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The Holy Machine [Paperback]

Chris Beckett
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
Price: £6.65 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

1 Feb 2011
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 -

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Corvus (1 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848874618
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848874619
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 381,934 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

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's a remarkable thing to stumble across a book of quite such quality published by a small press company that, if it hadn't been recommended to me, might well have escaped my attention. Without repeating the positive sentiments of the previous review, I can add that this book is a reminder that at times British sf writers can create a vision of the future at once both bleak and beautiful. The book is a remarkable journey through a near-future environment quite literally born of nightmare, and reminded me that in an era of cookie-cutter sf it is still possible to produce work of high quality. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tale of a rational dystopia 29 Oct 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a first novel and feels like it. At first things are described in detail but later more and more short 'chapters' appear which move the story forward but with minimal detail. It takes on big themes. The world has split into two, the majority of countries being ruled by squabbling religious regimes of various types which ruthlessly impose their own orthodoxies. One country stands out, Illyria, a refuge for science and those of a rational outlook. It uses androids to perform a range of mundane tasks, because Illyrians themselves do not want to do them and importing workers from the religious regimes is not popular: they are known as 'squiffies' and regularly riot over conditions and lack of access to their religions. The central characters are the Illyrians George, a software engineer, and his mother Ruth, who spends all her time in virtual reality. George does try to interact with the real world but is painfully gauche. He eventually flees Illyria with an android prostitute he has fallen in love with and most of the story is about his adventures. Ironies abound. Illyria is no less repressive than its religious neighbours. Its concentration on rationality implies losing contact with reality. Outside Illyria, life appears to be dull, brutish and short, albeit tempered by faith. In Freudian terms Illyria is the ego, the others the id. Both fear the development of intelligence in androids, but for different reasons. The title reveals this irony: an intelligent machine may be more rational that its makers and more able than its detractors to see God.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bitter-sweet gem of a book. 3 Aug 2006
Chris Beckett is better known for his short fiction output, but this, his first novel, shows that he is capable of developing his themes and his characters into longer and richer tales. His treatment of that SF staple `machine consciousness' is more sensitive and believable than most. While a lot of modern science fiction seems to leap from nothing to Skynet (today, Big Blue; tomorrow, the Singularity) Beckett's conceit is that we'll first have to confront the question of artificial intelligence in a context where the putatively aware machines are dependent & weak, struggling with fragments of nascent consciousness, vulnerable in the face of human bigotry and brutality.

But it's the reflections on and observations about normal, 21st century human relationships that are most poignant. How elderly or damaged people will cope with radical technological and social changes is a vastly under-discussed area in SF, maybe because such people tend not to be as glamorous as sexy young extropian cyber-things in self-aware jumpsuits. I suppose it's a clichéd observation that Beckett's social work background may have heightened his awareness of life on the margins of society, but it's important that someone is writing about this stuff.

The city-state of Illyria was an interesting conceit. The obvious contemporary parallels are with post-9/11 USA (or even post-7/7 Britain) but it made me think more of Israel - a state not only surrounded by enemies, but with a defensive mindset shaped by horrendous persecution, a mindset that is at once understandable & self-destructive.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Thought provoking, echoes of Asimov and 'Candide'. I would definitely read more by this author. Lots of ideas about beliefs.
Published 3 months ago by J. Morgan-evans
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This is a timely book given the current state of religious wars in the world, and technological developments. A little far- fetched in places.
Published 3 months ago by Dee
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting new twist on old ideas
Definitely worth a read, this book is set in a future dystopia where a wave of religious extremism (the ‘Reaction’) has lead to a general collapse of society everywhere except the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Stevie-g
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
A young man from the sheltered life of the high tech city exposed in a hard (very hard) way to the realities of survival in the poverty and religeous fervour of the countryside,... Read more
Published 7 months ago by A. J. Parsley
4.0 out of 5 stars Holey machine
I really enjoyed Dark Eden, so was keen to read the Holy Machine. In this case the setting is a near future world in which most countries have degenerated into fundamentalist... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Prof
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put it down
After reading another book by this author I tried this. It was unput down able! I loved it and am not normally a sci if fan! Great story telling with a real humanity.
Published 11 months ago by LESLEY DAVIS
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very interesting
I am a big science fiction fan but this book didn't fulfil my expectations. Quite boring. I will fully recommend Dark Eden by the same author, best SF book ever.
Published 13 months ago by yhh
5.0 out of 5 stars I liked the way it makes you consider what religion could turn into...
Well I am a fan of anything Chris writes and so of course really enjoyed The Holy Machine. Chris always seems to come up with a new slant on SiFi even if one thinks its all been... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Nuff said
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Highly recommend greatly entertaining and thought provoking. Believable characters with lots happening and lots of twists. One of the best books I've read this year.
Published 15 months ago by Kath Oliver
4.0 out of 5 stars Consistently gripping
Well written with thought provoking ideas. Would be enjoyed even by non sci-fi fans. I intend to read more by this author.
Published 16 months ago by Rose East
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