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The Gods And Their Machines by Oisín McGann

01/11/2005. Contributed by Phil Jones

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pub: TOR. 235 page hardback. Price: $19.95 (US). $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31159-3.

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This is Irish author Oisin McGann's first foray into the fantasy/SF field having written a number of children's stories in the past. We are first introduced to Chamus, a young teenager training to be a fighter pilot in a specialist school. He lives in Altima, which is technologically set in an era akin to that of the Second World War. It's surrounded by several countries, which are by all accounts subservient and mainly dominated by Altima and its industries. These lands are known as the Fringelands. The people of one of these bordering lands Bartokihrin are religiously driven. The women are subservient having to wear wigs and stark makeup until they are married. Riadni is a young woman who prefers to be a tomboy. She enjoys riding and hates wearing the wig and makeup expected of a young woman in Bartokihrin.

Altima has exploited Bartokihrin and Fringlanders in general. Taking the land, resources and people for their own industrialisation and technological betterment. Fringelanders, though, have sort out work in Altima but are treated as second-class citizens and given only low class and menial jobs. Resentment builds and religious fanatics seek targets in Altima. Martyrs acting almost like suicide bombers release a terrible weapon on those who are targeted and near to them. The rage and revenge of those who have died in the hands of the Atimans harnessed and then released on the surrounding victims.

Chamus experiences one of these martyrs first hand and only narrowly escapes an attack on his school. There are indications of large military manoeuvres in the offing and Chamus discovers some frightening plans in his Grandfather's house. There is something happening to try and counter the terrorist actions of the dissident Fringlanders. Something far worse than the usual bombing runs on terrorist encampments and villages and towns that support them in Bartokihrin and other surrounding countries.

On a recreational flight, Chamus is forced down in Bartokihrin, right in the middle of terrorist-laden countryside. He runs into Riadni and she promptly ties him up. Needing each other to survive, they come to learn of each other's cultures and there is a small light of accord that evolves as their friendship develops.

This book is written in an easy to read, light format but it cleverly hides a deep understanding and discussion of very difficult and relevant topics and ideas. McGann doesn't preach but uses both characters of Chamus and Riadni to explore difficult moral issues and concepts. Terrorism is complex at best. As soon as people see themselves as victims and if this is wrapped up in religious, zealous fundamentalism, justification for nearly any atrocity can be justified in their eyes. The same is true for the aggressors who through the acts of terrorism justify terrible actions in the name of stopping the acts of terror.

The plotline elements allow all sides of the story to be discussed. The two main characters are extremely well developed. The indoctrinated views from their countryfolk are highlighted along with the way both Chamus and Riadni think about and resolve these views with their own internal viewpoints.

This story is very relevant for the world situation both in the Middle East and the west. The book resolves without overly romanticising the situation and leaves it open enough to be realistic in its approach. There is a moral lesson, but it's not force-fed to you. In this world, hate is not the answer, only though understanding can we begin to move forward. Violence only leads to more violence and an escalation in hate.

This is a wonderful little book. My only qualm is it's too short. I would have liked events to be elaborated on especially toward the end of the book. Otherwise, this is a really good read. The world McGann creates is realistic as are the characters and the dilemmas they face. I just hope he goes onto write a lot more books like this.

Phil Jones

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