Gods in science fiction with Steve Statham

Stoked that I got to have Steve Statham on to talk about gods in science fiction. Steve’s a great guy and he writes a hell of a space opera.

Our conversation today was sparked because I read his book, Gods and the City. The topics we covered range from mythology to history to our obsession with gods in storytelling.

We also talk about the characters in Steve’s book—every day people who are called upon to defend humanity—and how they rose to the challenge.

What a fun conversation. A few great book recommendations for you in there, too. Hope you enjoy it.

Learn more about Steve at www.stevestatham.com and buy Gods and The City on Amazon.

Transcript of the interview

M.G Herron: Hi, everyone. My name is M.G Herron, and I’m here today with Steve Statham. Hi, Steve. Welcome to the show.

Steve Statham: Thanks, man. Good to be here.

M.G Herron: Just a brief intro before we get started. Steve Statham is a writer of fantastic tales of science fiction and fantasy, based in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of the Connor Rix Science Fiction thrillers, the space opera series Gods and the Starways, and other novels. He’s also a professional editor of fiction and non-fiction. I asked you to come here today to talk about gods in science fiction because I read your book Gods and the City, and we featured it in the SFF Book Club. People really seem to like it. What is it about the concept of gods that people, especially us writers, are so obsessed with?

Steve Statham: Well, for a writer, it really opens up your landscape. You can do things that you could not normally do with regular people. It really gives you a lot of possibilities to really take an idea and run with it. You have gods that have certain abilities, and so, that, for a writer, it really opens up possibilities. For a reader, I think they like it too. If a writer does his job and writes it correctly, then the reader will buy into that because I really think there’s a– Virtually every human society, from the beginning, has some sort of religion, some sort of god story, small “g” god, various gods doing various attributes.

It speaks to people on a very fundamental level, but for a writer, it really lets you take off. Historically, there have been certain books that really take that idea and just make fantastic books out of it. I brought a couple that probably most people know about. Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which won the Hugo way back when. That’s a fantastic story where humanity is on a colony world, and the Hindu pantheon has been recreated. You have this Hindu pantheon where they rule too. They rule as gods.

Then you have this one rogue god that you’re following through on that story. That’s one of the well-known ones that really took the idea of gods and made it science fiction. Another one, a little more recent, Dan Simmons’ Ilium, a far future Earth where there’s really only a million or two people left alive. Olympus has basically been recreated through technology and everything. These were both enormously popular books. If it’s done right, it really speaks to people. For a writer, it’s fun. You can really take it and run with it.

M.G Herron: That Dan Simmons book, is it in the same series or universe as Hyperion?

Steve Statham: No, it’s not.

M.G Herron: That’s a stand-alone?

Steve Statham: It’s a separate one. The follow-up I think was called Olympos, so there’s a few books.

M.G Herron: It’s a different series. Nice. That’s cool. It’s funny. He really likes this concept too. It seems like Dan– In Hyperion, he uses the concept of gods– I forget what the main god is called. He uses it in both of his series.

Steve Statham: Yes. I mean, the Shrike comes across-

M.G Herron: That’s it. Yes, the Shrike.

Steve Statham: -has a god creature.

M.G Herron: Has a god, yes, like an unstuck in time god creature it’s this incredibly unique too. Like the Greek pantheon of gods, the Roman pantheon, you see them pretty often. That Zelazny did the Hindu pantheon is very different. You don’t often see that, but the Shrike was on its own level. I don’t even know.

Steve Statham: Yes, created something new. That was something that I was trying to do with gods. In this sense, trying to create new ones. Some of them they have recognizable god names and attributes, but others, I was trying to create something new. That’s part of the fun of discovering for a reader. [laughs]

M.G Herron: Absolutely. You mentioned something about how throughout human history, we’ve always had this concept of gods. I’ve always found it fascinating that every culture, even though they were isolated in the ancient world like the Mayans had their gods. The Europeans had their many different types of gods, and then Asia had their god. This is before the cultures were really integrated. Why do you think that is that everybody had this concept even if they didn’t necessarily talk to each other?

Steve Statham: It seems to speak to something just fundamental to humans trying to grasp the larger issues, where we came from, where we’re going, why things happen. It just seems part of human nature, really, to wonder about those things and attribute powers to nature or other beings we can’t see. I think it’s just a fundamental part of being a human being throughout time. [laughs]

M.G Herron: Absolutely. Just playing the devil’s advocate here. A lot of people think that gods are like a fantasy trope or construct, and they’re often used in fantasy books too, but why use gods in science fiction? Just to give some background on Gods and the City, in particular, and we’ll get into talking about that book in just a second. I loved how you used like a science fiction basis for the gods rather than them being like these celestial beings.

Steve Statham: You’re not wrong in your observation there, that it’s almost more of a fantasy trope than science fiction. The changing point is– I like to look at Arthur C. Clarke’s three rules. One of which is any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. If you take that a step further, then anyone wielding sufficiently advanced technology could appear as a small “g” god.

That’s where I was going with this. It’s a bit of a fantasy trope, but you can make it science fiction if you have a reason for it and sufficiently advanced technology will give a being powers that lesser beings could not comprehend or understand. It’s like if you went back in time, 4,000 years, in a helicopter, with a flamethrower and a cell phone, you would be a god descending in a fire-breathing chariot, basically.

[laughter]

Steve Statham: But that would be technology, that would be–

M.G Herron: It’s the famous story of Cortes and the Aztecs, right? When he arrived, and they thought he was a god just because he had guns and-

Steve Statham: Riding a horse?

M.G Herron: -different armor and riding horses, yes. Bearded, which was unusual for them.

Steve Statham: That’s the tactic I took. The gods in my book Gods and the City and Gods and the Stars, they were created technologically out of desperation, really, to protect the remnants of humanity after an alien attack. As the book goes on, I explain how and why that came about, which was no easy thing. To separate it from fantasy, that’s what I was trying to do. There are technological reasons and basic reasons they were created. Of course, as the story takes place, it’s a thousand years later, and many of those reasons had been forgotten. The reader discovers them.

M.G Herron: That’s another thing that I loved about the book is how you play with time. It’s one thing to project from our present moment to 50 years in the future or even a hundred years in the future, but to take humanity, put them in another world, and then add a thousand years is like a whole another level. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Gods and the City? You can give us a book patch, or read the blurb, or just describe it.

Steve Statham: Sure, Gods and the City, it’s first of two books. The second one just came out, released Gods and the Stars. What it is, it takes place– Humanity has been almost completely eradicated by an alien invading force, and Earth was largely destroyed. Only 4,020 people escaped with the help of some more benevolent aliens and found a place far away in the galaxy, a quiet moon where most of what’s left of humanity lives in a giant, vast city under a dome, on a small moon surrounding a gas giant.

They’re protected by these seven protector gods who were created to protect them. They each have different powers, different abilities. That’s the setting. This takes place after they’ve been there a thousand years. Population’s grown. People have largely– To many of these people, the gods are still almost legendary because the gods aren’t around all the time. Some people, they kind of believe, they kind of don’t believe.

The gods have their temples and everything and there are worshipers and acolytes, but they don’t– It’s still halfway legendary to these people. When an old enemy turns up, well, we see if the gods can’t protect them or if the people have to step up. Each book is an individual tale, but the story is told over two books. That’s it. Can these protector gods protect them? That’s the story.

M.G Herron: Are you planning more books in the series, or is just the two– is that like the complete story?

Steve Statham: There’s room for it, there’s a lot and when I envisioned it originally it was two books in my mind and so people who read that would get the main story but as I finished the second book I go, “Okay, I can take this and run with it.” There’s more room for it and so on. I’m considering and I have another series that’s percolating that’s next one.

M.G Herron: Nice, that’s awesome. Apart from being inspired by like myths and legends where did the spark for the idea that became Gods and the City come from? Do you remember the moment?

Steve Statham: Yes, it was an image in my mind of a god-like being which became actually the beginning of the book really. A god-like being walking through a city, God made manifest with a follower, an acolyte. I took that it’s like okay this is a god that has been created but he’s still magnificent walking and really from that image in my head I kind of built the story and that became– the woman became Tahlia who was the Radiant acolytes in Towers Temple and then Tower was this particular god who is the primary defensive god for the city. I took it and ran from that. That spark as you say. It was an image that I build the story on.

M.G Herron: It’s amazing. Does that seem credible when it just like comes into your head fully formed?

Steve Statham: Yes.

M.G Herron: Then you have to figure out all the other reasons for why this is the case, right? I’m sure that the image didn’t come with all of the underlying motivations and background. You’re like, “Oh, that’s an image now and now I have to do all the work to put it in place?”

Steve Statham: No, that’s exactly right. It was a very small spark that I used to make into a fire. [laughs] I was still putting it together as I went along. The second book that has a god introduced in the first book, and the second book there’s more of them. I didn’t have all that mapped out ahead of time. I was still creating to go along with the story because that’s the only thing about writing a story like this. It takes on a life of its own. You think something is going to be one way and no it would be better if you did this and take it where the story needs to go. [laughs]

M.G Herron: Well, I’ll tell you reading it I did not get the impression that it was half puzzled at all. It all seems very like cohesive and very like tight.

Steve Statham: Thank you.

M.G Herron: Which character in God and the City is most similar to you?

Steve Statham: I didn’t really write it that way. When I was writing the characters I had to create personalities for each of the gods and that’s based on her attributes because each have a job to do in particular, but with the characters one thing I kind of want to get across is they’re just regular people and they’ve got to step up and do things they thought they never have to do or never capable of doing.

It’s almost like the Citizen Soldier. In World War Two, these were farm boys who came and got a big job to do. The characters I wrote, Tahlia is– she’s an acolyte in the temple, a Radiant acolyte. Mic the fixer, works in the subterranean, the underworks of the city fixing things that he doesn’t really need to do it. The god kind of runs the city but he does it anyway, and he still finds things and he’s just a regular kind of working guy.

Vance, is a guy. He’s got a young family, he makes custom furnishings and he crafts things with his hand and Vance, of all, Vance is a character you like to think I would be because he’s bored out of his mind living in the city under the dome. He creates– he forms sub-organizations and they create challenges that– to test themselves. They’re running and finding things, an affiliation of seekers.

They run outside the dome to get things and all this kind of stuff. That’s when it starts, that’s what he is. He is a very capable guy who’s capable of more but he’s bored. Well, now, when bad things happen, well, suddenly he’s really got to step up.

M.G Herron: Not bored anymore?

Steve Statham: Yes, [laughs] I’d like to think if I was in that living under a dome, where humanity live for a thousand years, I’ll be trying to find new things to do too. I really wrote them to be regular people have to step up because the gods can’t do everything.

M.G Herron: Sure, I really like Mic the fixer just because of– like his personality, even though he doesn’t need to fix things he just feels compelled to do it and he just wants to do something with his hands, it seems like. He’s an artistan, or a mechanic just by nature.

Steve Statham: Yes.

M.G Herron: He was [crosstalk], I guess. He’s kind of like an explorer or a warrior sort of archetype, right?

Steve Statham: Yes, with Mic, he’s a regular guy. He loves finding things and fixing them. That’s all he wants to do. He’s always looking– and he finds things. He pines for Tahlia, he’s been in love with her and she’s also a character who is– she’s interested in her specialty in the temples is really history. She knows a little bit more about humanity’s past and before. She loves getting lost in books and history and everything. Those characters just wanted regular folks.

M.G Herron: That’s great. The other thing that really drove up the believability for me was humanity is on this other planet, a thousand years has passed but when they got there it was the 4,000 original group of colonizers and 1,000 years later the focus is really on like family and growing humanity back to better numbers, right? So that they have a better chance to survive and the believability really came through for me because they were so focused on their families and it became well, like having kids. Was like a good thing.

Having a lot of kids was a good thing and they were all interested in– even if like Mic and Tahlia weren’t together yet he was interested in starting a family because that’s part of the culture now. I think part of the believability was that when you projected the culture you’d change some things so that it seemed logical.

Steve Statham: Yes, and that was a big part of it because, for them, the gods– gods take care of defense. Your job is to rebuild the human race and that is part of the culture. They got through and there are some things– day future generations, [laughs] there was a holiday and things like that. It is like aliens, for example, he’s married, has four kids, four young kids and that’s the norm for that. Trying to rebuild the human race.

There is another branch of humanity which is part of the conflict between the gods, the wandering world which is a smaller subsect but in the city, it’s still– it’s a growing population, doing the best they can with what they’ve got and that was what I want to get across. The whole World has been decimated you need people.

M.G Herron: I haven’t had a chance to read Gods and the Stars yet, but do we get to see this other city in that book?

Steve Statham: We get to see– yes, briefly. We don’t delve into it but the god who protects that city, Grey Wolf, we learn much more about her and where this city is and how she reacts to what’s going on. Like I say in the second book, the other gods get a much bigger presence. We learn more about Apollo and Apex. Apex is building a new world for humanity, that’s his role.

He’s tele-forming a world which my universe– worlds that people can live are exceedingly rare. We can’t find a planet, and so he’s– Apex is building one and he’s very cautious because he’s had some failures. [unintelligible 00:18:09] [laughs] Yes, we do learn a little more about the wandering world and a lot more about the other gods and some additional characters.

M.G Herron: That’s awesome, and I don’t want to make this sound like it’s all like deep character. In a person relations, the are also like this is epic space battle in the first book. There’s a lot of like action too. I know that you gave a reading at a library and often that I was lucky enough to be at and you read the first scene– I think it was from Vance’s point of view where he was like running through the underground.

That’s like just really like intense action scene even though it’s just him running, it’s just like the way that things play out, it’s really fast-paced. When I sat down to read this book I think it was like three days beginning to end.

Steve Statham: That’s good. I was going for that, I was going for a fast pace and– alien invasion starts pretty much immediately-

M.G Herron: [laughs] Yes.

Steve Statham: -and then progresses to space battles. In the second book, it resets the table a little bit and there’s a big build up towards another, so there is–

M.G Herron: Pardon?

Steve Statham: Yes, space battle and that’s the fun part. That’s room for imagination and let everything fly to and see how people react. Also, another part is in the second book that’s really big as I– I touch on a little in the first book about the nature of these aliens, the Otrid. I have it in for us and every other species is really– In the second book, I have a point of view from one of the Otrid character.

M.G Herron: Nice.

Steve Statham: As it becomes– moving through the ranks and everything. I really wanted to get that because I know in the first book I talk about him but that wasn’t the feedback. I can’t remember more about these Otrid. Now, it’s following a character through their society as he becomes a warrior and everything. [crosstalk]

M.G Herron: Good teaser, yes. That’s a great book. Do you think that there was a message in Gods and the City? What do you want readers to take away from that first, or even the second book?

Steve Statham: I really just hope they’re entertained by it. Honestly, I want it to be a fun read. It’s kind of a big canvas, it’s spread out and I have some fantastic elements in it that I hope entertain them, but I did– As I mentioned earlier, I did– when I was creating the characters, I wanted everyday people that have to step up, do more than you think that you really can do, more than you’re capable of because you might have to.

Suddenly humanity, in some circumstances, they find themselves without a god handy and okay, there’s probably no other ways of [laughs] alien invasion coming, what do we do? That is something I was trying to emphasize but really, as far as messages or anything, I want them to be entertained and have fun with it.

M.G Herron: Yes, another thing, as far as the time scale goes, since the people have been protected by a god for 1,000 years, they kind of lost that– a little bit, they’ve lost that self-defense mechanism, that self-defense gene, the fighting gene, you might say.

Steve Statham: Very much of it. They have to rediscover. There’s a character that you don’t want to spoil. The character becomes an admiral, I have to look up what that means.

[laughter]

M.G Herron: Right. That’s– [crosstalk]

Steve Statham: They’re studying ancient warfare and everything to try and relearn things and make weapons. They’re deep in the archives that they haven’t really had access to. They really do have to rediscover those things.

M.G Herron: Do you think that the– like a fighting nature of humans. Humans have always been at war or fighting our whole existence. Do you think that’s just like in our nature so much that we can’t get rid of it, or could it be bred out?

Steve Statham: I think it is part of our nature, there’s a certain amount of conflict and when you’re– like these characters, when you’re put in a place where you have to start from scratch to rebuild the society. There’s not a whole lot of time for that, room for that. For centuries, they were all for one and one for all because, we’re on a distant moon or on a gas giant with just us but yes, it turns out when it– the instincts do return when they’re needed in these books. [laughs]

M.G Herron: Absolutely, yes, necessity. Steve, the SFF Book Club is all about book recommendation so, I know you’ve brought those two books. Do you want to show them again so that if people liked the books that you write, I think they’ll probably like these ones too, right?

Steve Statham: Yes, it’s in the idea of gods and science fiction, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, it’s a well-known book written in the 60s. You go on like ’67 or something. It’s a well-known book but it’s– for a long time, it tells really the last year or two. Most of Zelazny’s books weren’t available as e-books, there was a right-

M.G Herron: Oh, really?

Steve Statham: -issue. Yes, so if you wanted Zelazny, it’s like you pretty much– some of it is still in print but you pretty much had to hunt for his books to find it. It’s only recently that it’s– a lot of his stuff is starting to get out in e-books again but it’s a– Zelazny is one of those authors that I’d hate to see him forgotten, he was so good, so much of what he did. That’s one, then another one, we’ve got Dan Simmons, Ilium and it’s followup Olympos really tackles that subject of gods and science fiction.

There are others. There are some vicious ones that try and– capital “G”, God, incorporate it into their stories. These I recommend for that, if you really like that subject, the idea of powerful god-like beings in there.

M.G Herron: Yes, absolutely.

Steve Statham: You said, other authors?

M.G Herron: Yes, I would say that if anybody watching has recommendations, leave them in the comments. People are always looking for good books to read and the last important thing is, what do you have coming up next and where can people find you?

Steve Statham: They can find me at www.stevestatham.com, Steve S-T-A-T-H-A-M.com. I’ve got all my books on my website and everything, with links. I’m working on the next thing, it’s a series, it’s– the opening one, I’ve got a short story that’s 90% done, Light of the Overlord, it’s kind of an Overlord series.

M.G Herron: Oh, that sounds fun. Sci-fi or fantasy?

Steve Statham: It’s Sci-fi. It’s space opera Sci-fi. That’s what– I love writing, that’s the selfless motivating, I was always looking when I was reading science fiction for stuff where authors would reach across the galaxy, reach a million years in the future. Those things create unbelievable aliens. That kind of thing always pulled me in and so, those are the books that inspired me to write this kind of stuff.

Some of my favorites are, Peter F. Hamilton, of course, Dan Simmons, a lot of his stuff, the Hyperion books we talked about, Vernor Vinge, Fire Upon the Deep, that book blew my mind when it came out. That’s great space opera. Those are some.

M.G Herron: Cool. All right, that’s great. Thank you for the recommendations so everybody, it’ stevestatham.com, if you want to find Steve or just search Facebook for Steve Statham author, or something like that?

Steve Statham: Yes, Steve Statham books is my Facebook page.

M.G Herron: Steve Statham books, all right, perfect. We’ll post links in the comments and everything so you guys can find those. Thanks for joining us, Steve, I really appreciate it.

Steve Statham: Thanks M.G for having me.

M.G Herron: All right.

Steve Statham: Appreciate it.

M.G Herron: Till next time.

Steve Statham: Till next time.

[00:26:28] [END OF AUDIO]