It’s always a pleasure to have James Lovegrove on the blog, and today he’s here to answer a few question about his new Pantheon book, AGE OF SHIVA! Also, courtesy of the awesome folks at Solaris, we’ve got 3 copies to give away to 3 lucky winners!
Your newest book in the Pantheon series, THE AGE OF SHIVA, just came out! Will you tell us a little about it?
Age Of Shiva is the sixth novel in my Pantheon series, and this time I turn my attention to the Hindu gods and their mythology. It’s also a superhero story. I’ve been itching to try my hand at writing about superheroes, and somehow the Hindu pantheon and a spandex-clad super-team seemed a good fit. I think the initial inspiration may date back to my childhood. When I was a kid, another boy at school brought in these Indian comics about the Hindu gods. The strips featured blue-skinned deities performing superhuman feats. They looked fairly similar to the comics I was used to but the story content was historical and mythological.
These are, I now know, something called Amar Chitra Katha (“Immortal Captivating Picture Stories”) and they’ve been a publishing phenomenon in India since the 1960s. Designed as an educational tool for children, they retell stories from faith and folklore, including the great epic poems such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. Something about the mixture of comic books and Hindu gods must have stuck in my head in all the years since, and the result is a novel in which I make a modern-day superhero team out of the Dashavatara, the Ten Avatars of Vishnu, the various incarnations which that god took on the occasions when he came down to Earth to help out mortals. There are also billionaire businessmen, demons, and a world on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. High stakes stuff. Because why not?
What inspired you to start writing the Pantheon series? Did you have an idea of how many books you wanted to write when you started it?
The series was never intended to be a series! It started out as a single book, provisionally entitled Hieroglyph, which I’d envisioned as an alternate history military-SF novel set in a world where the gods of Ancient Egypt were not only real but were having a direct influence on day-to-day geopolitical events. Retitled Age Of Ra, it was commissioned by the inestimable George Mann, who was then head editor at Solaris, and I had no intention of following it up with another book about gods… until George and his colleague Christian Dunn suggested a sequel. I was hesitant at first, but then I thought, Why not do this one about another, different set of gods? Not a sequel as such, more a companion volume. I already knew a great deal about Ancient Greek mythology, so that seemed the logical place to turn. Thus Age Of Zeus was born, a series was under way, and the subgenre of godpunk had been created.
What kind of research did you do for Age Of Shiva?
With each Pantheon novel I tend to read at least two big books about the relevant mythology, and I also use a large encyclopedia of world mythology as a kind of ready reference. With Shiva, as always, it was hard choosing what to include and what to leave out. Hindu culture is rich and varied, and there are some terrific stories woven through the folklore. I’d happily have used them all, but writing the Pantheon novels demands that I’m selective and, at times, that I have to be pretty ruthless about which characters I include and what I do with them. The Hindu pantheon doesn’t quite have the dysfunctional family vibe of, say, the Norse or Aztec pantheons, but it does have an array of outlandish, larger-than-life figures to draw on, specifically the Dashavatara and Hanuman the mischievous monkey god.
What have you enjoyed most about writing the series?
I have a short attention span and am easily bored, so the Pantheon books give me the opportunity to write a series of books that look alike and hang together but also stand alone. They’re united, not by backstory or recurring characters, but by theme. They’re all about mortals and gods and the conflict between the two groups, but each has a different tone which is set by the nature of the mythology it draws on. For instance, Age Of Odin had to have a wintry setting because Norse mythology is shot through with images of snow, ice and darkness. The fun also lies in reinterpreting the myths in a contemporary context, bringing ancient stories up to date.
What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or a little of both?
I’m both. I always start out with a detailed outline that can be as long as ten single-spaced pages and that contains thumbnail sketches of the principal characters. This gives me a rough idea of story beats and the ultimate destination of the plot, and I am always utterly determined that I’m going to follow it slavishly. Once I start the actual writing, though, all bets are off. Sometimes I manage to stick reasonably close to the storyline as originally envisaged. Mostly, however, I start to stray from it within the first fifty pages, and by the halfway point I’m more or less flying by the seat of my pants. What often happens is that a character appears out of nowhere, completely unexpectedly, and changes the direction of the story and even the motivations of the protagonist. An example of this is Colonel Tlanextic in Age Of Aztec. I had no idea he was coming, but the moment he showed his face, I was excited by him, and then I was laughing my head off, because he was so profane and coarse. He’s based, by the way, on our regimental sergeant-major at army cadets at school, who swore so much you sometimes couldn’t understand what he was actually talking about. When explaining how to field-strip a rifle, for instance, he would give all the parts genitalia-related names, so that after a while you were sticking the “dick” onto the “clit” and hoping you weren’t meant to be attaching a “tit” onto it instead.
The series has no shortage of adventure and seems like it would appeal to readers of SF and fantasy. What is something that you like to see in a good book?
I used to be much more high-minded about fiction than I am now. I started out believing I was a mainstream writer who just happened to use genre themes and tropes. I was dead set on improving the lot of science fiction and fantasy, making it acceptable to the general reading public, respectable. I now realise I was labouring under a complete misapprehension, and actually I am a jobbing SF/F writer who likes paciness, action, violence, drama, conflict and a bit of romance in my novels – both the ones I write and the ones I read. This revelation occurred around about the time I was writing a Young Adult series, The Clouded World, and achieved full fruition in Age Of Ra, the first Pantheon book. Not uncoincidentally, my wife and I had just had our first child, and I was sleep-deprived and had much less spare time than I used to. I knew I wanted to read books that were exciting and moved quickly, because any other kind of book would set me dozing off straight away. In a way it was like discovering you’re Italian when all along you’d thought you were German! A happy discovery, I might add. And there’s nothing wrong with being German.
Have you read any good books lately? Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to reading this year?
The book I read most recently that completely gripped me is The Martian by Andy Weir, about an astronaut who is left behind on Mars accidentally by his crewmates and who is forced to survive, by hook or by crook. It’s riveting, full of technical detail, but never boring. I was sent it for review, and approached it with caution, as I do with all books I am considering for reviewing rather than ones I’ve bought for myself and elected to read, but I can honestly say I was blown away by it. Also, Warren Ellis’s new Moon Knight comic for Marvel, even though only one issue has been published so far, looks like being one of the best (and oddest) superhero titles to come out in a long while.
What’s next for you?
I’m halfway through World Of Fire, the first novel in a new series, a set of space opera adventures set on far-flung planets with a recurring main character. It’s out this autumn, and I anticipate, if all goes well, that there’ll be five or six volumes all told. Then I’ve a third Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Thinking Engine, due for publication in 2015, and after that another project that is still in the very early stages but I’m very excited about. Can’t talk about it yet, as no contract has been signed and I haven’t even put together a synopsis, but it’s going to be huge fun.
Keep up with James: Website
2.) Giveaway is for 3 copies of AGE OF SHIVA by James Lovegrove to 3 winners
3.) Giveaway is open to all those with a US mailing address
4.) You must enter on or before 4/15/14
5.) Giveaway book courtesy of Solaris
6.) Please see my Giveaway Policy.
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About THE AGE OF SHIVA:
THE AGE OF WAR!
Zachary Bramwell, better known as the comics artist Zak Zap, is pushing forty and wondering why his life isn’t as exciting as the lives of the superheroes he draws. Then he’s shanghaied by black-suited goons and flown to Mount Meru, a vast complex built atop an island in the Maldives. There, Zak meets a trio of billionaire businessmen who put him to work designing costumes for a team of godlike super-powered beings based on the ten avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology.
The Ten Avatars battle demons and aliens and seem to be the saviours of a world teetering on collapse. But their presence is itself a harbinger of apocalypse. The Vedic “fourth age” of civilisation, Kali Yuga, is coming to an end, and Zak has a ringside seat for the final, all-out war that threatens the destruction of Earth.