Some of you may remember that I offered my thoughts on an excellent SF novel a few months ago entitled Age of Odin by James Lovegrove, which was loaned to me by one of my friends. Well, Lovegrove’s newest novel, Age of Aztec, is out in paperback, and the same friend passed along his copy of the new book to me as well, and I am happy to report that I am not disappointed.
Lovegrove’s signature irreverent writing style is in full effect in his new novel, chock-full with the visceral blue-collar Brit language that I came to love in Age of Odin. This time around, the premise of the novel isn’t that the Norse pantheon is real, but the bloody, ultraviolent Aztec one; Lovegrove’s Age of series offers a fresh take on an alternate reality where different gods are real, with each new book starting over from scratch, as it were, with a new set of parameters and characters, kind of like if The Guns of the South featured the avatar of Uncle Sam striding through Richmond and punching Jefferson Davis in the mouth instead of time-travelling racists mucking about in Civil War era America.
The premise is, yes, the Aztec gods, with their innumerable dipthong-heavy names, were real, and had been elevating the Aztec people right before the conquistadors began piling into Central America to make their mark, leaving them more than well-equipped to repel Spanish invaders with incredibly advanced technology. However, the gods need to leave the planet, placing a suspiciously long-lived Moctezuma II in charge, who then embarks on a bloody, savage campaign of conquest, uniting the entire globe under his sway by the turn of the 19th century, with the entire planet governed by a bureaucratic theocracy reminiscent of 1984 or V for Vendetta in its brutality, complete with annual ‘volunteer’ blood sacrifices of men, women, and children in each country to keep the peace.
Meanwhile, the technological gifts of the gods (referred to as Aztechnology) have spread, with flying saucer-like “aerodiscs” taking the place of airplanes and “lightning guns,” rifles that shoot bolts of electricity that can simultaneously disintegrate people and give Nicola Tesla a massive hard-on, standing in for traditional firearms. The ruling caste has also changed the climate of the planet as well through nuclear power stations strategically located nearby volcanoes, sending radiation into the ground in such a way as to trigger volcanic eruptions, flooding the world’s atmosphere with ash and other greenhouse gases that keeps the globe in a permanent summer, complete with jungle overspreading formerly temperate climates such as London – where St Paul’s Cathedral has been replaced with a massive ziggurat where the local High Priest cuts around 300 hearts out a year.
The gods, which don’t emerge as real forces in the story until about halfway through, are similarly portrayed as they are in Age of Odin, but with a twist: they’ve got to be the bloodiest collection of bastards ever. I had a passing familiarity with the Aztec pantheon before this novel, and I figured that a culture that was so deeply into gory blood sacrifice would doubtlessly have some pretty nasty gods, but some members of the Aztec pantheon as like extras from a Hellraiser movie. My favorite is Xipe Totec, who routinely appears as a huge, angry motherfucker missing all his skin – appropriate, considering his title is “the Flayed God.” The brutality of these deities is hardcore to the point of a Warhammer 40k novel when it comes to the depiction of the kinds of depravity Chaos adherents get up to, and it skews the story into a darker, more horror-centric genre space than Age of Odin, which reflects well as to their vastly different sources and speaks volumes to Lovegrove’s ability to adapt to his subject matter and capture the essence of each pantheon.
All in all, Age of Aztec has turned out to be a gripping, bloody read, filled with the kind of alternate history science fiction theomachy that gets my heart pumping – right before some lunatic tries to plunge a knife into my chest and rip it out. If you don’t mind a bit of gore (and quite a lot of imaginative Brit swearing) do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It’s well worth the read.