June 25, 2017

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Caveat Historia: The Perils of Playing God

New PompeiiDaniel Godfrey’s New Pompeii combines a fresh approach to science fiction with conspiracy, intrigue, and the unpredictability of human nature.

On June 21st, Titan Books will release Daniel Godfrey’s first novel, New Pompeii, a science fiction thriller with a historical twist. We spoke with the author, a traffic engineer in Derbyshire, U.K. to find out more.

Your book involves time travel, as does a lot of science fiction. What makes New Pompeii different from other books?

The story takes place in a near future world, where technology exists that can transport people and objects from the distant past to the present. The unusual thing is that it’s one direction only. No one can go backwards in time and change the past.

So, what’s it being used for—and who’s using it?

A corporation, Novus Particles, uses it to transport the people of ancient Pompeii out of the path of the erupting Vesuvius and into a replica city. The official line is that they are creating a “historical research facility,” and they invite the protagonist—a historian named Nick Houghton—to take part in the project.

You say “official line.” Does your protagonist feel otherwise?

Yes, indeed. There is a conspiratorial element. As you can imagine, if a company had this kind of power, what might they be doing with it? The Nick character is naturally suspicious, but he decides to involve himself anyway. He’s drawn to Roman culture, and ends up getting very involved with the people.

What do the Romans think has happened? Wouldn’t they eventually want to travel to, say, Rome or Messina?

The company has a back story that they tell Nick before they send him in. The people still think they’re in a volcano-damaged Pompeii, and they’ve been saved by their God Emperor, Augustus. They believe it was not just a localized event.

There’s a quote from Pliny the Elder that captures this sense. In his account of the Vesuvius eruption, he said, “the world was on fire.” In my story, the Pompeiians are rebuilding their city, but cut off from a world that they believe has also experienced this catastrophe.

But what happens after they’ve begun to recover?

Historically, the Romans aren’t a people that like being bottled up. They are expansive by nature. Also, they gradually begin to notice discontinuities in their new environment, and their suspicions start growing. That’s where the intrigue of the story comes from, and of course where Nick’s character plays an important part.

Why Pompeii? What drew you to that particular point in history?

I think a lot of people are drawn to it. There was a recent Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum—which has since been taken around the world. It was so popular it had to be extended. The plaster casts of the victims are so real that people readily identify with the tragedy.

The book spans more than one genre. How would you describe it?

It’s a science fiction thriller with a dollop of historical research. I didn’t want just stereotypical Romans dressed in tunics, so I tried to develop several well-rounded, truly Roman characters. It is a mix, however. Someone described it as “Jurassic Park meets Gladiator.”

This is your first published novel. How did that happen?

Actually, I didn’t set out to become a published author. I’ve written several things that didn’t get published, of course, but I mainly wrote New Pompeii for fun and submitted it. The person who became my agent found the manuscript in his “slush pile,” and thankfully convinced Titan to pick it up.

The reviews are pretty impressive so far. Is there any pressure for a sequel?

Yes, I’m actually working on it now. There’s so much history to choose from that I think Nick will have plenty to do.

So, for a librarian considering new titles for acquisition, what would you argue for New Pompeii?

Well, hopefully it’s a fun read! I think it will satisfy fans of science fiction, thrillers—and history buffs like me.

What about New Pompeii as fodder for a library’s book discussion group? Are there deeper themes that readers might ponder?

Certainly the hazards of playing God come into it, but the book raises questions like, “Do each of us have a time?” Of course, it also about what the future may or may not hold.


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