Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Engine's Child-Holly Phillips

The Engine's Child
Holly Phillips
Del Rey, Nov 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345499653

The island is a tiny dot amidst the vast ocean that is everywhere. The islanders know their history as the ancestors fled from another world and were fortunate to find this needle. Over the years the small landmass has become overcrowded and shortage of food has become the norm. Myths and religions have developed about the homeland of the ancestors as a utopia and their use of mystical spiritual energy. Two major extreme groups are divided between returning to the perfect homeworld and siphoning the mystical energy of this world.

Moth is a religious novice training for the priesthood. She has committed the major transgression of falling in love and becoming pregnant from her trysts. She belongs to the secret sect that believes in using this water world’s spirit. They are constructing two magical-mechanical machines to convert the orb’s mystical energy into a usable form that will power the sailing ships seeking new land. Their adversaries are working on a vessel to return to the ancestors’ planet. War seems imminent.

This is a fascinating blending of science fiction and fantasy, but Holly Phillips never decides between a morality allegory and a thriller. Thus in spite of a fully depicted world and an interesting but frustrating unlikable lead character, the story line is divided. At times the plot poetically describes consequences like the Malthusian Catastrophe, the affluence gap between the wealthy and the starving; a Garden of Eden mythos, and a condemnation of religious intolerance. At other less poetic moments, the tale seems heading to a civil war. Moth with her tendencies to lie about her knowledge of facts on the ground (so Bush administration) adds to the confusion. Still THE ENGINE’S CHILD is an intriguing look at morality on another planet.

Harriet Klausner

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