I never meant to write a series of military-SF novels about mythological gods in a modern setting. Like most aspects of my literary career, it’s something I walked into backwards and only realised I was doing in hindsight.
Nearly seven years ago I was an author to whom it had been made abundantly clear that his publisher no longer required his services. The news wasn’t put to me in exactly those words, but sales of my previous novels hadn’t been amazing and every time I submitted a proposal and outline for a new book, it was politely rejected with all sorts of muted accompanying noises about “not being right for us” and “we’d like to see something else from you”. Which is subtle publisher-speak for please do sod off.
Then, out of the blue, I was contacted by George Mann at Solaris Books, a new imprint I’d heard of – and heard nothing but good things about, mostly from my friend Eric Brown, who’d found a cosy berth for his wonderful, warm science fiction there. George asked me if I’d be interested in submitting him ideas for an alternate history novel. With a casual calmness that belied my desperation, I replied yes, of course, more than happy to. I sent him three single-paragraph pitches, one of which was for a novel titled Hieroglyph. This was the one I fancied writing the most, and luckily it was the one George liked the most. The only thing he disapproved of was the title. On the spur of the moment I came up with an alternative: The Age Of Ra.
Which I then wrote, avidly, eagerly, with a view to attempting something I’d never done before, namely to produce a fast-paced SF action novel. I’d been getting gradually closer to this goal with my recent Provender Gleed and the Young Adult fantasy series I wrote under the pseudonym Jay Amory. I’d also become the proud father of two young boys in recent years and consequently my own reading time was now severely restricted and, in my fatigued, new-parent state, I could only cope with thrillers from the pulpier end of the market. I figured that, as those were the books I was currently enjoying, why not go the whole hog and try to write that sort of thing myself?
Somehow Ra, with its mix of soldiering and Ancient Egyptian deities, seemed to work. I liked writing about the animal-headed pantheon and their internecine rivalries and often incestuous sexual relationships. They were a sprawling, dysfunctional family with added supernatural powers, as immoral as they were immortal. They were crazy and misguided and a bad influence on their worshippers. Their stories were already there, begging to be built upon and played around with.
Around the time of the book’s publication, Solaris entered into the process of being sold to another company. Rebellion, home of many a computer game and of course the venerable British weekly comic 2000AD, bought the imprint lock, stock and barrel. Unfortunately, because things were in flux, The Age Of Ra wasn’t getting much in the way of promotion and marketing. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to matter. It sold on word of mouth alone, especially in the States.
The new editorial team at Solaris, headed up by Jonathan Oliver, suggested to me that another book similar to Ra might be a good idea. The high-minded part of me that insisted I should never repeat myself from one novel to the next said no. Another part of me said yes. This latter part was the part that had enjoyed the experience of writing Ra immensely and could see that a follow-up – not a sequel, but something thematically related – would be no less interesting and amusing. And I’d always loved those Greek gods and myths, ever since I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales as a boy and thrilled to the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion monsters in Jason And The Argonauts…
Bingo, The Age Of Zeus was born. And I could see that there were further pantheons out there, some ancient, others current, some no longer the basis of religions, others still followed by worshippers to this day. There was a wealth of material available, a deep seam to trace and explore and exploit. I could do each book as a separate entity, standalone, its own thing, its tone and plot determined by the mythos on which it was based. Little realising it, I was feeling my way towards the subgenre we’re now calling godpunk.
Which brings us to Age Of Godpunk, the latest instalment in the series. This one’s a bit different from the others. It comprises three novellas which were originally commissioned as e-books. The first two, Age Of Anansi and Age Of Satan, were each released to accompany a full-length Pantheon novel (Aztec and Voodoo respectively). The third, Age Of Gaia, is also coming out as an e-book to complete the set but also rounds out the omnibus collection.
These aren’t military-SF. They’re closer to urban fantasy. The gods in them are subjective not objective. They’re viewed through the prism of possibly disturbed minds. They may, indeed, be purely imaginary. Yet the effect they have on the mortal protagonists of the stories are no less profound for all that.
It’s that interplay between the divine and the human, between above and below, between believed-in and believer, that forms the crux of godpunk and is to me one of the most interesting things to write about. Faith has been a powerful, sometimes beneficial, often destructive force in worldly affairs since the beginning of history (and probably before then). These are stories about the stories we’ve been telling ourselves for centuries in order to rationalise the wayward workings of our universe and make the spiritual empirical. They’re about rebellion against divine authority, resentment of supernal tyranny, managing our inner moral compass which we sometimes call the voice of God. They are, in other words, about the god in all of us, and the punk.