1/07/2011. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Solaris/Rebellion. 678 page paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906735-68-5.
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com
‘The Age Of Zeus’ is the second in a series of thematically related Science Fiction novels by British author James Lovegrove, each of which considers what might happen if the gods from a historical culture turned up again. At around one hundred and eighty thousand words, it is pretty long for an SF story. When I picked it up, I wondered if that would turn out to be a problem. I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t.
The novel starts with a short prologue, showing a group of paramilitary soldiers in modern-day Corsica attacking the Minotaur of Greek myth. Clearly something weird is going on. Over the following chapters we find out that the world has been taken over by a group known as the Olympians. As the name suggests, these appear to be the family of gods, headed up by Zeus, Hera and the rest that was worshipped in Ancient Greece. How and why they have re-appeared on Earth in the early twenty-first century is not initially clear.
The Olympians have ruthlessly used their extensive super-powers, along with a large collection of mythic monsters such as the Minotaur, to impose their will on the entire world. It’s not all bad news, though. They have stopped all armed conflicts, murdering those leaders who refused to agree to immediate ceasefires. The world is free of war for the first time in many centuries. However, this peace comes at a price. Those who rebel do not tend to live long, even if all they’ve done is go on a protest march. Worse, some of the Olympians and their monsters seem to view ordinary humans as we might view insects. If they get killed or injured by accident while the gods are having some fun, that’s just tough. So there’s a lot of collateral damage.
After some years of this, a billionaire arms manufacturer called Regis Landesman decides that he’s had enough of the Olympians. He ploughs half of his fortune into the development of revolutionary nanotech-enabled battle-suits which he thinks will even up the playing field between humanity and the gods. Then he recruits eleven people, all with relevant skills and each of them nursing a personal tragedy that can be laid at the door of the Olympians. They are to be his New Model Army, which he calls the Titans. According to Greek myth, the Titans were the original gods who were violently supplanted by Zeus and his family. Landesman wants his Titans to reverse history, destroying the modern-day Olympians and freeing humanity from their control.
Among the Titans are Samantha Akehurst, a British former high-flying detective in the Metropolitan Police whose career fell apart when her beat-cop husband died during a riot caused by the Olympians and Rick Ramsay, an American former soldier whose seven year-old son was the random victim of the Lamia, one of the Olympians’ many monsters. Sam and Rick form a natural double act and Sam quickly becomes the leader of the group.
The Titans spend some months in hiding, mastering the battle-suits, before Landesman sends them out. Their early missions are relatively easy, locating and killing some of the Olympians’ less fearsome monsters. However, once the Olympians realise that these monsters’ deaths were not accidental, the missions get increasingly dangerous and the Titans’ casualties start to mount.
In the middle of a rapidly worsening situation, Sam finds out that Landesman’s real reason for wanting to destroy the Olympians is much more personal than he has previously let on. At this point, she starts to wonder whether the situation is as black and white as she had previously thought. Is she on the right side? Are the Olympians and their monsters as ‘evil’ as she has been led to believe? Should she carry on or quit?
‘The Age Of Zeus’ is a very enjoyable read. It is fast-moving, written in an engaging style and often very humorous. Lovegrove has divided the story up into lots of short, plot-driven chapters, a structure that is reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel. Don’t let that put you off, though. There is a depth to the main characters, born of the tragedies that have made each of the Titans hate the Olympians, which Lovegrove uses to full effect in genuinely emotional scenes. Equally, as the story progresses, it turns out that the Olympians are not as evil as they’ve been painted, creating a moral ambiguity over the Titans’ assassination missions that takes the novel way beyond a simple story of goodies versus baddies.
My only real problem with the story concerns the mechanism used to explain the Olympians’ super-powers, given that this is SF rather than fantasy. Without giving the game away, what is proposed seems reasonable enough for many of the ‘gods’, whose powers are essentially an extension, however huge, of ordinary human abilities. However, in a couple of cases, it seems to require a fair amount of handwavium. The first is Hermes, who can teleport anywhere instantly. The second is Hades, who can kill anyone with a single touch. Though many of the other Olympians’ super-powers seem feasible, these two left me scratching my head in disbelief.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that there’s quite a lot of sexually explicit language in the book. Though I don’t see this as a problem, since it is well-motivated by the story, it may mean that this is not a book to buy as a present for anyone who is easily offended.
In conclusion, ‘The Age Of Zeus’ is a funny and intelligent action-packed SF novel which brings the gods of Greek mythology into the modern world and has a lot of fun in the process. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the other books in the series.
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