The Holy Machine
Wildside Cosmos (US: 1st April 2009); Atlantic Corvus (UK: 1st February 2011; AU: June 2011)
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TRIGGER WARNING: This novel contains rape, sexism, religious/other persecution.
Chris Beckett’s The Holy Machine is short, snappy, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The pilgrimage seems a bit pointless until George Simling finally reveals his motivation.
Indeed, George is the weakest part of the novel. I get the feeling he’s supposed to be someone that readers can connect with: nerdy, and awkward socially around beautiful women. (Yeah, he’s more stereotype than archetype.) First, he’s interested in Marija, but she rejects his date-offer because she’s already in a relationship with the head of a new religion. So then George falls in love with sex worker, Lucy…but she’s a syntec (a robot with a layer of human flesh for that personal touch). And there are people in the world who want Lucy, and all robots, dead. Later, when Marija’s relationship with the religious head is over, she asks out George, but he rejects her out of fear (what?) and sticks with Lucy.
The world-building is all too easy to imagine: countries choosing religion over science, and persecuting anyone who doesn’t share their particular faith. George lives in Illyria, a country of science, but wars are crossing borderlines, and George is desperate to find a safe place for Lucy.
But although he claims to “love” Lucy, George mistreats her. After all, he only loves her because Lucy’s PROGRAMMED to be super-friendly, affectionate, and sex-minded towards him. Lucy begins showing signs of self-evolving – i.e. asking questions and trying to understand and fit into the world around her. And it’s then that I pretty much lost all sympathy for George, because he loses sympathy for her.
It may say a lot about this book that its most interesting character is not even human.