Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: The God Hater by Bill Myers

In conjunction with the Christian SciFi and Fantasy Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. And since they bothered to send it half way across the world, it seems only fair that I hold up my end of the bargain, which is to review the thing.

OK, I have to start with this: I wouldn’t have bought The God Hater. Not because it’s bad, but because if I had seen it in a bookshop (I know, but we’re reviewing sci-fi here, suspend your disbelief) there is nothing to tell me I would like it. The vague title and the bloke wandering along a cobbled street give no clues to the sub-cyberpunk action, and there’s no blurb to hint at it, just a bunch of writers saying how great it is. And, assuming I did, for a dare or something, pick the book up, I’d have to get about five chapters in before I figured out it was going to have the whole AI thing going on.

Luckily, however, we have a blog tour, which means that somebody told me what the book was about. Which is, to recap: the story of grouchy atheist Professor Nicholas Mackenzie, who is seconded by his techno-guru brother to provide the philosophical grounding for his huge AI computer program. Against all his better judgement, he does this by getting uploaded in virtual form into the AI computer world to tell its inhabitants about ‘Programmer’.

I’m trying really hard here not to go ‘well I would have done this differently….’ But in fact there were a few things I liked about Myers’ treatment of the whole AI Gospel idea – giving Nicholas a reason to genuinely care about the little computer people, the way strict legalism can distract from the spirit of the law, and Programmer’s virtual disciples, a miscellaneous bunch of prostitutes, thieves and other outcasts I could have lived with getting to know a little more. The crucifixion analogue (oops, was that a spoiler?) was set up nicely from the beginning, although some of its side-effects didn’t make that much sense to me in terms of either the story or the logic of the virtual world. Now, Myers admits that the science (and indeed the theology) of the story may not be 100% accurate, but for me, a few more clues about the internal workings of this world might have made for a more satisfying read.

I seem to say this about a lot of Christian novels, but the story keeps you going at a pretty quick pace, and certainly in this case the action in either the real world or cyberspace doesn’t let up for long. Unfortunately I think characterisation suffers a bit as a result of this, but maybe that’s ok. The God Hater is an ‘idea’ story, and I know from reinventing the Old Testament that a story like this has to get to certain points, so you can’t let characters run away with themselves as much as in a character-led story. Nicholas, in particular, starts out looking like he was just pulled out of a family size bag of Richard Dawkins, but as he gets pulled into his brother’s schemes he gets fleshed out and is real enough to help the idea reach a satisfying conclusion.

There was some good stuff going on in the real world too - a lot of it was fairly unbelievable, but maybe that made the few moments of realistic human interaction on Nicholas’ real life journey more satisfying. His story is, ultimately, a nice parallel to what virtual Nick (who for some reason managed to bypass the bitterness subroutine) is doing in the computer world. Making the protagonist a militant atheist was a good move, not least because not many Christian stories would have done so, but his job as a philosophy professor would have given him enough familiarity with the Bible to go about re-enacting it inside a giant computer game. Even given that assumption, some of the almost verbatim re-enactments of Biblical events stretched credibility a little, especially where they were instigated by the computer people.

In terms of theme and Christian content, well, most of us are at least vaguely familiar with computer games like The Sims these days, and in light of that the story does manage to humanise God's perspective on the Incarnation, as far as that is remotely possible. The Biblical parallel is pretty obvious once the cyber-story kicks in, but the predictable nature of that thread is off-set by some nice twists in the real world.

So is it any good? Well, if, like me, you’ve been reading the latest Iain M Banks or some similarly weighty sci-fi tome, the writing and depth of story is going to fall somewhat short of what you’ve been used to. On the other hand, you won’t be reading it for anything like as long, so it doesn’t really matter. If you like a quick, accessible read, that sheds a little light on the nature of God, then this one might be just what you’re after.

Find out more at, facebook the author, or visit these blogs:

Red Bissell Thomas Clayton Booher Keanan Brand Kathy Brasby Rachel Briard Beckie Burnham Morgan L. Busse Melissa Carswell Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer Karri Compton CSFF Blog Tour Janey DeMeo April Erwin Amber French Andrea Graham Tori Greene Katie Hart Ryan Heart Joleen Howell Bruce Hennigan Becky Jesse Cris Jesse Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emily LaVigne Shannon McDermott Matt Mikalatos Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika MollyBuuklvr81 John W. Otte Sarah Sawyer Chawna Schroeder Andrea Schultz Tammy Shelnut Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Fred Warren Dona Watson Nicole White Dave Wilson


Jason said...

Don't worry Steve, you lived up to the expectations. ;)

I thought you were fair and balanced, and there are certainly good things about this book. Overall I didn't really care for the craft of it, but it was a difficult premise to pull off.

Thanks for chiming in across the puddle!

Anonymous said...

HI there, I am with you that I am not sure I would have picked this book up if I ran across it in a bookstore.
I also did not care for not having a blurb to drive my interest into the book. I am grateful that other writers liked it, but I like a little bit of something to at least "hint" at the story...even if it was misleading a bit. As long as there is something there to read. Thanks for your thoughts!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Hi, Steve, how great to read your review! I do wish we could get books to you more than occasionally. I'm glad this one was science fiction based, even though more softly so than you prefer.

I agree with Jason--your review was a balanced view. I was especially interested in what the Space Opera guy thought of it!

Thanks, too, for your usual fun Tuesday Tunes. You're good!


Mirtika said...

From what I've read of the book so far, you seem to be right on target, review-wise.

Mostly, I just wanted to drop in and say hello after a long absence from Mirathon-ing. :)

HOpe you and the fam and super-duper!


Anonymous said...

I think you're right. Its more of a concept driven book than a character driven book.

UKSteve said...

Glad people are liking the review, I've been stockpiling them while the blog was on hiatus, so there will be more over the next few weeks :)