One of my most highly anticipated novels this year is The Prey of Gods, a debut from Nicky Drayden with a cover that caught my eye and a blurb that made my heart start thumping. I have read it, and a review will be up next week consisting mostly of me jumping up and down for joy and yelling at people to listen to me when I tell them to pick up a book. And as I am wont to I then begged for the opportunity to ask the author a few questions.
Thankfully I once again got a yes. But first the vitals! The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, release date of June 13, 2017 from Harper Voyager.
In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:
A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .
An emerging AI uprising . . .
And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.
It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.
And now, for the Q & A…
Wow, so I asked for the pleasure of conducting a Q&A after reading The Prey of Gods and yet I find myself somewhat speechless. There are so many moving parts to your glorious book I have no idea where to start. So I start with a thank you of course, I know with release day coming up your time is precious.
Can we start with an easy one? I am having a hell of a time describing your book in my review. So could you give us a quick and easy pitch for The Prey of Gods?
ND: The Prey of Gods takes you on a raucous romp through a futuristic South Africa brimming with disgruntled demigoddesses, sentient robots, and hallucinogenic hijinks.
The Prey of Gods has magic, ancient demi-gods, a robot uprising, genetically engineered creatures and this is just what is mentioned on the dust-jacket. I am sure you know many speculative fiction readers love to put their bookshelves into nice categories. Sooo (evil grin) forced to choose did you write a fantasy or science-fiction book?
ND: In my mind, science and magic are pretty much interchangeable, which is probably why I enjoy combining them so much. Is a robot gaining sentience magic? Is creating a new species of animal in a lab magic? How do those things differ from a deity bringing trees to life? If magic is simply acting upon forces that we don’t yet understand, why does that make it fantastical?
But forced to choose?
I guess since it has a giant robot on the cover, it’d have to sit under science fiction.
I seem to ask a variation of this question in almost every Q&A but it never fails to interest me. What was put to page first, the basics of the plot or specific characters you wanted to follow?
ND: When I sat down to write this, all I had were character sketches and a setting. There are six point-of-view characters, most of which have never met one another, and my challenge was to weave their stories together in a cohesive manner, and oh, work in some kind of a plot, too. The characters are all connected in various and multiple ways.
For example, in Sydney’s first chapter, she’s giving a magical manicure to a woman who’s attending a fundraiser for Councilman Stoker. In another scene, Rita Natrajan, the pop diva in the story, unknowingly shares a robot taxi with Muzi’s brother-in-law and is secretly romantic with Muzi’s best friend’s cousin. It’s a knotty tangle of threads, but I think a few snags make the tapestry more interesting.
To follow up, do you have a favorite character in this book and if so why?
ND: It’s so hard to pick. I put bits and pieces of myself in each of the characters, and I love how flawed they all are, but if I had to choose, I’d say Muzi. He’s loyal to a fault, tries too hard to please people, oscillates between self-confidence and extreme self-doubt from one minute to the next. His mind is all over the place, and sometimes he doesn’t make the best decisions, but he’ll be there when you need him. He’s far from perfect, which I think makes it easier for readers to relate to him.
In your South African future there is something of a utopia being built and the trouble comes not so much from human hubris (the usually distopian downfall) but from an ancient force out of humanity’s control. So do you look at The Prey of Gods as a somewhat optimistic take on the future or with a bit of fatalism?
ND: I wouldn’t call it a utopia, but things are definitely on the mend. They’re recovering from an economic revolution brought on by cheap robot labor in a workforce that already has issues with massive unemployment. They’re bringing back species that have been driven to extinction. Since Port Elizabeth isn’t ten feet under water, we can assume climate change has slowed, or even been reversed.
Looking at potential futures, I’d say this one ranks in the top 10% of favorable outcomes based on current trends. I guess it could be considered a utopia compared to where we’re probably headed, but there’s always room for optimism.
I tried to use Google but have failed to find an answer. Is the creation story that Mr Tau tells have any historical basis or is it your own creation? Likewise I would like to know if Sydney has a backstory one could look up.
ND: They’re both my creations. I love creation myth, and dabbled in my own in this story. The Prey of Gods was written during National Novel Writing Month in 2009, and Mr. Tau’s creation story was born when I was trying desperately to hit my word count goal for the day. The story is a bit circular and repetitive (hello word padding!) but I think it has an old-world feel that ties nicely into the main narrative.
Sydney has always been her own demigoddess, but she’s masqueraded as a witch, as a seer, and as other traditional roles of power over the centuries to better fit into society. She’s learned to blend into humanity, but she’s never been good at hiding her magic completely.
I know an author usually has little to no control over the cover but thus far I would call the cover for your book the best I have seen all year. Was there a small dance of joy (or otherwise appropriate celebration) when you first saw it?
ND: I’m still dancing! Actually, I was very involved in the process. I discovered the original image while putting together a Pinterest page of cover ideas for my editor. There was no artist attribution anywhere I could see, but somehow my awesome editing team tracked down the artist (Brenoch Adams), and he was open to making some modifications so the cover would better fit the book. I gave him a giant stack of source materials and character sketches (I have some obsessive tendencies when it comes to these things), and he hit every detail, and surpassed my expectations.
One last question from me. I loved this book and it wrapped up fairly tight. What can I look forward to from you in the near future? Will there be more from this world? And what might you be working on now (besides lots and lots of code of course)?
ND: I’d planned The Prey of Gods as a standalone, but definitely left a few threads loose in case the story ever demands I write more. Right now, just a few days ago actually, I finished the draft to my second book. It’s an African-inspired humorous dark fantasy with a heavy helping of steampunk. More gods and robots to look forward to!
Thank you once again for your time. I loved Prey of Gods and will do my best to shout about it across the internet.
ND: Wow, thanks for having me. So glad you enjoyed the book!
I love the opportunities blogging gives me. Thank you to Nicky Drayden for taking the time to answer these questions. Please show you appreciation by commenting below, but more importantly by READING THIS BOOK and then telling the world about it.