The Big God Network, J.C. McGowan – reviewed

Review by Anthony G. Williams

A USA split into the right-wing Christian fundamentalist New America and several smaller states such as Pacifica and New England. This is the setting for this near-future story by a first-time novelist. The main focus of the plot is a new artificial intelligence programme, the Resident, which has been developed by Offworld, an organisation devoted to analysing SETI recordings for evidence of extra-terrestrial civilisations. However, such a powerful AI has other possible applications which attract the attentions of New America politicians, businessmen and gangsters (who are all closely related).

It isn’t that easy to sum up or categorise this novel. It packs into its 300 pages an SF story about the search for extra-terrestrial life garnished with some esoteric belief systems and with a side-order of espionage thriller, but it is mainly a satire about the values and behaviour of the Christian fundamentalists.

The contrast between the naive sincerity of the fundamentalist followers and the cynical corruption of their leaders is an easy target and the satire is often heavy-handed. The structure is a bit of a mess with so much going on and so many different characters that I often got lost and had to flick back to remind myself who was doing what to whom. There is also an unevenness between a lack of explanation for much of the book and occasional heavy info dumps.

Despite these criticisms I stuck with it and quite enjoyed the ride, which is more than I can say for many modern SF novels. The author shows promise but could do with a more ruthless editor.

The Big God Network, J.C. McGowan. Published by Xlibris £14.

This review originally appeared in Prism 2010, issue 2.