Book Review: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton

Unfortunately, I was forming too many questions that weren’t getting answers so I started skimming this grimdark, mythpunk novel. What I found did not make up for the more cringey aspects of the writing and character development. I was willing to hang in there for the plot but so much of the exposition wasn’t logical to me (the ontology of the gods, etc.). This is a DNF for me, but if you have answers to some of the problematic examples I have below, let me know. I’m willing to listen but I wasn’t willing to keep reading. This book is potentially offensive to those who still practice religions whose “characters” become caricatures (especially Hindu gods mentioned) and there’s some glib references to things like the first and second “Holocaust” of mortals, which could be triggering. There’s a lot more showing than telling in the writing, as other reviewers on goodreads have pointed out, but the story becomes a thesis of another white man trying make all religions one which I rolled my eyes at. I get that other authors (below) have done the same thing, but this was just a really shallow and dude-bro version of it. A lot of the male reviewers giving this so many positive reviews confirmed this for me.

First, I liked the idea that this book was indie and that the updated cover to this novel reminded me of Percy Jackson (not that I like that series, it just seemed like a response to it/like that is what it was selling). The cover looks like one of the opening scenes in Percy Jackson with the minotaur, but it might actually be a buffalo on the cover? But the gods in this novel feel more cartoony – like in Thundercats or Gargoyles. Humanoid beings that seem to be a statement on Egyptian depictions over the real reasons Egyptians put animal heads on their gods. Like that seems to be what I can make out based on other reviewers, but correct me if I’m wrong. It also seems silly to depict them like this in light of the fact not all Egyptian gods were depicted with animal heads. But I’ll move on.

Where I really get hung up, and why I held out for as long as I did, was the mythos. The ontology and cosmology of gods. To its benefit, it doesn’t seem to hinge on the same “Gods need prayer badly” trope that American Gods does. Apparently there is a “Father” character (thus the title?) that is the creator/head of all gods in all mythologies. This reminded me of Father in The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, who creates the next generation of gods from mortals but different in that Mount Char’s Father can create his replacements and step down (a Demiurge?) and he never claims to be the creator of all of the other gods of all past religions, I don’t think. There’s more complexity left open in that book (that I really really recommend!).

In Jo Walton’s Thessaly  series there’s a similar thread, where Apollo explains that Zeus is really the head of all of these different circles of mythical deities (ie goes by many names, whatever). There’s really only one  supreme being and all religions are connected and answer to Him. It feels very monotheistic to some degree — like no, no these little gods really answer to one transcendent father figure, thus implying there is a big-g God like in Christianity. I think even Jesus is brought up in that part of the book and later in the series there’s this bastardization of Christianity that forms from a child who was taken from a specific timeline but was never really well educated on his religion so it’s this warped interpretation. It’s…interesting. But it’s not the most interesting part of the book to me. It’s funny looking back on how The Just City tried to suppress a Christian monotheistic view in some sense (within its characters censoring some texts, I think?) yet its own cosmic gods seemed to answer to a monotheism. I think that’s the irony of Neoplatonism in general? I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher. Anyways, my point is this isn’t a new thing Dyrk Ashton is doing, and there’s a few who did it better. The Automation by anonymous is another one that does something syncretic, yet it doesn’t make overt claims on what is/who is The One or big-g God, but it’s implied there is a system that functionally could include reasons why all religions/myths exist. It just doesn’t waste it’s time listing its reasons and it certainly doesn’t try to make other religions fit into a box for a novel. Things are left open to interpretation and belief, as they should be.

This is my biggest beef with a novel like Paternus. I think it’s fine to say that all religions are true, but it’s another to rewrite how they are true or say “they are one.”

I also think this erases the arguments religions have with themselves. Christianity is perhaps a response to how Judaism was “wrong” or needed to “change” in its view. Islam was formed out of similar “arguments,” you could argue. The fact there are so many religions based on a single conversation is interesting, but to pick a side in a novel can invalidate an entire population. It also doesn’t always feel right to butt one conversation into another conversation happening when you don’t have much to add. I don’t know. This is something I’ve struggled with as well as other writers. I think it comes down to something like the “Elvis” argument I’ve heard for Black Music recently. Are you paying dues to the culture you’re taking from or are you like Elvis and stealing to make your brand? With this book, are we rebranding literal religions? But let me make another point.

Take this quote from Paternus for example:

“Though the name given to The Rhino by his father is Arges, the one early clan of watoto took to calling him Hephaestus, a name later appropriated by one of the insolent petit gods he’d trained as a smith. The peoples of Asgard called him Völundr, then Dvalinn for a time, and their descendants on this world, Wayland the Smith. The Romans knew him from stories passed down for generation as Vulcan. To the proto-Hungarians he was Hadúr, god of fires and war, and in cosmologies of Africa he is remembered as Gu, Vodun of iron.” p.120

So, there’s a lot going on here but I’m lead to wonder why there’s no mention of Prometheus, since actually Hephaestus would have been a “petit” god after him and their mythologies largely blended at times (Who made Pandora? Who released Athena from Zeus’s head? Depends on who you ask). You can’t  say the same of Arges and Hephaestus at all. Their myths don’t overlap so it’s hard to know where Ashton is coming from, comparing a cyclops to an Olympian. Likewise, the Egyptian equivalent of Hephaestus would have been Ptah, but another character in the novel is said bear that persona. This incongruity just really made me sigh when I found it.

On a positive note, Ashton really tried with the female character. You can tell his heart was in the right place, never mind some of the awkward things he chose to focus on. Fi really takes center stage as the MC. But the corny dialog was just too much to make it count for me. Dyrk Ashton seems like a very interesting and nice guy who has lived an interesting life. I’m glad he’s writing and has been able to get so much attention as an indie author but I think I’ll just wait for what comes next from him rather than continue this series. I feel like there’s something better that can come from him.


Other reviews I agree with:


– 80% through the book and still there is no indication of what first borns are, where their power is coming from and what they are up to! When the reader does not know about basic rules of the world, then everything that happens seems like divine interventions and when everything feels like that, it is hard to stay engaged as you cannot expect what comes next and whatever comes next does not make any sense. The book looks like a movie with tons of CGI which you cannot enjoy as there is no explanation for them….Shoving tons of mythical characters in a book does not make it cool! This is not an action movie that the more CGI you put into it the better it gets! The story should make sense. Those mythical characters should fit into the story.


It’s not enough for the book to explain that a character is one god in a Pantheon but it then has to spell out all the gods they are in all pantheons, who their mother is, and how they feel about life. This can go on for pages and is often right in the middle of impactful events. Funnily enough, the main characters constantly ask for an explanation and don’t get a full one until like 60% and 80% into the book.

One scene this hit me the hardest was when we have a relatively minor character who is dying, and as they are dying they reflect for a solid page or two on how they feel about humanity.

The pacing/explaining is hurt further by the constant POV swaps, literally between paragraphs, and the LOL random moments that occur.

On the bright side, I really like Fi. The Fi/Edgar relationship was super great. Would have loved to see more of that. Zeke, on the other hand, was insufferable. Zeke reads like hardcore wish fulfillment.



Book Review: Gods and Myths of the Viking Age by Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson

On Free Art – “What I can’t get behind are artists who rely on capitalism for their art to even exist.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of libraries in capitalism and the role of the artist in society. I don’t know if I’m thinking about it well. But these are my thoughts.

Art is culture. Art has gatekeepers. Librarians give access, but they can still be gatekeepers. They select and curate materials for their collections. What they choose not to purchase says volumes just as much as what they do. As a librarian, I participate in this exchange and gatekeeping. On another level, I participate in culture. I am a content creator and artist in other instances. I also consume culture and art in order to  participate, as most do. But there are some barriers to this. Time being my biggest personal one. This, tied to the fact I work a full-time job because I need money. Other people have more/bigger barriers.

The current lawsuit against the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library brought by publishers is the entryway into the argument I want to make–to start making. It’s not entirely fleshed out yet, but I would like to start shaping my language and thoughts about what feels true in this moment.

It is hard for me to feel sorry for publishers, who charge users ridiculously high prices for ebooks and extort libraries for ebook licensing. It is also hard for me to feel sorry for authors caught in the middle, who gave their copyright over to publishers. As a base line, it is hard for me to feel sorry for any author/artist who has found a platform and has a fanbase under capitalism. For them to be able to even find time to make art is a privilege. Who gets to be creative under capitalism? Under white supremacy? Under the patriarchy? Under all systems of oppression? And then, to have those same authors give their art over to companies/publishers who make profit that feeds those same systems of oppression bothers me.  I want to talk about alternatives to legacy publishing too, but later.

So. Am I saying that artists should not get paid? No. But who has access to your art and how much are you charging for access? Perhaps I should split this “access” into two realms. One for print/physical access and another for digital. I won’t focus on the digital here in this essay. If you are buying a physical item, of course that comes at a price. Existence takes up space. A physical item took time to be conjured into existence. There were material processes that happened to create the thing that contains the art. Felled trees and crushed pigments. Glue and paint. There is an exchange that occurs if you are to own a physical copy, usually involving money. This physical access changes on a different level when, say, museums charge for entrance to view their paintings–the thing. This is another form of gatekeeping, quite similar to anything I would theorize with art in the digital realm. No physical copies of the art are made/need to be made or are promised with the access charge, only the viewing. The user does not walk away from the experience with a copy or derivative of any sort.

Contrast this with free museums and libraries, which grant free access to art and culture at no charge, or the entrance fee is covered. Which institution is supporting the people more, the one who charges or the one who gives free entrance? Will the art in one institution reach more people?

I know there are heated debates about the limits of “doing it for exposure.” Exploiting artists is wrong, yes. Art requires labor. But the definition of art is versatile. Labor is not all equal, it seems. I think it is true we all find ourselves more in the position of consuming art and culture more than we contribute new art to it. I can’t help but think that, if we lived in a more just society, we would not be arguing at all about paying creators and artists. Under capitalism, some labors are valued more than others. All are exploited. It is harder for me to feel sorry for any creator who did not start their baseline as giving away their art for free in some fashion. I think about the merch from cartoonists–how many of their cartoons are free online, posted to places like instagram, where the platform becomes a basis for their book copies, T-shirts, buttons, etc. The artist still retains the copyright. What I can’t get behind are artists who rely on capitalism for their art to even exist.

Some have brought up the fact that the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library affects marginalized and POC authors disproportionally, that people “need to still get paid while capitalism is dismantled.” But these ignore the marginalized and POC readers/consumers of art. Who is more important? The creator, who has already had the time and means in which to create art, or the consumer who might not otherwise even have access to the representation, the story, their culture?

But I don’t really like this set up of either-or. I don’t think these issues are at odds. Of course some creators deserve financial support (rather, all of us do so that we can become creators), but one might argue the issue is where said support comes from–what the creators are actually entitled to. I suggest that those creators who are not participating in a free-culture movement are likely supporting the capitalist system by default and are also to be critiqued on some level apart from any conversation about how people consume their work. Another part of me wonders if artists are entitled to compensation from their audience, or if having an audience  is compensation enough. An audience is power. It is a voice, whether you make money directly from an exchange or not. Again, money can come from the IP, the merch, the ad space–the monetization. The art is not what is really sold, even under capitalism. It is just the hook.

I’m not going to ramble on about how studies show piracy has no market harm–not that I’m saying that what the IA is doing is piracy, there is still DRM attached to their CDL methods and you don’t get to keep a copy. Piracy is irrelevant to this part of the discussion,  especially when you have authors like Neil Gaiman championing it and then getting on the bandwagon to bash IA (the fact being that authors like Neil Gaiman love libraries and librarians only when it suits them or strokes their egos). The demand to be paid for art and labor is different from the right to information (art is information). My stance that access to information is a human right outweighs how I feel about artists and creators getting paid. If a creator feels like they are missing out on money, perhaps they should look to the publisher and the societal systems that keep them from being supported. The issue is not whether or not a consumer should pay for content, but what our society values. What our society sees as labor. What our society deems fair.

Intellectual property is not the same as physical property. When copies are made, you still have your original copy. Even in lending out print copies, libraries are possibly affecting the sales of authors. The government has always deemed this as fair.  Who among us has not lent out a book or borrowed a book from a friend? Should we feel just as bad about that as some of us do about the NEL? There should always be a free way to consume art and culture. The IA and other libraries are that for many. The NEL insured that.

Put ads in your content if you need to. Sell merch. But don’t expect the consumers to take pity on you for publishing in inaccessible ways that only serve to continue capitalism’s hold. I am much more interested in imagining a future where none of us get paid for labor or work or art, but where wealth is evenly distributed no matter what we do and we all get a chance to actually create and consume art. I’m sure there’s more than one way to say this, and perhaps this is not the best way. But putting my thoughts down in a more tangible forms allows them to be interacted with. Edited. Accessed.


Post last updated 8/7/20

The Truth is Paywalled but The Lies Are Free


Book Review: The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

This was a DNF for me. I got about 80+ pages in and was very unimpressed with the theology and ontology surrounding the gods in this book. The gods work, apparently, just like those in American Gods (through belief), which is not only classically inaccurate, but makes no sense logically: If the gods created us, then how do we create the gods out of belief? It’s also insulting to those who believe in God/gods. I need the world to make sense before I can invest myself.  It takes about 60 pages before you actually learn how the gods exist, though, so that’s why I stayed with it. You learn about ‘the fading’ (how they are fading from existence) and ‘the diaspora’ (why they aren’t in Olympus anymore).

The main character is Artemis, who can’t remember what myth about her is true or not and uses recordings of myth (Homer, the like, to remember). Her powers have dwindled — for some reason. And, she lives in New York city, not a forest — for some reason.

For some reason.

She’s also no longer a virgin, which was very jarring. The world could use more asexual characters, honestly. Weather you think she was in love with Orion or not, it doesn’t mean they had sex. Fight me.

This book, where I stopped, was already dropping hints of a love story between her and a mortal, as well as saying she had already had an affair with…Orion? I found it too revisionist, as I want my gods unchanging in principal and symbolism.  Also, apparently Alexander Hamilton is a character in the book. Which I do not care about.

The writing of the book is very good, if not a little text-heavy. Not a lot of dialog. Brodsky likes to make her characters sound smart (some of them being professors), so their conversations are very contrived to drop facts about history and ancient practice which no normal professor would even do. I found my eyes rolling a few times, as these truth bombs weren’t slipped in very eloquently. But, if you like that sort of thing, you won’t mind it.

It was also heavy on the crime/thriller and very weak on actual mythpunk/godpunk (ie fresh commentary on religion/gods/the past). It kind of felt like watching Jessica Jones. Take the gods out of it and it would be like any other noir novel. I’ll take my noir and gods elsewhere, thanks.

Other reviews I agree with and what kept me from continuing to read are below:

Instead, The Immortals: The Goddess of Virgins Finally Gets Lucky is a disappointing, sneaky bait-and-switch romance novel–which is not my bag–and it’s hackneyed. “Her eyes were drawn against her will to the hard planes of his chest.” “She expected the smell of his sweat to repulse her. To her surprise, it didn’t.” Blerg. I made it through a solid 200 pages before giving up on my high expectations.

The gods-living-among-us display no sign of immortal wisdom or perspective. Attempts to paint them as more than human are superficial: some are mildly technophobic, they don’t take pictures because their loved ones never die, etc. But you can’t tell from Artemis’s speech, mannerisms, values or thought patterns that she’s anything but a lovelorn, misanthropic harpy.


The portrayal of Selene aka Artemis was infuriating. The writer took a strong female icon within ancient greek mythology and made her a nothing more than a sexually frustrated woman. Selene embodied the phrase “this person needs to get laid” to the point where other characters would say that to her. She was constantly going between the emotions of irrationally angry, and shamefully horny. And I say shamefully because if Selene had any feelings of lust or attraction the reader would then have to endure countless paragraphs of her just beating herself up over such thoughts. 

The writer took the concept of Artemis’s chastity within mythology and made it a self inflicted punishment instead an intentional decision. Why couldn’t the character be portrayed as Asexual? Just a female who isn’t bothered about relationships or sexual acts. Instead they made her a naive child that would blush or feel like vomiting anytime someone mentioned sex. SHE’S SUPPOSE TO HAVE LIVED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS HOW IS SHE SO SHOCKED BY SEX!?! Clearly she doesn’t watch any HBO shows. The fact that the writer seemed more hung up on Artemis’s virginity then her many other attributes just got ridiculous. She became less like a ancient Greek God and more like that whiny friend you have that obsesses and complains about never having a boyfriend.

The other main character in this novel was a bit more likeable then overly irritable and sexually frustrated Selene but not by much. Theo had some cute ways about him reminding me at times of the character Flynn Carsen in The Librarians series. Although soon Theo became a caricature spouting complex classical mythology with unrealistic ease, saying things like “Holy Roman Empire” when startled (ridiculous) and declaring that ride or die love for a woman he’s known for a week. .


Hades always seems to get a bad rap and it irks me. He seems perpetually cast as either the antagonist or a power-hungry dick. Let’s get some things straight here: Hades was Zeus’ most loyal brother — for the record, it was Poseidon who tried to lead a coup against Zeus, not (and never) Hades. He was also the only one of the sons of Kronos who actually practiced monogamy; not that that probably matters to anyone, but I think it’s just reinforcement of his loyalty to those he cares about. I’m in no way trying to romanticize Hades, but I just can’t understand why writers (for page and screen) insist on casting him in such a negative light. Just because he’s the Greek god of the dead doesn’t mean he’s a total dick. Okay, moving on.


Moving on, The Immortals strongly reminded me of Gaiman’s American Gods since both the books make use of a similar premise of fading Greek gods in a modern-day setting. That however, is the only similarity because everything happening in The Immortals is central to a crazed serial killer cult on the loose and clearly shows just how much research went into the elaborate murders. I also really liked the Manhattan setting; Brodsky definitely have a talent for writing compelling imagery. 


I thought The Immortals was going to be much more of a fantasy read, but it fit squarely into the thriller/mystery genre.

Book Review: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden has a lot of logic issues

I’m rating this book one goodreads star for getting my hopes up but ultimately being a waste of time. I also want my review to be noticed by those filtering for reasons NOT to read the book. I want my time back.

This book promised a lot and hooked me with that gorgeous cover. I think that’s why I’m so angry. Another book I would compare this too is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, which was also a sci-fi and fantasy/mythology mix. Lagoon, however, deals with aliens giving people powers and making gods appear in the present day. This book deals with drugs giving people powers and making dormant gods more…powerful? I’m still not sure.  In Lagoon, the system of gods make more sense. The gods in this story feel even more poorly-inserted than Lagoon’s were.  Both books deal with African cultures and belief systems. This one, however, didn’t make me understand the culture/beliefs any more than I did before. Okorafor’s, at least, did that.

I should technically label this book as a DNF, because I skimmed to the end, wishing that there was something to compel me to go back and re-read. But I didn’t find it. If you found it, please comment on this post with a link to your review or explanation of how I am wrong. I really wanted to be wrong. It had so much potential.

The characters start off as interesting and well developed, but they quickly devolve into unrecognizable plot devices who confuse you with their actions. Toward the end, characters who have never met only need to hear each others’ names once to know who they are and have quite the ability to understand others’ intentions (that took hundreds of pages of backstory for the reader to understand…). Even if they have some form of a “reading memories” power, it still seemed unbelievable at times. For example, Muzi cries “They’re going to rip him apart” about the robots touching someone they “hate” on page 260. I mean, how could he know that if he’s never met the robots and hasn’t read their minds (they’re not human)? Did I miss something??? There’s just a lot of correct assumptions going on.

Also, the author supposedly ties in south African mythology/folklore, but it is never really fleshed out to my liking. This was what drew me to the book — the mythpunk promise of it all, tied into science fiction. The only mythology you get from this book is something about a man who makes tree wives and they have animal children or something. I am not even sure what to Google if I wanted to learn more, that’s how unenlightening this book is to me. I’m not even confident it’s based on a real myth but just the idea of animal hybrids/demons/witches. In the acknowledgements, Drayden says “This is not a story of South Africa.”

Well, the back cover says otherwise.

The “Tau” of Mr. Tau apparently means demon or spirit in parts of…  South AMERICA. But otherwise, I have no leads to understanding where Drayden is drawing from.

I am willing to admit that my lack of understanding of south African culture and belief could be part of the problem. But it is not my only problem how the theological systems in this book work.  At times it seemed like the power of the gods was fueled by belief systems like that in American Gods (which I did not like and also find illogical). But then,it seems that Sydney really feeds on fear instead. It doesn’t make sense why the villain is trying to make everyone more god-like by taking the drug just to create fear. You can use normal drugs for that. Where the drug comes from is never really spelled out. Hell, it seems like the villian needs to just use the drug herself to get by, if it’s amplifying powers in everyone else. Her motivation is never clear enough to me. Nomvula even asks her why:

“But why? If everyone is a god, then who will be followers?” 

Sydney cups her chin, raises it up to her. “My dear sister, it is the way it was meant to be. Basos pales in comparison to the fear of a god. We’ll be able to feed from the weakest of them and gain great strength….” 

Like, OK. But you’re already pretty powerful. You’re already a lot better than puny humans. Your motivation seems too risky because you’re effectively inviting someone to become more powerful than you…

This book tries really, really hard to be adaptable. To be like a tv show. There are so many cut away scenes that follow around the (too many) characters that it would probably translate better on screen. Some of the fight sequences/action scenes just got too long or didn’t make sense. At one point, a character is using her power of “charm” to talk to a crowd of people — a crowd that would probably have gotten the hell out of dodge way before she could have had time to get back on stage (or wherever the hell she was supposed to be at) and gather a crowd. I didn’t understand it.

There’s also too much going on in the story to ever be coherent as a book. At one point we are introduced to a character’s father who doesn’t want to see her or speak to her and then suddenly doesn’t want his daughter to leave — drugging her and trapping her in her childhood home. WTF? That was the first time this story felt more melodramatic than reasonable. And then it’s never really spoken about again and the character, Riya, actually has enough drama going on with her drug use and her multiple sclerosis. The father scene could have been cut entirely to speed this already-speedy story along. I want authors to respect their mediums. Write TV shows instead!

My real issue is with the last third of the book, when things get too convenient and contrived. It’s like the editors stopped caring about the direction Drayden was taking this story because they had invested too much in her ahead of time or something.  At one point we are introduced to hybrid rhino-lion-hawks. And…one has a human brain? OK. Just throw that in there for fun, sure. Why not!

It doesn’t seem to go anywhere anyways.

In another scene, a robot sect that has gained consciousness but doesn’t like humans says (maniacally) that they need humans because “Human labor will be the backbone of our empire.” In what fucking world?

This is why machines were made. They’re literally more efficient…

Spoilers from here on out. 

I also have a major problem with a few scenes regarding Felicity Lyons, the alter-ego-turned-identity of the character Stroker. Side note: He turns into a she as she establishes what she wants throughout the story. I really loved the representation at first. But, at one point, she is dressed in her femme clothes and her “tuck” (as it is phrased in the book) comes undone and WAIT NO HER DICK BECOMES A SNAKE.

I am not even sure what the fuck that phallic nightmare is supposed to represent, either, because her mom is a snake as well. Is her mom her dick? I mean, her mom appeared as a snake in her dressing room, right? But then NO.  No, her mom is…plants? And lightning?


It made me very uncomfortable to think about. And, it made no sense.  For one, because if Felicity tucked her dick in for a reason, why is it taking over? Why is the author whipping it out? It reads as almost negative for body modification. You can put on a dress and say you’re a girl but your dick will always be there to protect you.  I don’t get it.

I also don’t get how, when her mom is dying and says she is proud of Felicity WHYYYYY. Stoker literally almost killed someone and mom had to cover it up/”take care of it.” Also, how did his mother DIE?!? If she can be called upon and enter into the form of the tree…how can she not also just…



And don’t get me started on that dream-sequency bit about being in the afterlife and how Mr. Tau just appears like a Deus Ex Machina and makes Muzi and Nomvula “work together.” WHY? It makes no sense. Why were they ever together? I DO NOT CAAAARE.

And Muzi is the one who gets put into the robot body??? Why not Elkin? It makes no sense why Muzi’s soul wouldn’t go back to the body it was in and Elkin would take the only space available. I don’t get it. It makes no narrative sense or suspended belief sense, either.

Other goodreads reviews I agree with:

My next issue with the book was the pacing of the plot. It seemed like there was no gradual reveal of the “gods” aspect of the book, and, in layman’s terms, ” the book went from 0-60 in two seconds”. Much of the book felt rushed, and the character development didn’t feel like character development, it was closer to “look at this thing, that’s who the person is.” It seems to me that no one is even mentioning how this book could be sci-fi. How on earth does this book get to be called sci-fi? If anything it’s closer to fantasy than sci-fi, the only prominent sci-fi element in the book was the alphies and robots. 

5. Again, cut Riya and Stoker!

But Part 5…I have never seen a book’s plot so utterly implode like this one did. I was left with SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS from all of the plot holes. The tone changed, the pacing changed, the universe’s rules even changed. 

But by the end, these characters with all their subtlety, moral ambiguity, and rich inner lives had transformed into cliched heroes and villains fighting to save/destroy the world. Not only that, but the finale includes hastily handwaved trips to the afterlife, weird bodyswapping, genetically engineered super-animals (which are alluded to in the vaguest ways possible until they just suddenly appear), and, an actual giant robot made of hundreds of robots that just…form themselves together? With both a human controller, and a single consciousness uniting them, which would negate the necessity of the human controller?

I’m not saying that I didn’t like the book. My rating was headed for 4 stars until the last 25% of the book really went off the rails. I thought that the author was quite clever, sometimes funny, occasionally silly (i.e., a monster’s concern for her chipped nail polish) and showed a lot of promise, but boy did this book need an editor with a stronger hand, and maybe a whip and chair to wrangle this book under control. I’m sure that the author’s next book will be better if she learns to exercise some restraint.

Neil Gaiman’s Mythmaking Makes No Sense

I would like to examine a section in Gaiman’s “Reflections on Myth” published in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and republished in in his collected nonfiction The View from the Cheap Seats, which I have recently started to read. This is the chunk:

“Too often, myths are uninspected. We bring them out without looking at what they represent, nor what they mean. Urban Legends and the Weekly World News present us with myths in the simplest sense: a world in which events occur according to story logic — not as they do happen, but as they should happen.


But retelling myths is important. The act of inspecting them is important. It is not a matter of holding a myth up as a dead thing, desiccated and empty (“Now class, what have we learned from the Death of Baldur?”), nor is it a matter of creating New Age self help tomes (“The Gods Inside You! Releasing Your Inner Myth.”) Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow.


What is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.”


These sentences don’t present much to argue with on the surface. But through Gaiman’s actions/creations, we can see he undermines what he “preaches.” Gaiman goes beyond retelling myths, such as what he did with Norse Mythology, where he updated myths for the modern reader and arguably stayed close to source material (though I, like Ursula K. Le Guin, didn’t like how he went about it). I am speaking of American Gods and Sandman more specifically, where he assimilates myth into his own brand—taking it from a communal (read: cultural) form and turning it into a fandom-religion where he is the priest. My thesis, which I am still ironing out in this brainstorming exercise, is that he does not participate in mythology. He does not contribute to it or polish it as others, like Jo Walton in her Thessaly series, do, but breaks it apart and then takes the pieces he likes and melts them into something else entirely. He destroys the original, cultural beauty and theology of myth, as if there are no merits in seeing these stories as they are in their original time periods, contexts, and evolutions. He makes them anything but compost. He renders gods infertile. Allow me to explain.

In Sandman, Gaiman plucks the gods from the myths and sticks them in the comic universe just like he plucked Marvel characters and stuck them in the year 1602. Gaiman is quoted in the Afterword’s script letter to Andy of Marvel 1602 as saying he didn’t want to “mirror the Marvel Universe here: we’re doing something that’s more fun than that—we’re trying to create it. We get to make up our own.” He just wants the characters, never mind the original contexts that made these characters what they are in our consciousness. He steals their history, making the familiar unfamiliar without having to work for it. It’s the equivalent of going to a film simply because your favorite actor is in it and associating all the characters they played previously with the new film’s character, except Gaiman doesn’t even create a new character for the actor. He merely changes the setting and tells the viewer “this character is Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter all at once now tell me how clever I am for merely hiring Johnny Depp.”

And this is exactly what he does with myth. He ignores the very roots of mythology while reaping all the benefits of seeming the well-versed mythologist. Never mind the fact he refused to read Joseph Campbell, saying: “I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true—I don’t want to know…I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.” Gaiman actively avoids the mythology itself when he ignores the pattern. Mythology is the pattern. (Edit on 2022: I would like to say that I do not think Joseph Campbell got things right about myth and religion correct. My point is that he refuses to engage with mythologists and therefore creates a mythology for himself about himself).

In that same interview, Gaiman is quoted as saying, “But I tend to be more interested in the actual myth.” I am not so sure he understand what myth is to actually be “interested” in it. Gaiman, repeatedly, tends to ignore the “actual myth” and instead use the idea of myth to shove his story along. This is seen in the way he treats the creation of myth/gods/life:

In American Gods, gods do not create the universe (leading to what I call a “scientific explanation” of things that I will expound later), but humans create the gods out of their belief. The very families of gods don’t make sense anymore (if gods are born from human belief, how are their divine children born? How is Zeus born from Rhea? Thor from Odin? They must not be, if they are actually formed from the collective consciousness of people). Again, he renders gods infertile. This undermines what the said gods and believers even think about their hierarchies. Did Athena come from Zeus’s head or not? Is Zeus himself mistaken in believing he has any real children? Why would Odin call Thor his son in American Gods? 

And let’s not get into how Shadow is Odin’s son (i.e. is he divine or not? Is he a demigod or not? What is the “creation” hierarchy there?). Instead, let’s look at how Gaiman doesn’t even allow the gods he deems worthy of his story to evolve with the times. He calls them “Old” as if the gods are not timeless (the very concept of a god). Gaiman creates “New Gods” that encompass our new collective consciousness—what we pay attention to in this modern age. Never mind that, historically, “Old” gods always evolve to incorporate new forms of worship and interests: Kronos shifts from child-eater to castrated Father Time figure, Greek gods are merged with Latin gods and Egyptian gods, the Hebrew monotheistic god turns into the Polytheistic Trinity—there are many ways the old gods remain relevant, yet they do not die from non-belief. Humans do not have that power. A sacrifice to the gods does not give them physical strength. It only gives them proof of one more bent ear for their own agenda.

In American Gods, the New Gods seem to squeeze out the possibility of the Old Gods evolving easily. Instead, they are the ones who offer the Old Gods chances to “rebrand.” This is what fundamentally doesn’t make sense about Gaiman’s theology and ontology. If the Old gods could always just rebrand, how could New Gods ever get the chance to exist in the first place? Why weren’t the Old Gods snatching domains up right and left, as if the Old Gods didn’t know what was coming if they didn’t choose to rebrand? It seems more like they’d be chomping at the bit to associate themselves with anything and everything. After all, if they aren’t diversified enough they will die. Seems like that’d be priority number one. Heck, they might even think about overlapping and merging together to increase chances of survival! Talk about a omnipotent. 

We know that in American Gods the goddess Easter is feeding off the Christian holiday, so she, clearly,  was quick to rebrand and share. So was Vulcan, the new character created for the show, who is now the god of guns (which seems more like territory Ares would want, but I’ll let someone else rant…). These “Old” Gods seem to encompass a lot of modern ideas already—almost like they created  new things to attach themselves to, hmm?

It presents an uncomfortable paradox if The Creators are also created by their creations. After all, it’s the gods who taught us how to do things in the original myths—like Prometheus giving us fire, they bring modernity to mortals, right? Right. Side note: Another issue I have with the AG TV show is that 1) Vulcan would be a better personification of technology (BECAUSE: FEMALE ROBOT HELPERS) than Technical Boy, 2) arguably, Yggdrasil is the Internet itself and not Technical Boy and 3) don’t you dare tell me that Dionysus wouldn’t be the god of films and TV instead of Media (he loved theater). It seems more reasonable to believe the Old gods would never have a chance to die out, to me. If we believe in them, then we should also believe they evolve like they do IN THEIR ACTUAL MYTHS.

In myth, gods had sex with each other and made babies. Sometimes, accidentally. That’s normally how you would get “New Gods.” Yet, American Gods needed to create conflict and thus created the “New God” strawman so Gaiman could stitch together the short stories about individual gods he actually wanted to write. Though, if we were to give Gaiman some credit, we could argue his “New Gods” were to show that there is a “scientific” explanation for gods: if Gods are created from human consciousness (i.e. we create our own monsters, they are a shared delusion, reality isn’t real) then yeah, sure, they make a little more sense. And, I’m willing to acknowledge that’s possibly how some things are created—in a Jungian, archetypal sense. Sometimes humans do help create myth—the shape and scope of it. Humans propagate ideas and movements and icons. For example: Lady Liberty—Libertas—is the personification of freedom. She was, at one point, erected for a political agenda (multiple versions for multiple agendas, really). Sure, it’s obvious humans “created” her, but if we need a creation narrative about how Lady Liberty exists I want more than what American Gods offers: maybe humans just gave a previously unnamed goddess/personification already in existence a name; or, gave a goddess a second name and association. Is the Lady Liberty of the U.S. the same as Libertas? I wonder if Gaiman would label Lady Liberty as “Old” or “New” under his form of ontology? At what point is a New God just a old name translated into a different language? They seem the same being to me but with so many “versions” of gods it’s hard to know if new versions of Old Gods would be New Gods. The dichotomy breaks down and becomes ridiculous.

It is also my “belief” that sometimes a god might lie and say they are another god if it makes you believe them—or if the name expresses part of themselves they want you to see and understand. If we were “trapped” one day and a random goddess heard our prayers, why wouldn’t she call herself “Libertas” so we wouldn’t be afraid and thus know her purpose? Names give understanding. I, for one, have had many nicknames over the years, yet there is only one of me.

Sure, we help shape gods as much as they shape us. But saying that we created them does not make sense to me—not even “scientifically” (as American Gods, as argued, tries to do). It is much more believable, to me, to take a Perelandraian view of mythology in fiction. Where the gods are gods of space and time. Where the gods are found in science itself. Where they caused the big bang and populate other worlds like a colonial race of aliens. Whatever. Words may create worlds, but belief does not make gods. Even if I suspend disbelief for a fiction, this belief cannot logically create gods I accept. At most, I feel like humans have the power to summon with words—summon beings like demons—a demon who was already in existence. A demon who can tell me whatever name he’d like. But we cannot create. Maybe we can shape and influence, yes, but we do not command reality like Gaiman suggests we do—and command may be the wrong word here. We have power, but no control over it in his story.

But enough of me entertaining constructivist excuses that I’m not sure I’m executing correctly.

In episode 7 of American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeny,” it is implied that one person alone brings Mad Sweeny the leprechaun to America. If one single person can cause the existence of an imaginary being, then why aren’t more children’s night terrors running about (a happening I would say occurs more than their belief/understanding in God). There are too many holes to poke into Gaiman’s method of believing. Sure, there are plenty of holes you could poke in current theologies and beliefs (thus, atheism) but shouldn’t we—if we are to suspend disbelief anyways—account for what we believe gods are originally? If, for instance, we are to believe that leprechauns or X god exists in the U.S. because one person believed in them, yet that person didn’t know to believe in them unless she was told about them in the first place this becomes the “chicken or the egg” scenario. Which is not what myth typically is. Mythology is typically an answer to the “chicken or the egg” dilemma, not the dilemma itself. Gaiman shouldn’t use mythology to answer his Big Questions if he makes his own answer irrelevant.

I am starting to disagree that myths are “compost” as Gaiman states, for this overlooks myths as living, breathing plants woven into current narratives and practice. Gaiman does not weave into what already exists—American Gods is not another branch on the tree. Allow me to be dramatic: it is a stolen piece of nature. And when you chop off plant parts, yes, sometimes the seeds and stems can take new root. You can graft something new. But the old trunk you stole from is still sitting there. Or the plucked fruit shrivels up. Or, you get a bad seed.

Parts of American Gods can’t grow or take root. Instead of nurturing the plant-that-is-world-myth that is already firmly planted, Gaiman whacks away at it. Yet again, he renders the gods infertile. He does the very “desiccating” he claims to avoid. He wants to “create it” as if it is not already in existence and as if myth is not a communal, cultural act. As if picking flowers here and there to make his own floral bouquet (that will eventually wilt) will somehow give him a clearer understanding of what he has destroyed. And perhaps it does give a clearer view. It got me talking about mythology, for sure. But it is so much more satisfying when the author works within the constraints of what is already established—grows from the same tree rather than try to be an entirely new plant all together. Myths/stories are not compost. We are the compost. We are what they grow from. We are what the stories live in and sprout from.

Mythology is not like the fairy tale. Fairy tales are retold in countless renditions. They are the story archetypes whose characters (more so, story structure) can be pasted into other contexts. Mythical characters/stories cannot have this done to them so well because mythology is the context. The characters are myth/religion/reality itself—representations of forces of nature and culture. If you take such characters, you automatically change nature and culture (rather, you try and fail to, because let’s be honest, your story is weaker than the richness of our reality). It doesn’t translate.

Arguably, this myths-as-compost has been done long before Gaiman (read: Thor and Wonder Woman and countless other comic book characters), but never has mythology been so controlled by one man. Arguably, comics before him were still a communal art form. Now Gaiman slaps his name on them and creates his monomyth according to his own selection. In his Columbia essay he states American Gods “will be, for me, a way of trying to pin down myths—the modem myths and the old myths, together—on the huge and puzzling canvas that is the North American continent. …I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.” And this is part of the problem too—his trying to pin down the myths like dead insects to be studied. America, especially Native America, needs no outsider to explain their myths to them. America, yes, needs to look inward sometimes. But perhaps let us have a say in our own cultural mythmaking? But that would go, perhaps, against the Gaiman brand: neo-colonialism.

Thank you for letting me put these messy chunks of thought out there. They might be worth chipping away at later. Polishing.

This post was updated on 5/10/18 and 3/3/2019 and 6/4/19.

BOOK REVIEW: Marvel 1602 is just boring fanfiction

This was a DNF for me. I read it because a co-worker mentioned it for a project he was doing. I didn’t realize Neil Gaiman had written it when we were talking about it.

I don’t really respect Neil Gaiman’s work,  but I just wanted to confirm my own biases against him. I feel like he tends to steal his characters in a lazy way to get his story across, like he does with myth while ignoring the actual mythology behind the characters–this is exactly what he does with the Marvel ones. It’s appropriative in a way that makes me angry. I’m still working out why. Probably because he gets literary recognition for it while fanfiction writers don’t.

I didn’t find the story that interesting, so I just stopped. I’ve never read a Gaiman story that was ever actually satisfying. His concepts are usually more interesting than the work itself. And it doesn’t mean a whole book needs to be written about it.

Other reviews I agree with:

I can’t tell you what I hated most: Neil Gaiman’s insistence on being precious to the point of absurdity…the contrived meta-story about time travel, or the convoluted historical tie-ins that didn’t even make any sense, let alone enhance the story (dinosaurs, Neil? Really?).


This book feels a bit painting-by-numbers to me, or as if it was done by Gaiman as an intellectual exercise rather than because he had a story he wanted to tell. It never really takes off or becaomes particularly exciting or interesting, and unusually for Gaiman, I can’t think of one quotable line of dialogue from this book. Dull, dull, dull.


Never quite got past the “this is just a dumb gimmick” stage for me. Like so many Gaiman projects, its strength lies in little striking moments but the overall story arc is pretty unsatisfying.

The Wicked + The Divine Faust Act had nothing to do with Faust

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever. Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1-5

This is Volume 1 of the series. It was OK.  As a mythology fangirl, I have a few nit-picky things with this one. One being the term “incarnate.” It doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more like the gods possess the bodies of humans. And it’s not like it’s really full-on gods possessing these humans, either. They don’t seem very powerful.

They say they don’t use their powers so that they don’t scare humans, so it’s hard to tell how omnipotent they are. But, when they do show their powers, they have to do things like snap their fingers to get them to work, which isn’t as godlike as I’d prefer. There’s limitations.

Other limitations being that they can only live for 2 years. And why the fuck it’s every 90 years that this cycle picks back up again is never explained. At least, if it was, I can’t repeat it back to you because I missed it. And by 90 years is it really 90 years then plus 2 years and THEN 90 years again? I didn’t pay attention to the dates thrown at me, but if I have to do math to understand your mythos NO THANKS.

Anyway, the whole snapping thing seemed to equal limited power. Is their power draining? If so, why? Also, is it really not the full form of the god possessing the human body? I could buy that then. That would make sense. Like, if the gods just put a part of themselves in the human just to see what would happen.

But it also seems like part of the human self remains in the body because they seem to care about what happens to their bodies. Is this caring because gods are all trapped somewhere and wanting their turn to be let out in human form? Or is it because part of the god is like “It’s not fair to the young human I’m possessing that they have to die so young?” Not really clear.

Another issue I have with the book is that the gods are all pop stars. Sure, it’s a great way to make money, but if you’re a god WHY NOT CREATE MONEY? Oh, wait. It’s because they want to inspire fans and to be admired. Hm. OK. Why? Seems like this is a contradiction of laying low (not using their full powers). Also, the pop stars are pretty unoriginal — you can tell what pop stars inspired them.  This is probably intentional, but I don’t see how they’re not being sued.

And can we just talk about Lucifer? She looks like a knockoff of Tilda Swinton’s Gabriel in Constantine:

Also, Ananke is old and the same age throughout the 90 year cycle, calling them back into new bodies. HOW?

Why doesn’t she have to die? Why is she not in the game? Does she have the gods locked up somewhere? How’d she manage that?  NEED TO KNOW HOW THE GAME WORKS BEFORE I PLAY.

Also, “Faust Act” is misleading. There is nothing to do with alchemy in this book. Dr. Faust summoned demons for alchemical powers. This isn’t really about that…unless you say Ananke is Dr. Faust in this analogy. Or maybe it has something to do with the devil (Luci) being such a main focus in this one. Anyway, it felt like just one more reference that was jammed in there in their attempt to look cool. 

Lots of questions that lead me to want to (grudgingly) read the next volume, I guess.

But I’m getting tired of these complete rewrites of mythology. You don’t have to recreate the rules to make something interesting. There’s something more creative in keeping things as they are and working within the cultural constraints that would make the story all the more creative rather than just stealing interesting mythical characters you like, like Neil Gaiman does. It’s just as bad as all the “updated fairy tales” these days, recycling characters just like recycled plots. It’s got to stop.

Recommended stories of what I mean that don’t do the Neil Gaiman thing: The Library at Mount Char, Fifteen Dogs, The Automation, The Philosopher Kings… Those work within established myth and theology but create new characters and new plots. Someone back me up here?!?

Other reviews I agree with:

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE . . . was a lot of shiny distractions with periodically deadpan dialogue to mask the lack of substance in the plot. Not impressed. Not recommended.


I enjoyed this, but I found it difficult to follow at times and it felt rather undeveloped. I definitely want to continue on with this series, but I can’t deny that I wasn’t very impressed with this first volume.


The Wicked and the Divine had this special something about it that kept me interested the entire time I was reading it.
But once I finished, I was like…that’s it?

BOOK REVIEW: The Norse Myths: A Guide to Gods and Heroes by Carolyne Larrington

I haven’t read a nonfiction book so hungrily as I did this one. Larrington explains the myths in a way that made sense to me and I had never realized why the Norse myths didn’t make sense until now. At last! The nonsense makes sense.

There is a history behind the record — a Christian history — that I never knew overshadowed them so completely. We really are making things up as we go along.

Larrington gives these shadows the best body I’ve yet read.

At least, in the first half. You have to go in knowing a bit about Norse myth to begin with. And I did. So, the part about the gods was fascinating. The latter half — the part about the heroes — kind of fizzled out for me because I think Larrington assumes you should know a bit about characters like Sigmund too (which I don’t really — humans don’t interest me too much) to be able to understand what she illuminates. And I’m sure she illuminates some fascinating points, just like she did with the gods. But the fact is my eyes glaze over when talking about the heroes still for some reason. I’m sure if I read the Wikipedia pages on them and then went back to the last half of this book I’d be like “Oh, how fascinating.” But currently I do not feel compelled to.

What is fascinating is that Larrington mentions modern day novels that dabble with Norse myth. I’m not talking shitty books like American Gods but ones like LOTR and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.  Larrington juxtaposes the old and the new. I really recommend this book.

Larrington is a professor of medieval English Literature who has written books on Game of Thrones, too. 

Suck it, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.  You should have read this book before being published.

See also: Ursula K. Le Guin didn’t like Neil Gaiman’s representation of gods. And, Domesticating Trolls.

Books I’ll Never Read #8 – Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

So, because I hated American Gods, I’m not ever going to read this one.

Let me just remind you, with some other reviews from Goodreads, why Neil Gaiman gets mythology all wrong:

The basic idea: the more worshippers a God has, the more powerful they are. The plot: there is a building power struggle between the old Gods (Norse, Native American, pagan, etc.) and the new Gods (Technology, Television, Money, etc.). Okay, I’ve heard the ratio-of-worshippers-to-power idea before so that’s not so original. But it’s not a deal breaker. It has potential. Here’s the unique twist in American Gods that caused my political antenna to start twitching—every God (like say Odin) has an “avatar” of him or herself in each country. Or is it each continent? Gaiman’s not quite clear about that. Would there be an Odin in Belgium and Luxembourg? Or does all of Europe get one Odin who is different from the American Odin? I find it politically disagreeable to suggest that every country (or even continent) has different God-avatars. To make this the premise turns intangible political entities (nations) into strictly bordered spiritual containers. It’s parochial thinking. I disagree with this premise radically because I reject that people of a given “nation” are somehow bonded spiritually. Countries are artificial. Like Afghanistan. Like how we stole the native people’s land to form America. I ascribe to the perspective that while people should always be fighting for political freedom and better political systems locally and nationally, we are truly citizens of the world together. The premise of American Gods manages to privilege the people in one country as somehow being united in their spiritual energy, feeding the Gods only within that country. As a metaphor (Gaiman repeatedly feels the need to state that this premise is a metaphor) it fails.

If we’re dealing with powerful gods, where was the Christian one?

Second, yes I understand Gaiman’s use of metaphor in the story. The “new gods” are the internet, credit cards, television, etc, etc. but since I’m an American and Gaiman is a Brit, I just don’t see America the way he does. Afterall, the Brits have internet, credit cards and television too! The entire world has come to worship these things and so his attributing them to America feels a little like criticism. His road trip across America was not recognizable to me. I guess I live in a different America and if I want a road trip, give me Jack Kerouac’s On the Road…..oh yeah.

I am really into mythology and found that Gainman’s portrayal of the new gods to be weak. I know about Norse myth. I know about Egyptian myth; however, if America has created new gods then what are their myths? He barely gets into any of them at all, which was disappointing. That could have been very profound especially if the idea is that America has completely different gods based on our culture versus the old gods.

Even the novel’s basic premise (that America is a land unfit for gods because only the land itself could attract worship) flies in the face of history, as i can think of at least three major world religions that have thrived and given birth to new sects here — several of which have since spread to become massive international sects. Likewise, his reductionist approach to Native American religion is remarkably offensive, in that it dismisses every aspect of every Native American religious tradition which is not connected to Earth-worship.

I just read The Golom and the Jinni and it had a lot of little character stories, but in the end, they all came together and made sense. The ending was so much more satisfying when all the parts have a reason for being there.

I’m afraid when an author becomes “famous”, editors start to over look all the normal criticisms they would have if a nobody author wrote such a thing. This book is in sore need of a ruthless editor.