Solaris, out September
Three novellas about different pantheons: Anansi, the spider trickster god knows exactly how to enfold you within his web; the Prince of Darkness would seem to be an ideal ally when you’re seeking payback; and Mother Nature, with whom you perhaps don’t want to screw…
Although connected to James Lovegrove’s Pantheon series of urban retellings of the mythological gods’ presence among us, these novellas of necessity deviate in format from the main range. They most remind me of some of the best of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected – there are very definite stings in the tail, but all the clues are provided for the reader as you go along.
In Age of Anansi, Dion Yeboah doesn’t really believe in gods – certainly not ancient ones that look like a giant spider, can sit on his chest, and can affect his fate. But when he’s presented with undeniable proof of Anansi’s existence, he sees it as a win/win situation when the god wants Dion to be his avatar at a contest between the trickster gods of different religions.
Apart from the obvious “be careful what you wish for” theme, there’s also a deeper examination of how we delude ourselves when opportunity comes our way. There’s a very telling conversation at the end of the book that doesn’t quite make you go back to the start in a Sixth Sense way, and look at the whole story in a new fashion, but which is certainly food for thought.
There’s plenty of that in Age of Satan too. Other belief systems that Lovegrove has used for this series are clearly delineated – we know who the Aztec gods or the Greek pantheon are – but is Satan linked to Christianity? Is Satan an anti-Christian God? Or a fallen angel? Or simply the manifestation of all that is evil/immoral within mankind? Lovegrove’s suggested answer will certainly make you think about the world we live in.
The author doesn’t seem to have a lot of love for the British public school system (an attitude with which I can fully sympathise), and he captures its hothouse atmosphere. All of the other settings are equally well portrayed, which gives more verisimilitude to a story that needs you to take it seriously. There are numerous twists and misdirections, and the final reveal – which you really don’t want spoiled in order to enjoy just how delicious a turn of events it is – will have you wondering how close to the wind the author is willing to sail.
Age of Gaia goes in a different direction. Two people from completely opposite worlds slowly but surely come together. They represent two opposing sides of an argument (a tycoon and an earth mother) who find a compromise. But when one of them pushes the relationship into a place where the other feels more than uncomfortable, that’s where the Godpunk element starts to really kick in, and in that respect (as well as the ending), it reminds me a little of the Leslie Charteris Saint story ‘Sibao’ about the power of voodoo.
There’s a higher sexual element to the story than usual for the series (and I’m sure that the web history involved in the research for those scenes must have made interesting reading!) but it’s key.
Verdict: Dark humour and some interesting insights into human nature characterise these stories, which draw you into some worlds just a sidestep from our own. 8/10