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How Like a God

by Brenda Clough

hardcover edition

As the saying goes, power corrupts, but absolute power is kind of neat. In How Like a God, Brenda Clough takes a classic power fantasy premise and runs with it. I picked up this book because I adore adolescent power fantasies. But this is an adult power fantasy, so instead of wish- fulfillment and revenge, it has soul-searching and personal growth.

Rob Lewis is a thirty year old computer programmer with a wife, twin toddlers, and a minivan. He's a little clumsy, a little insecure, and devoted to his family. One morning he suddenly discovers that he can read minds -- and then he discovers that he can mold those minds like play-doh. At first Rob has fun with his newfound power, with only faint twinges of conscience. Then the power starts to leak out from his control and affect his children. To protect them, Rob runs away from his family and lives homeless in New York, using his power to coerce people into giving him money, food, or a warm place to spend the night. Eventually Rob sinks so low that he shocks himself out of his animal state and starts looking for answers.

Clough shows unusual subtlety in portraying deeply religious Christians without ever hauling Christianity front and center. I'm impressed that she passes up such a convenient soapbox, especially since How Like a God centers on questions of divinity.

She does ask the reader to take a lot on faith. Rob's rapid descent from suburbanite to vagrant seems forced (apparently with great power comes poor personal hygiene), and the source of his power put a bit too much strain on my suspension of disbelief. The characterization is also frustrating. The inside of Rob's head is well-developed, but the supporting characters lack depth.

Still, Rob starts out as such an ordinary guy, and he has such good intentions, that he's easy to identify with; and however unlikely the story becomes, it stays interesting. Despite its flaws, How Like a God is a hard book to put down.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
November 1997

hardcover edition
Publisher: Tor
Date: March 1997
ISBN: 0-312-86263-6
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 285
Price: US $22.95

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Sep 2001 / CMS