James Lovegrove has been shortlisted for numerous awards and is the author of more than 40 books., including Provender Gleed, the New York Times bestselling Pantheon series – so far The Age Of Ra, The Age Of Zeus, The Age Of Odin, Age Of Aztec and Age Of Voodoo – and Redlaw and Redlaw: Red Eye, the first two volumes in a trilogy about a policeman charged with protecting humans from vampires and vice versa. Shortly to come is The Stuff Of Nightmares, the first of two Sherlock Holmes novels. Out this month is a collection of three novellas, Age Of Godpunk.
by James Lovegrove
You’d think I, of all people, would have the answer to that, given that godpunk fiction is probably what I’m best known for. My series of Pantheon novels is what inspired David Moore, desk editor at my publisher Solaris, and Pornokitsch’s Jared Shurin to coin the term godpunk jointly. It’s very easy to stick the suffix “punk” on the end of another word in an effort to make something sound cool, and it doesn’t always work; it certainly doesn’t always take. However, “god + punk” is an exception to the rule, I believe. It’s spiky and dichotomous, a clash of opposites, almost an oxymoron. As a descriptor for a subgenre, it fits, and that’s what counts.
So others christened it. I write it. What is it?
You could say it’s military science fiction with ancient gods thrown in, and that more or less covers what I do. In The Age Of Ra, for instance, I conceived a mash-up of Ancient Egyptian deities with modern-day warfare, while The Age Of Zeus has ordinary men and women in power armour going up against gods and monsters from Greek mythology and Age Of Aztec imagines a world where the Mesoamerican civilisations and their bloodthirsty religion weren’t wiped out by the conquistadors and their smallpox-ridden blankets.
Solaris’s sister imprint, Abaddon Books, now even has its own shared world series called Gods And Monsters, which they captivatingly describe as “a dark, hectic urban fantasy in which the gods are all real, and all here… and they’re exactly as colossal a collection of douches as you remember them being from the old myths”. The gods are the monsters, in other words.
I could – and do – embrace other, earlier novels under the heading of godpunk. Dan Simmons’s Ilium (2003) and Olympos (2005), for instance, fuse Homeric epic and space opera and could easily be classified as godpunk. So could Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001), in which many of the gods of yore are now, ahem, Americans. Really, the clue’s in the title.
Some might argue that Gaiman’s 1990 collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, is also godpunkish, in that Satan and God, not to mention demons and angels, feature prominently in it. As does the Antichrist, so by that token we could also haul The Omen movies – all novelised, the first rather well by the film’s screenwriter David Seltzer – into our net, and Mark Millar’s Saviour (1989-91)and American Jesus: Chosen (2004) comics miniseries, too. Damn it, let’s go all the way back to Paradise fucking Lost, why not? There’s plenty of godly stuff in there. And then there’s that there Bible. (Not technically a work of fiction, although Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens might beg to differ…)
So, as you can see, it’s not easy to codify godpunk. As with any subgenre, once you start trying to set precise boundaries and demarcations, you could go on forever and get nowhere.
I think, as with so many things, godpunk is something you recognise when you see it, like cyberpunk and steampunk and talent and bananas at their perfect ripeness. If you held a gun to my head and demanded that I define godpunk, first of all I’d bleat, “I don’t work well under pressure!”, and then eventually, after sobbing and pleading pathetically for my life, I’d cave in and say something like this.
Godpunk is about taking a slanted, perhaps jaundiced, possibly satirical view of the ancient myths and pantheons. It’s about updating old, old fireside fantasies and making them the backbone of a fast-paced SF thriller. It’s about treating tales from a well-developed oral tradition with the respect they deserve but also with a pinch of healthy irreverence. It’s about creating stories out of stories, using materials from the past to forge something new. It’s about having fun with – but not mocking, never mocking – faiths.
There. Happy now?
What do you mean it was never loaded? You threatened me with an empty gun? You devious little bastard! Who do you think you are? Loki? Anansi? Coyote? Beelzebub himself?