Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Review: Engines of a Broken World

Hello again! I'm sad to report that this Friday Review may be a little more angry than some of the others -- well, not 2312's, but godzilla only knows how boring that tome was. Oh, wait, I know. It was boring as hell. Anyways, enough about that travesty, let's have a review that upset me for different reasons! Who knows, maybe these reasons will inspire you to read the book.

DISCLAIMER (necessary for reasons you will see): I am an atheist. I am perfectly willing to accept that there may be a god in the traditional Abrahamic sense. I do not want, or like, the idea of that god's existence. However, everyone should be able to believe as they like, and I'm not going to bash you for your beliefs.

Moving on.


Merciful Truth and her brother, Gospel, have just lost their mother. And it's snowing too hard outside for them to bury her. So, under the reproachful eyes of the mechano-cat Minister, they put her under the table, with a sheet over her head. The Minister, full of Christian proverbs, is not happy, and says they need to bury her outside. But, save for two other women in their little remnants of a village, there is no one to help them, and they'll die of frostbite if they do. The next day, they try to bury her, but the ground is too hard and they can only put her in the basement, which the Minister also doesn't like. The Minister is God's representative in this world, a source of good and right, who nobody pays much attention to anymore.

This is when things get, in the words of a goodreads reviewer "Weird." What they mean is, it gets Sci-Fi. Spoilers ahead -- if you don't want to read them, skip to where it says >>>>, but let me be straight with you that like the 6th HP book, this whole story could've been about, well, let's just say it would've worked better as a short. Merciful's dead mother starts talking. Singing, at first, with foretelling lyrics instead of the usual for "Hush little baby" and then talking, through (if you're used to SF) the spirit and voice of her mother, but from a parallel universe, where she was a doctor and a scientist, things that are long gone from Merciful's world. Their worlds are dying, the spirit tells her.

Merciful doesn't talk to her long, and upstairs Gospel reveals that their world is shrinking; a fog is closing in that makes everything into nothing. They have only hours to live. The parallel ghost haunting their mother's body tells them that they must destroy "a machine" to save both their worlds. This is about 30% into the book, and it is already immediately obvious, probably even to you, what the machine is. It takes until about 80% for them to finally "realize" that it's the Minister. Though apparently the Minister is keeping them from realizing it, but in really non-subtle ways.

At about that same 80% mark, their last neighbor dies, and is possessed by a murder from the same parallel universe as the first ghost. Both ghosts tell the kids that the Minister must die, or be tortured, because God is shutting down both their worlds. He's pissed at how shitty humans are, and is winding back the clock. He sent down his Ministers to save humanity, so that they could live with him in heaven, and all the meanwhile shuts down the worlds. Just the two, apparently.

In the end, it comes down to a choice -- Does Merciful believe the semi-evil ghosts and kill the Minister, or does she believe the Minister's stories about God and his love and his anger towards the world?

She does both. She kills the Minister, which changes nothing. The fog approaches. She is the last living human being anywhere, potentially forever until God restarts everything with less free will. So what she does is pray. The last word, "potentially ever said, ever" is "Amen." So be it. Giving in, giving up, letting go. And that's it. It's over. The decision as to what happens, what god does, whether her prayer changes anything, is left to us. But we're so depressed after reading this damn thing that there's only one option I can possibly see. And that is death.

>>>>I know I just gave you a recap of the entire book. In fact, I just told you the whole book. There's not much else besides what I just said. Now, let me tell you why it upset me, and also amused me. This is the most nihilistic proselytization I have ever read. In this book, God is definitely real. God is upset with humanity, which He created, and God is shutting the whole thing down, without sending any sort of notices or anything. In one world, he sends the Ministers, to save everyone, and in the other, which seems a lot like ours, everyone just rots away and dies. And yet, very little in the book paints God as bad. Some of the characters do, but they're dismissed. The final scene is a suggestion that when everything else is shredded away, when we've lost everything, including God, all we have left is prayer. Not even hope.

In terms of prose, this book is fine. The excerpt, which I suggest reading on Amazon, makes you want to read the book so hard. It's good, it's compelling, the world is suggestive and depressing and strange. But no one goes anywhere. The secrets revealed are not found, but told, by the only characters left to tell them. This book is a race against Deus ex Machina, and no one can do anything about it. The world that seemed so large and mysterious in the first chapters is drawn inwards, closer and closer, until there's nothing left but Merciful. The ending is unpredictable only because we are so rarely used to seeing books where the characters have absolutely zero power to change anything. And that's for a reason. Because that is depressing as hell. We already live in a world where we as individuals have little power to sway the world at large. Why would I want to read fiction of that? Especially fiction that proscribes that that is in fact, good. Whatever lesson about being better people, respecting others and helping is lost in a nihilistic grey fog.

I guess maybe I should like this book. It doesn't paint Christianity in a particularly good light. It doesn't really put the idea of God in a good light, though from my interpretation it suggests that we have to trust him. Frankly, everything and everyone looks like shit in these books, except the two kids, whom God is also intent on killing. Merciful's final prayer, desperate in its hope that she, as the last living human being, might be able to save anyone, anything, to change God's mind in any way, is a statement that if God is real, and God wants us all dead, there's jack-ass crap we can do about it, except beg and plead at his feet to make it merciful, like the abusive father with a gun in one hand, pointed at our head, the whiskey bottle in the other, our last words pleading, no, no, please don't do this. But he can't hear you, he doesn't care, he's too lost in himself. And we all know what's about to happen. All we can do is say "Amen." So be it.

ONE WORD REVIEW:                                                                                         B/W/D
OPPRESSIVE                                                                                                        Don't.

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