in the course of the story you get a complete picture of their world, where it came from and where it’s going. You see a whole apparatus of priests, acolytes, and bishops in action. Their main job is to keep the people’s faith strong. The faith they practice is not that the gods exist, that’s obvious, but that the Lord their God, who subjugated the others, loves them and will take care of them. And if you know anything about Lovecraftian gods, you know that faith is going to be sorely tested.