(2010) James Lovegrove, Solaris, £7.99, pbk, 678 pp, ISBN 978-1-906-73568-5
This is no space opera, this is a thriller set on the planet Earth of today - and a most enjoyable one.
It was about ten years ago that the Olympians appeared. Zeus, looking down on it all from elsewhere, had decided that the World was in such a bad way that he and his family of gods and monsters would just have to materialise and sort it all out. And so they did, after a fashion. They put an end to wars, rebellions, tribal conflicts and the like, whilst leaving the world to get on with the rest of life more or less as normal, and some would say that was Jolly Good Work. On the other hand, they had been indiscriminate in their methods and the collateral damage (as some would call it) never entered their thinking. For example, they wiped out Hong Kong, with a death toll of seven million, just to show that they could. They wiped out whole navies (Poseidon had no trouble creating the requisite tsunamis), they wiped out whole armies and air fleets (it is surprising just how much damage a Zeus-driven storm can achieve), and where there were local insurrections they released a monster or two just to keep the populace in its place. And Hercules’ drunken rampages were mere destruction for the sake of it.
The trouble was that almost everyone in the World had lost someone they knew, either an innocent bystander or someone just doing their duty, and this was not going down well with them. Furthermore, the failure of Zeus and company to address such matters meant that, whilst cowed by the Olympian brutality, much of the world was seething for a chance to strike back.
Whether they really were the gods returned, aliens cashing in on our history as a way of dominating the planet, or just what, was a matter of conjecture. Whatever they were, they were all-powerful and here to stay; the World did what it was told and lived peacefully or suffered the consequences of disobedience.
The story opens with Sam Akehurst, a former London police officer, on her way to a remote Scottish island. She arrives to find herself one of a dozen individuals specially chosen because of their deep desire for revenge, their lack of remaining family ties, and the abilities and skills they would bring to the task which is to be proposed. Their host is Regis Landesman, an arms manufacturer whose business has taken a downturn with all the peace now inflicting the world, though he assures them that his motives are only to do with freeing the world from this tyranny and – wait for it – he is in the ideal position to actually do something about it.
He has a plan – he has sunk much of his vast wealth into developing the TITAN suit (Total Immersion Tactical Armour with Nanotech) and some of the deadliest hand-held combat weapons ever produced. The suits are nearly impervious to damage and servo-assisted to boost strength and speed. True, they do not confer total invulnerability but, with the new weapons, the wearers will stand a fighting chance of bringing down even gods. Where whole armies have failed, a small band of unknown warriors might just succeed!
The story follows Sam and her part in the adventures and battles, with actions 'off scene' being nicely woven into the narrative by means of briefings and conversations with the other characters. It is told in the third person and, whilst exploring the losses and drives of herself and her new colleagues, we are spared any personal angst becoming too deep and slowing the story line.
We follow the TITANs through their training and their first mission – to kill the Cyclops; whilst they succeed, it is at a price and clearly this will be a war of attrition. Understandably, they plan to start with the easiest targets and, gaining experience and honing their skills as they go along, work their way through to the gods themselves. As the pile of dead monsters deepens the Olympians realise they are under serious attack. At the same time the world is coming to realise there is a bunch of hi-tech heroes out there (never underestimate a camera-phone and the Internet) and, having seen that the TITANs will fight hard, effectively, and if necessary to their deaths, support is growing. Needless to say, once the Olympians decide that Enough is Enough, they strike back and the true battle commences. The TITAN armour and weaponry proves extremely good but not always good enough, and the losses mount on both sides. As the battle intensifies, we learn more of the true nature of the gods and the background to the whole saga; the truth slowly emerges. Eventually the action moves to Mount Olympus itself for the final showdown.
The book runs to nearly seven hundred pages but doesn’t feel long. It is easy to read, flows very well, and the pace is good throughout. The short, choppy chapters move the story on in a way that keeps up the interest and makes it difficult to put down, yet provides many opportunities to take a break. There are a couple of places where the pace dips a little due to the need to bring us up to date with the on-going actions of other characters or update us on some relevant history, but these are handled well (and without them the reader would surely have been left wondering “er, what? why?”).
The only glitch I spotted was when Sam reasoned that it would be OK to contact the gods via her mobile phone as, being a mobile, they would not be able to trace it. Did I mention she had been a police detective? Or that Argus was constantly monitoring all communications with godlike efficiency? Although the script needed her to make use of the phone, surely Sam would have known better? And that really is my only negative comment!
All-in-all, a worthwhile read. I shall be adding the works of James Lovegrove to my reading list.
See also David Allkins' take on The Age of Zeus.
Editorial note: The Guardian's review of The Age of Zeus included a derogatory line on Dan Brown saying that The Age of Zeus was, "the kind of complex, action-oriented SF Dan Brown would write if Dan Brown could write."
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