by Leslie What
Published by Tachyon Publications
1 Out of 5 StarsThere seems to be a literary trend of late that involves taking the gods of ancient times and throwing them into a modern day setting. These once powerful deities have been forgotten and struggle to adjust to the mundane day-to-day existence afforded them in an increasingly secular world with little time for or interest in religion. As an early devotee of Edith Hamilton, one might assume that these have been heady times for me. Unfortunately, this genre has been kind of a mixed bag. There's been the good (Neil Gaiman's American Gods and some of Piers Anthony's older Incarnations of Immortality series) and the meh (Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief and Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly). And now we have the bad--Olympic Games.
This is a book that I wanted to love, but it fell short for me. To begin with, there is one fundamental problem with writing about the gods: in the original myths, they're two dimensional characters who only exist to either cause or react to events. Because the gods primarily existed to explain natural forces, they were devoid of personality beyond what was necessary to explain their component in the natural world. That's fine for reading brief myths presented in summary format or stories where the gods appear occasionally to help or hinder a beleaguered hero. It's an entirely different matter when they become the focal point of a full length novel. In fact, Olympic Games began as a short story entitled The Goddess is Alive and, Well, Living in New York City. I would like to find What's original short story as I have a feeling it would be a more successful read for me. As it stands, the gods in Olympic Games remain two dimensional, which may be traditionally accurate but makes for tedious reading. I did not care about any of the characters--not even the humans, who themselves remain two dimensional.
The story focuses on Zeus and Hera. In my opinion, these are the two least interesting gods. Zeus just tossed around the occasional lightning bolt in between bouts of screwing anything with two--or four--legs and a heartbeat; Hera seemingly only existed to bitch about it. So guess what they're doing in present day? Zeus is philandering and Hera is chasing after him. There's little new here. They occasionally encounter difficulties with modern day life, but only to inconsequential and humorless effect. Their powers are used primarily to beguile humans into doing their bidding and, in Hera's case, to constantly change her hair color, her body shape, her sandals, her wardrobe, etc. (a joke that tires very quickly as that ability is possessed by most mortal women and does not a goddess make). There's nary another god in sight as, during the last 1/4 of the novel, it's explained that the others succumbed to ennui (an explanation that should have been provided earlier to give context as to why the other gods are inexplicably MIA). This is a shame as the lackluster narrative involving Zeus and Hera could have been spiced up with the appearance of Athena, Poseidon, Ares, Aphrodite, or just the occasional demigod.
The novel is billed as a screwball absurdist romp, a la Christopher Moore, but there's little in the way of humor here. Sure, there's plenty of absurdity, but it's not particularly funny. There are some clunky and obvious one-liners. If nothing else, the novel made me wish that Christopher Moore would try his hand at this gods-in-the-modern-world genre. If you’re interested in mythology based literature, I would recommend any of the novels previously mentioned in this review or, hey, kick it old school and get a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or revisit Medea, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, The Illiad, or The Odyssey. I think you would find any of them a more rewarding experience.