Goddess in the Machine

Goddess in the Machine was written by Lora Beth Johnson and first published in 2020. It is a science fiction novel which focuses on a teenage girl who finds herself a thousand years in the future. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

When Andra was put into cryo-sleep, she expected to wake up on a different world. She and her family had been chosen as colonists and were only going to be in stasis until they arrived on the planet of Holymyth. However, something went wrong. When Andra awoke, her family were no where to be found. She soon realised that a thousand years had passed and the people of Holymyth (now known as Hell-mouth) believed her to be a goddess.

Andra quickly met Zhane and his servant, Lew-Eadin, who fill her in. The domed city of Eerensed is slowly dying and their prophecies have said that only Andra will be able save them. Problem is, Andra has no idea where to start. She is just an ordinary teenager with no useful skills. How can she possibly be able to engineer away to keep the dome from deteriorating to the point where it can no longer sustain life?

Yet Andra soon realises that if people learn who she truly is, she will surely be executed. In order to preserve her life, Andra decides to play along until she can source the things that she needs in order to return to Earth. Yet things will not be so simple. Eerensed is filled with all manner of people and some are far less trusting of a goddess. Will she be able to escape Hell-mouth before she becomes someone’s sacrifice?

This was another book that I received in an Owlcrate and, I must admit, I did really think that it was going to be a great read from its blurb. Unfortunately, it has taken me three weeks to wade through under 400 pages of text due to the fact that I just could not get into the story.

The premise of Goddess in the Machine is what really appealed to me. A girl wakes up from cryo-sleep to discover that everyone she has ever known is long dead. Their descendants now believe she’s a goddess, sent to save them from extinction. She needs to learn how to play the game and escape the planet before they learn that this is far from the truth.

You see, sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that we don’t see much of this alien world. Although Andra is quickly spirited away to Eerensed – a domed city in the middle of an arid wasteland – we learn very little of the culture and traditions of those who live there. All we learn is that they consider “old” technology like nanomachines to be magic, and anyone who can manipulate them to be “Sorcers”. What this far future world looks like, or how the entire knowledge of our civilisation was lost, is never explained. It would be as though we had randomly lost all knowledge of our history after the previous few generations, viewing anything that happened in the Renaissance to be magic.

My second bone of contention was the language of the far future. Fictional dialect can work – like Tolkien’s Elven or Burgess’s Nadsat – but they require for an author to be very knowledgeable in how languages function. Goddess in the Machine is told in third person from the perspective of both Andra and Zhane. Zhane’s dialogue is probably the biggest problem that I have with this story. This is all presented in the manner in which he speaks, as the people of Hell-mouth talk in some kind of weird slang English. This is really distracting.

Zhane’s language does not actually function like an evolution of the English language. It merely replaces certain words with alternatives, while making no change to inflection or structure. Some of these substitutions make sense (“know” has become replaced with “reckon” which has further devolved to “reck”), while others are just bizarre. How has our word for “matter” become “meteor”? How has “massive” endured as a replacement for “awesome” when that word is barely still used in present day? This is not how languages work and it made Zhane’s chapters in particular difficult to get through.

This was not helped by the novel’s pacing. Goddess in the Machine was incredibly slow, taking over half of its length before anything of consequence actually happened. While its pace did increase in the second half, it also contained a number of twists that had varying degrees of clout. While a couple were genuinely surprising, most were just a bit too well-forecasted or shared uncomfortable similarities with popular science-fiction films.

I also felt that the ending of Goddess in the Machine has the potential to divide readers. While it’s very clear where this story will go in its sequel, it all felt as though it ended on a bit too positive a note. The ending was foreshadowed very early in the novel but still felt like a bit of a logical leap, raising far more questions that it answered.

And finally, we have the characters.

Andra had the potential to be a very sympathetic heroine, purely due to her situation. She was just an ordinary girl who found herself stripped from her family and flung into the far future. She was also described a couple of times as being plus-sized, which was nice as this is something rarely seen in young adult novels. Unfortunately, Andra is also frustratingly slow. She is largely passive over the course of this story, focused initially on escaping but doing little to facilitate this until the means fall into her lap. She is also slow to pick up on the political situation of Eerensed. It’s surprising that she does not die really early in the novel, as it’s blatantly obvious from the start that she’s not a goddess.

Zhane is also very easy to dislike due to the fact that he is arrogant and wholly self-centred. While Andra naturally falls in love with him almost immediately (despite her whole situation), it frustrated me that her liking of him never really waivers. Even when he causes people that she cares about to die or uses her for his own gain, Andra never questions him. This was incredibly frustrating.

Beyond these, the supporting cast never really made much of an impression. While Maret seemed to have some depth, the author never really gave the reader enough time to understand his motivation and so he just came across as being a tyrant. The most likeable character was probably Lew-Eadin, though after the first few chapters he largely drops out of the story.

Anyhow, I think that about covers everything. Goddess in the Machine was a big disappointment on the whole. While I really like the idea of this story, it’s slow pacing and the way that Zhane’s dialogue was written made it very hard to get through. I might check out its sequel at some point, but I’m not in any hurry to.

Goddess in the Machine can be purchased as a Hardback from Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Noelle
    Oct 05, 2020 @ 01:14:20

    The premise of this does sound interesting! Thanks for giving us your thoughts in this review.

    Reply

  2. Noelle
    Oct 06, 2020 @ 06:27:22

    Sure, will do! And I hope you enjoy your next book. 🙂

    Reply

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