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Customer Review

on 20 January 2010
Godwin is best known for his historical fiction, but he has actually done almost as much science fiction. This book might be described as science fiction as it involves aliens, but it is slightly comic, which rather veers it away from the usually serious SF genre. Overall, it is perhaps best described as a darkly comic fantasy, and it has underlying serious issues such as religious bigotry and racism. It is about two 'energy-beings' who get stranded on Earth 5 million years ago. At this time, so the story goes, there are no humans, just ape-like creatures. The energy beings interfere with their development and fast-track their evolution into humans. Bizarrely, this results in the formation of two 'energy-kingdoms' inhabited by the energies of dead people - a kind of Heaven and Hell. These are administered by the two aliens and are ridiculously called Topside and Below Stairs. The story centres on the latter, which actually bears little relation to conventional Hell, being for the most part quite an agreeable, if rather boring, place to live for most of its inhabitants. The energy-beings become concerned about how their interference in evolution will turn out, as they have actually broken galactic law by doing it. They are particularly worried about three characters in the material world, so they magically transport them to Below Stairs in order to give them experiences that will shape their futures.
I don't know anything about Godwin's religious beliefs, but this story is fervently supportive of the notion of a Godless universe and the evolutionary hypothesis - so I would guess he is too. Readers like me who find these ideas ridiculous have to constantly suspend disbelief in the world that he creates, so will not get as much out of it as the average atheist. Nevertheless, as ever with Godwin, it's well-written and inventive. But it's also barking mad.
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