How Like a God

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 16, 1998

How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough

We had five attendees at the discussion of How Like a God. Two regular Reading Group members had also read the book but weren’t able to attend. This book is a contemporary fantasy novel about a thirtiesh yuppie software engineer named Rob who suddenly discovers that he has the ability to read and influence the minds of others. As his powers get stronger and harder to control, he fears for his family’s safety and wanders off to search for an understanding of his powers. He makes friends with Edwin, a medical researcher who helps him explore his condition. Discovering a connection between Rob and the ancient Gilgamesh epic, Edwin and Rob travel to Asia to uncover the truth.

We all found the prose style readable and had no trouble finishing the book. It was a quick reading experience for all. The book differs from most recent fantasy books: its length is under 400 pages, there is no map, and the story concludes satisfactorily in one volume. The basic story idea was intriguing, and several folks were intrigued by the Gilgamesh connection.

Characterization in the book was generally poor. The main character, Rob, was so uninteresting that we wondered why the author chose to tell a story about him. Rob’s only personality traits are cliches of guys (can’t cook, likes to work with power tools, no fashion sense) and software engineers (works long hours, no people skills). Despite being such a drudge, Rob is married to a beautiful woman with a brilliant career in the fashion industry. The wife character is surprisingly shallow and unsympathetic in a book written by a female author. While Rob, the “devoted husband and father”, is wandering the earth for a year to explore his powers, he never once calls or writes his family. More importantly, although he earns a considerable amount of money during his travels, he never sends any of it home — despite his being the primary wage earner in the family. Several people in our group reported “shouting at the idiot protagonist” while reading. The only decent character in the book was Edwin, the medical researcher. He’s a smart, creative interesting man who always enlivens the story when he’s in a scene.

While we liked the basic premise of the story, it was poorly developed. Rob’s discovery and exploration of his power should have produced “sense of wonder”, but instead it was fairly dull. The experiments Edwin used to examine Rob’s powers (gambling in Atlantic City) seemed unlikely for a serious scientist. Several of us who’d read the Gilgamesh epic were curious how Clough would handle that aspect of the story. Unfortunately, several errors showed that the author had not read Gilgamesh carefully, if at all.

Our conclusion was that this book was a case of “lazy writing”. The author took promising elements but did not develop them thoroughly. It was frustrating that some passages of the novel were passionately written and showed that Clough has the ability to write well. But as one member said, “I don’t want to read a whole novel just for great scenes of carpentry and child care.”

— A. T. Campbell, III