This is a first for me. I’m writing this review of Bill Myers’ The God Hater at thirty-some-odd thousand feet somewhere over the Bering Sea enroute to a work assignment in Korea. It’s a long ride, and I’m glad I had a good story with me to help pass the time.
Nicholas Mckenzie is a curmudgeonly atheist professor of Philosophy at UC Santa Barbara. He’s made an avocation of trashing his students’ religious beliefs, no matter what the flavor. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan—he’s an equal-opportunity skeptic, quite satisfied with his rational perspective on how the universe works.
A cryptic message from his estranged brother Travis, a rogue computer genius, sends Nicholas on a journey that will rock the foundations of his world. Travis has developed an incredibly realistic real-time computer simulation of human civilization. The only problem is, his simulated people keep destroying themselves. He needs to provide them a philosophy that will sustain their world, and he figures Nicholas is the man for the job. Nicolas reluctantly agrees to help Travis, becoming more intrigued with the project as his involvement deepens.
But Nicholas runs into a brick wall—something’s not quite right with any of the philosophical systems he creates. Something’s missing. A moral framework isn’t enough to keep Travis’ computer world running. Its inhabitants need more guidance, an example of how to live. The solution leads Nicholas in a direction that runs counter to everything he believes—and it’s a very dangerous direction.
Meanwhile, in the real world, powerful people have discovered Travis’ simulation and are willing to do anything necessary to steal it. Lives hang in the balance in both worlds, and Nicholas is the only one who can save them…but will he?
Hmm…how to categorize this one? There’s a little bit of The Sims, a little bit of The Matrix, a dash of corporate spy thriller, and a healthy dose of personal transformation. It’s also an allegory, but not in the conventional sense. In The God Hater, a character enters the allegory and participates directly in it. To say much more about that would be to give away too much of the story, so, onward.
The God Hater is singular in my experience of Christian fiction because it features a sympathetic atheist hero. Inconceivable! The Christian lead helps inspire a change in said atheist’s outlook not by preaching at him or out-debating him, but by respecting and befriending him. Inconceivable!
His transformation is likewise unconventional. No altar call. Instead, we’re treated to a very imaginative yet literal application of Romans 8:29 (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here. Look it up after you’ve read the book). Inconceivable!
Yes, I keep saying ‘inconceivable.’ Yes, I know what it means.
And the ending packs some emotional punch without becoming maudlin or neatly tying up all the loose ends. The reader is left to ponder the many things that might happen beyond the last page, and I think that’s as it should be. Some people will probably say the protagonist’s transformation doesn’t go far enough. I disagree, and I’ll be happy to chat about that in the remarks section if you’re so inclined.
Is the story perfect? Of course not. There are some annoying inconsistencies in the rules and culture of the simulated world. The allegory will be obvious to any Christian or anyone having a passing familiarity with Christianity, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact the characters self-consciously point this out several times, and in a sense, it makes the story predictable. I think our hero comes around to the right answer a little too easily for someone who’s been a hardcore apologist for atheism. There’s also a lot of technological handwaving, but references to such things as distributed processing are relevant and interesting, if not exactly cutting-edge. This is soft science fiction. The tech is a vehicle to tell a human story, a story strong enough that I don’t care too much about the geek issues.
Mr. Myers is a professional writer with substantial publishing and screenwriting credits, and it shows. The man knows how to tell a story. I’d recommend The God Hater to anybody, teens and up. There are some adult issues, mild language, and violence. The climactic scene is very intense and graphic, but I don’t think it could be told properly any other way.
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