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Machina by Jonathan Lyons
Review by Ernest Lilley
Double Dragon Publishing Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1554041791
Date: 31 October, 2004 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Remember the last line in Arthur C. Clarke's classic short story: "The Nine Billion Names of God"?

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

Jonathon Lyon's second novel (after Burn, a 21st Century noir detective novel, August 2000) takes that ending for its own beginning. Not that this is Clarke's story universe, or especially similar, except for the fact that indeed, overhead, the stars are going out. In Clarke's story, our whole reason for existence was to record the nine billion names of god...at which point the universe, like some calculator that's finished doing its sums, is turned off. Here though, it?s somewhat the opposite. The universe is shutting down because God (and yes we get a considerable amount of discussion about what that means) is gone, and with no one to pay attention there is no reality. Nietzsche appears to have been spot on in hiss assessment that God was dead, and since this story starts back in time a bit, possibly not even early.

When the Hubble went up, this story maintains, its perfectly working optics looked deep into the universe to give man a view of distant stars and found them missing. Not blown up in a pyroplasmic supernova, not dimmed down in old age...just not there. Other weirdness in the universe, including the speed of light slowing down, was observed and the government, in classic fashion, decided that the universe was on the rocks and that we, the people, couldn't handle the truth. So they hid it from us with a story about a bad mirror on the Hubble. By the way, we find out that there really was no Apollo 11 moon landing, but that it was staged, appropriately, in Roswell, NM.

God, it was decided, was gone from the scene and as a result the scene was going fast. What had held it in place was God's omniscient eye, as Descartes had reasoned somewhere after the "ergo cogit sum" revelation. If god wasn't on the job it, then we'd better pick up the slack, reasoned the government, and evidentially the key was to take the CIA's remote psychic viewing teams, whose existence had been denied in a disinformation campaign, and have them "keep an eye on things". When this job proves too big for them, the government builds a big machine (of the title) that sucks the essences out of the best and brightest and uses it to create an AI with a soul capable of keeping an eye on everything. As Heisenberg would have been happy to explain, the act of watching a thing has its own effect on it, and as a result the new machine watched universe conflicts with the previous "natural" one.

The main character, a dropout janitor who gets wound up with first a physicist and then a rouge from the government agency turns out to be the key to the survival of the universe, or at least the turn of its next cycle.

Though the story telling is a bit uneven, and some of the plot digressions on the gratuitous side, there's a lot in here to recommend in terms of painless exposition on metaphysics and the nature of reality.

Though the story isn't perfect, and the ending less than reassuring. I'd recommend this for both story and thought exercise. Hopefully the author will keep honing his craft and infusing it with interesting ideas.

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