Today we welcome Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead which I found to be inventive and enjoyable. Max wants to know how you feel about gods as characters in speculative fiction. One commenter will win a hardcover copy of Three Parts Dead. Thanks for joining us, Max!
When my book Three Parts Dead came out, as I trawled around reading reviews, I was intrigued by the number of comments on my book’s use of gods. Turns out people have pretty strong feelings about gods in science fiction and fantasy, which got me thinking about how gods function in the genre, and where they come from.
Gods have a complicated relationship with storytelling. The first Western dramas emerged as a part of religious celebrations, and these plays tended to resolve with the emergence of a god to fix the human characters’ problems, or increase them unbearably. (Chick Tracts owe a lot to this old-school Greek dramatic structure, now that I think about it…) Deus ex machina is the name we’ve given to this sort of resolution, when a god of some sort steps in to end the story.
Storytelling, especially fantasy and science fiction storytelling, still uses gods and godlike beings aplenty, but writers and readers alike are wary of that deus ex machina ending, even as they thrill to the Force guiding Luke as he shoots proton torpedoes into the Death Star reactor shaft, or to Neo rising from the dead to defeat Agent Smith.
I like gods as characters, both for their human aspects (as men and women of power, passion, conviction, righteousness and self-righteousness) and for their symbolic aspects (power, dominance, just or unjust rule, alternative modes of civilization and consciousness, too many others to name), but using them is tricky, because it’s so easy for them to overpower other characters and the story itself. I addressed this in Three Parts Dead by challenging the gods’ control; the book starts after a war between gods and men, which the gods lost. That approach doesn’t work for all stories, though.
So: do you like to see gods in your fantasy? What role should they play, and how can we balance their appearance with our resistance to dei ex machina? And does your feeling about gods in books connect at all to your feeling about gods, or God, in real life?