From the Back Cover
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.
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
But I think I will begin with me aged twenty-two years at 11 o'clock one summer night, fumbling for my key on the landing outside our Illyria City apartment, my briefcase tucked awkwardly under my arm.
I had been working late in my office at a company called Word for Word. I was a translator and my job was to assist with the language side of the various trade transactions that took place between our strange Balkan city-state and the hostile but impoverished territories that surrounded us. (Seven different languages were by then spoken within a radius of two hundred kilometres - and at least that many religions were fervently practised, each of them claiming to be the final and literal truth about everything.) There were some rewards involved in working as long hours as I did but the truth was I had nothing else to do, and even the office late at night felt more like home than the bleak apartment that I shared with Ruth.
Ruth was my mother. I always called her Ruth. She never liked the idea of being mum. I was conceived quite accidentally in a boat full of frightened refugees crossing Lake Michigan. My parents were complete strangers to one another, but just that once they clung together for comfort. I believe it was the only sexual encounter of Ruth's adult life.
"Ruth?" I called as I opened the door.
But as usual she didn't answer because she was suspended in her SenSpace suit, jerking back and forth like a puppet as she wandered in the electronic dream-world. It was something she seemed to do now almost all the time except when she was sleeping or at work She was growing very thin and pale, I observed coldly as I glanced into the SenSpace room and saw her threshing around within that lattice of wires. Perhaps she had forgotten that SenSpace food might look and even taste good - they had recently found ways of projecting even olfactory sensations - but it could never fill you up.
I ordered my own meal and a beer from the domestic, an old X3 called Charlie, which we'd owned since my childhood. He trundled patiently off to the kitchen on his rubber tyres. (Getting him repaired was increasingly difficult, but we hung onto him anyway. He was one of the family, perhaps even its best-loved member.) While the meal was heating up, I wandered out onto the balcony with the beer. We were fifty floors up and it was a fine view. You could see the sea in one direction and glimpse the bare mountains of Zagoria in the other. But all around us were towers of steel and glass. Our Illyria was a city of towers, built by the best engineers and scientists on the planet as a homeland for themselves, and a refuge from the religious extremists of the Reaction, from which Ruth and her generation had fled.
I was very lonely in those days. I spoke eight languages fluently, but I had no one to talk to and nothing to say. I didn't know how to be a part of the world. And as for Ruth, she didn't even want to be. We were both of us creatures of fear. High up there in the steel canyons of our city, I would even try to derive some sense of comfort and company from the little lights of other apartments across the void, and try to persuade myself that the flashing signs in the commercial sector were speaking personally to me.
Rely on Microsoft!
Watch out for Channel Nine!
Then Charlie called me in for my meal and I sat in front of the TV and flipped on the news. In Central Asia, new religious wars were in the air, the crowds were streaming round and round that hideous statue that bleeds real human blood, chanting "death! death! death!" In Holy America, where Ruth grew up, new laws had restricted the franchise to "God-fearing male heads of Christian families" and introduced the death penalty for promulgating the doctrine of Evolution.
I flipped channels. Our TV held all programmes broadcast in the last 24 hours on its hard disc, so you could flip backwards and forwards as well as sideways. I hopped to and fro: random moments from a movie, a documentary about discontinuous motion, a sitcom ...
Then on Channel Nine, which I never normally looked at, I was suddenly captivated by the image of an amazingly pretty woman, with lovely gentle eyes.
I didn't know it then of course, but it was Lucy. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.