The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett

Holy Machine by Chris BeckettBefore beating Booker and Whitbread Prize winning authors to the 2009 Edge Hill Short Story Prize, Chris Beckett's first novel appeared in 2004 from a small US print-on-demand company.

Now in its first UK edition, The Holy Machine presents a softly-spoken, sharply-insightful account of the effects of fundamentalism on an ordinary man.

The story opens in Illyria, a city built by the best engineers on the planet to provide a homeland for scientific rationalists in a world of religious extremes, after a world-wide wave of revolutions known as the Reaction, in which scientists were hunted down, and the lucky ones forced to repent their sins.

Lucy is an Advanced Sensual Pleasure Unit, a synthetic robot prostitute with whom young George Simling falls in love, and whose processing circuits may just hold more individuality than anyone other than George would credit.

As opposition to the increasingly authoritarian Illyrian rulers grows, George gets drawn into rebel circles and finally has no option but to flee with his mechanical lover, leading to an increasingly grim picaresque through Illyria's neighbouring states in a quietly impassioned exploration of human desires and needs.

A very timely dystopia that marks Beckett out as an author to follow closely.

[This review was written for The Guardian, but not published there due to a clash.]