The Hunting of the Gods by Henry Tam

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Rating 8.7/10
The book is inspiring because, despite the odds, the characters do not feel beaten.

A stranger has been washed up on the shore of a world he does not recognise, for reasons he cannot remember and carrying digital books which cannot possibly exist. Rescued by a kindly professor, he is cared for by a team of microbots – tiny gadgets which combine in myriad ways to do what they can for him. He is hidden away for his own safety.

The world is divided between warlike leaders, who call themselves gods and rule with the power of life and death. The technology is advanced to the point that every human heartbeat is held in a global register and the authorities know at once when any human on the register dies. Surveillance methods, transport and military technology all help the gods to maintain their grip. They insist that human culture began under their leadership and that human life will only flourish under their rules.They are backed by powerful and profitable interests, notably the mysterious shareholders. It would be heresy to state that the stranger possesses books which are too old to fit this worldview, and a capital offence to produce these books.

As the gods wage war from their ivory palaces, sacrificing a million lives in each conflict, then impose austerity on the survivors to pay for the wars, it becomes clear to the professor and his allies that the rule of the gods offers no hope of security, peace or prosperity for their subjects. If disobedience means almost certain death, obedience appears to invite an ever harsher regime. When an isolated colony refuses to cut all wages by 20% to pay for more security and ensure greater profits for the shareholders, the countdown to an entirely new type of conflict begins, one with some unexpected protagonists, and ambitions beyond the traditional ones of wealth and power.

"The Hunting of the Gods" joins a tradition of dystopian fiction from "1984" by George Orwell to the "Star Wars" series of films. They all show us the cracks in a society based on stratification, exclusion and propaganda. The global heart register enables the authorities to identify anyone, anywhere: a reminder of the watchful "1984"; and the brutal impunity of Lockmoor reflects some of the activities of the Ministry of Love. The obsession with rules which might be all too easily broken is a theme common within the genre, here it is justified as a quasi-religion with its own book, the Book of Origins. Most movingly, the bewilderment of the pious Joseph on learning that human culture existed prior to the era of the gods, is so reminiscent of the cry of the youthful Jonas in "The Giver" (by Lois Lowry) who said: "I thought there was only here. I thought there was only now."

"The Hunting of the Gods" does distinguish itself within the genre in a number of ways. There is great beauty in the natural world, distinctive technology (such as the microbots which add wonder and humour to numerous scenes), and always there is the unending quest for a better world. The book is inspiring because, despite the odds, the characters do not feel beaten.  There are many joyful moments – time in the garden, games with children, delicious food and drink. These details reflect the strong thread of humanity which runs through the story. The key characters care for each other: they are not too terrified, overworked, drugged or otherwise shorn of their concern for other people. This gives them an insight into how the world could be run, which gives them a great weapon in their fight – hope.

This is the third book in Henry Tam's dystopian series, Synetopia Quest, which began with the sparkling "Kuan's Wonderland" in 2013. This book, like the others, can be read on its own, but themes and characters carry over from book to book. The book is recommended for teens and adults.

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