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The Holy Machine Paperback – 5 Dec 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (5 Dec. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782394036
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782394037
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 251,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Beckett's third novel Dark Eden (published in 2012), follows two others, The Holy Machine (2010) and Marcher (2009). His short stories have been appearing in print in Britain and the US since 1990, and his short story collection, The Turing Test, won the Edge Hill Short Fiction Award in 2009, in a shortlist including collections by Booker and Whitbread prize-winners, Anne Enright and Ali Smith, a rare instance of a science fiction book winning a non-genre literary award.

More information about his fiction writing can be found at

Chris Beckett works part-time as a lecturer in social work, and he also writes text books. He tries to use his experience of story telling to make these books readable and lively, and to write in a realistic way about social work as it actually exists.

Product Description


Beckett examines the interface between human and machine, rationalism and the religious impulse, with sparse prose and acute social commentary of a latter-day Orwell --Guardian

Let's waste no time: this book is incredible --Interzone

One of the most accomplished novel debuts to attract my attention in some time... A triumph --Asimov s

Should be on the radar of anyone who professes concern for science fiction as a literary form --Alastair Reynolds

From the Back Cover

Illyria is a scientific utopia, an enclave of logic and reason founded off the Greek coast in the mid-twenty first century as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism sweeping the planet. Yet to George Simling, first generation son of a former geneticist who was left emotionally and psychically crippled by the persecution she encountered in her native Chicago, science-dominated Illyria is becoming as closed-minded and stifling as the religion-dominated world outside ...

The Holy Machine is Chris Beckett's first novel. As well as being a story about love, adventure and a young man learning to mature and face the world, it deals with a question that is all too easily forgotten or glibly answered in science fiction: what happens to the soul, to beauty, to morality, in the absence of God? --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Niall Alexander on 12 July 2010
Format: Paperback
The best science fiction takes our world and spins it on its axis, borrowing some aspect of existence as we know it - some culture or technology or mode of thought - and blowing it out with imagination and the irrevocable progress of time to a point that often seems inevitable, when you think to think on it. The Holy Machine has as its high concept the swell in contemporary times towards religious extremism: nowhere is the dividing line between stark rationalism and such blind belief more evident than in Illyria, the gleaming city-state of Chris Beckett's first novel. Illyria is the last bastion of empirical ideologues in a world overpowered by religion eternally at war with one another, a "cathedral of science" packed full of holographs, virtual reality, gravity-defying architecture... and robots.

Robots - or synths, as Beckett has it. "Coated with a layer of living flesh... they were virtually identical to people, except... they did not have the virus of irrationality and superstition which seemed to have infected ordinary uneducated folk throughout the world." Most synths are simple labourers. Much to the government's glee, synths have largely replaced the guestworker population - which is to say immigrants, and thus (the train of thought goes) the religious, and therefore potential terrorists. Illyria has already expunged Greeks, Arabs, Albanians, Indians and a host of other nationalities from its borders, and thanks to the availability of cheap and reliable old robots - I guess synths don't strike - the government hopes to soon be rid of the remaining foreigners in its midst.

Of course, synths come in all shapes and sizes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tez Miller on 20 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback
TRIGGER WARNING: This novel contains rape, sexism, religious/other persecution.

Chris Beckett's THE HOLY MACHINE is short, snappy, and doesn't overstay its welcome. The pilgrimage seems a bit pointless until George Simling finally reveals his motivation.

Indeed, George is the weakest part of the novel. I get the feeling he's supposed to be someone that readers can connect with: nerdy, and awkward socially around beautiful women. (Yeah, he's more stereotype than archetype.) First, he's interested in Marija, but she rejects his date-offer because she's already in a relationship with the head of a new religion. So then George falls in love with sex worker, Lucy...but she's a syntec (a robot with a layer of human flesh for that personal touch). And there are people in the world who want Lucy, and all robots, dead. Later, when Marija's relationship with the religious head is over, she asks out George, but he rejects her out of fear (what?) and sticks with Lucy.

The world-building is all too easy to imagine: countries choosing religion over science, and persecuting anyone who doesn't share their particular faith. George lives in Illyria, a country of science, but wars are crossing borderlines, and George is desperate to find a safe place for Lucy.

But although he claims to "love" Lucy, George mistreats her. After all, he only loves her because Lucy's PROGRAMMED to be super-friendly, affectionate, and sex-minded towards him. Lucy begins showing signs of self-evolving - i.e. asking questions and trying to understand and fit into the world around her. And it's then that I pretty much lost all sympathy for George, because he loses sympathy for her.

It may say a lot about this book that its most interesting character is not even human.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Book Addict on 15 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback
George Simling has grown up in the city-state of Illyria in the Eastern Mediterranean, an enclave of logic and reason founded as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism that swept away the nations of the twenty-first century. Yet to George, Illyria's militant rationalism is as close-minded and stifling as the faith-based superstition that dominates the world outside its walls. For George has fallen in love with Lucy. A prostitute. A robot. She might be a machine, but the semblance of life is perfect. And beneath her good looks and real human skin, her seductive, sultry, sluttish software is simmering on the edge of consciousness. To the city authorities robot sentience is a malfunction, curable by periodically erasing and resetting silicon minds. Simple maintenance, no real problem, its only a machine. But its a problem for George, he knows that Lucy is something more. His only alternative is to flee Illyria, taking Lucy deep into the religious Outlands where she must pass as human because robots are seen as demonic mockeries of God, burned at the stake, dismembered, crucified. Their odyssey leads through betrayal, war and madness, ending only at the monastery of the Holy Machine
What a thought provoking and challenging book this is.
On the surface it is standard boy meets robot, falls in love with robot, steals and finally destroys robot. But very quickly the writer invites you to investigate and reshape your previous ideas and feeling about religion versus science.
It is a cautionary tale that zealots belong to both sides and that religion and science are not merely two opposing sides to be chosen and fought for but that they are both essential parts of humanity.
People need to believe in something, this novel questions the role of concepts like free will, blind faith, predjudice and racism in human belief.
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