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The Age of Zeus, James Lovegrove

50zeusThe Age of Zeus
(2010, Solaris, 678pp, £7.99 pbk)

If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then it follows that any sufficiently advanced technology is equally indistinguishable from divine powers. Zelazny used such a premise in his Lord Of Light back in 1968, and won a Hugo Award for it. James Lovegrove’s Pantheon trilogy, of which The Age of Zeus is the second book, is based on a similar conceit, but it’s unlikely to win any awards. That’s not because The Age of Zeus is a bad book. It’s written by someone who knows their craft, and can spin an entertaining yarn. But that’s all The Age of Zeus feels like: a yarn.

The Greek pantheon has returned, and rules once again from its ancestral home on Mount Olympus. It was not an easy or painless transfer of power, and even now, a decade after their coup, Zeus et al continue to commit random acts of divine violence. But Regis Landesman, arms manufacturer, has had enough, and so secretly puts together a team of a dozen soldiers, armed and armoured with cutting-edge technology, to do battle with the gods. Of course, he calls them the Titans. Sam Akehurst, an ex-detective sergeant from the Metropolitan Police, is Tethys, the leader of the Titans. Like the others, she has personal reasons for hating the Olympians. As, so it seems, does Landesman. Given that he takes the Titan call-sign Cronus, it shouldn’t be hard to guess what that reason is.

Some might say a novel should have no greater ambition than to entertain. I disagree. No artform should be merely bread and circuses. It needs to engage with the real world. Good fiction has something to say, whether or not you concur with what is being said. The Age of Zeus is not short of words, and many of them do indeed reflect on the real world. The Greek gods seized power in a violent coup, but a decade later they are the acknowledged rulers of the Earth. Which makes the Titans terrorists – but is “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” a strong enough skeleton for a story? The four-centimetre-thick spine of The Age of Zeus suggests it is. This is a fat book. It is also fast-paced. It opens with a combat scene – a prologue, which is actually a flash-forward to chapter 35 – clearly intended to yank the reader into the story. In fact, there are a lot of combat scenes. The Age of Zeus is a resolutely modern sf novel: its prose lingers lovingly on its military hardware and technology, each character has a carefully-plotted back-story, much of the dialogue displays a ready wit, and the story is structured as a series of obstacles to be overcome before the grand finale.

But, for all The Age of Zeus‘s techno-porn, there’s a god-sized hole at the heart of the novel, and it’s caused by Lovegrove’s authorial sleight of hand. He explains his Titans’ technology with some well-documented sfnal devices, but the Olympians’ powers are the result of… Well, all you can see is a blur as the author waves his hands in front of your face. As a result, the final big reveal is robbed of much of its divine power.

Despite having almost seven hundred pages, The Age of Zeus is not a heavy read. Its heroine is engaging – even if her competence as a Titan is a little implausible – and she’s ably supported by a cast of secondary characters who play their parts well. Lovegrove has fun with his premise, and he’s not afraid to get in a few digs at the real world. The Age of Zeus is indeed an entertaining novel. It’s a book for a dull journey or to read on a beach. I suspect that was its intent.

This review originally appeared in Interzone #228, May-June 2010.

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