Underground Reading: Case of the Cold Coquette by Jonathan Craig
New Releases: The Trials of Trass Kathra by Mike Wild

New Releases: The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

The Age of Odin The Age of Odin is the third in Lovegrove’s sequence of modern mythological updates. It began with 2009’s The Age of Ra, continued in 2010’s The Age of Zeus and, now, in 2011, Lovegrove travels to Viking territory with The Age of Odin.

All three books have a similar construction – the deities of x pantheon have returned and are doing their divine thing in our modern day world. A military or paramilitary hero, generally some sort of outsider, gets drawn into their schemes and champions the human perspective.

The Age of Odin is no exception. Gideon Coxall, pensioned-off soldier, is having hard time fitting into the civilian world. His wife has left him, he can’t see his son, he drinks too much and, much to his own disgust, the only job he can find involves him selling refurbished printer toners. When the chance comes up to do a little (probably dodgy) mercenary work, Gideon pounced. Ostensibly, he needs the cash. But deep inside, he knows that he belongs in combat.

The story kicks off with a car crash. Gideon skids off the road on his way to meet his mysterious employer and, when the dust (or the snow) settles, he finds himself in an armoured encampment filled with lunatics pretending to be Norse gods. Odin is a crabby old man, Thor is a drunken brute and Freya is an Amazonian dream-girl. Gideon makes some token efforts to escape, but a few close encounters with frost giants and trolls make a believer of him.

Unfortunately for Gideon, he’s signed up to a noble cause on the eve of Ragnarok: the ancient Viking myth of Armageddon. If first half of the book involves Gideon finding his place alongside the friendly (if feisty) Nordic gods, the second half is nigh-on continuous battle. For those familiar with Norse mythology, the sequence of events is a verse by verse, tongue in cheek translation: generally swapping enormous RoboTech-style tanks for mythical creatures. Why bother housing and feeding the actual Midgard Serpeant when you can kitbash together a burrowing Destructicon with a sonic cannon on its nose?

As fun as the book’s over-the-top violence is – it would make a fantastic video game – Lovegrove’s good enough to sneak in a bit of themin’ with the shootin’. Like the other books in the sequence, The Age of Odin is a fiercely humanist text. The gods and monsters may have the advantage of height (and big hammers), but humans have true authority. The mythological creatures are stuck in their paths – they are controlled by fate and, ultimately, the power of storytelling. By contrast, we remain the authors of both our own destinies and those of our collectively appointed deities. Lovegrove is vigorously carving out a godpunk subgenre – rebellious underdog humans battling an outmoded belief system. Guns help a bit, but the real weapon is free will.

If that runs a bit heavy for you, don’t worry – The Age of Odin is packed to the brim with girls, guns, gods and even (for old times’ sake), a bit of power armour. Lovegrove wisely continues to keep reader entertainment first and foremost, with an explosive and cheeky science-fiction interpretation of age-old archetypes.

[This review first appeared in Hub Magazine, the weekly short fiction ezine.]