City of the Gods: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, a novel by Patrick Garone, is a unique fusion of science fiction and fantasy combining space travel, lost civilizations, mythical creatures, and alternate timelines sure to delight the genre fan. It sounds complex- and it is- yet it is told in a straightforward, easy to read manner that won’t make your head spin even when you’re trying to pronounce the complicated names of the characters to yourself (there’s a handy guide in the back for this). Garone may be a first time novelist, but his initial effort is hard to put down.
The story begins as the siblings Eddie and Sandra Ramírez find themselves in the front row of an amazing event in their native Mexico City- an enormous spaceship has appeared in the sky over the city center, and it starts addressing the citizens in a language that few understand in modern-day Mexico: Nahuatl. Due to Sandra’s on site location and expertise in the language, this graduate student of cultural anthropology is recruited by the government to help the Presidential task force to communicate with the new arrivals. Blinded by the prospect of interacting with beings that could unravel the mysteries of the ancient civilization that built the Teotihuacán pyramids, Sandra accepts the job and is tied to events that may lead to the destruction of the very culture she wishes to protect.
Meanwhile, Sandra’s teenage brother Eddie is left in Mexico City and is witness to an epic battle between huge mythical beasts that are somehow related to the arrival of the spaceship. The whole city is in a panic. Newly elected President Carrasco finds it difficult to face this exceptional challenge, and feels the pressure of his cabinet, the media, and the special envoy from Washington who demands a swift military solution.
Although the ‘alien arrival’ plot may sound familiar, City of the Gods adds the elements of Mesoamerican mythology, the modern-day Mexican experience, and the heightened paranoia of a post 9/11 world. Also, you learn a thing or two about pre-conquest Mexican deities and Mexican history.
I don’t want to get too specific here to not ruin the plot so to give you an idea of what to expect, this book reminded me of the Stargate movie, Indiana Jones, and Godzilla with a dash of Cthulu. It is refreshingly devoid of romantic entanglements and needless subplots. It would make an excellent alien invasion movie that’s different and uniquely Mexican.
I had the opportunity to interview author Patrick Garone, who is a Chicagoan of Italian heritage. He is a fellow sci-fi geek (he particularly enjoys Fringe and Alien) who speaks Spanish and is a long-time member of a Latino sketch comedy ensemble. Here’s what he said:
About Garone’s creative process for City of the Gods:
I have a theory about stories. I believe that the parts of stories- characters, themes, plots-are all out there and a writer is just someone who is lucky enough to tune into them. Over the years I was able to tune into all of the elements of City of the Gods. It’s all stuff that I am really into. It’s really a weird story that grew out of a place where a lot of my interests overlap: politics, Japanese monster movies, anthropology, time travel, etc. At some point, I was like “Aha! I can put all this together into a cool story.”
I worked on it on-and-off for about two and a half years. Originally, it was going to be a screenplay but I was very unhappy with the way that it came out. It’s funny, because it has obvious cinematic roots, but that first draft was really bad because the characters were very flat and sort of monster movie stock characters. When I started writing it in prose it just came alive and began to decompress.
My challenge was that I knew it was essentially going to be a giant monster story, but I wanted to tell a really good giant monster story with vivid characters and a point of view and something to say.
I particularly liked Sandra because she wasn’t waiting to be rescued but wasn’t Wonder Woman either.
Well, my background is in the theater and in improvisation so I really like to feel like I am inhabiting my characters. I like to get under their skin and make them real and quirky.
How much did you know about Mesoamerican culture (the gods, symbolism, history) before you started writing? How historically accurate is it aside from the science fiction aspect?
I knew quite a bit actually. I am a real archeology buff and I have traveled to most of the major sites in Mexico and Central and South America. Most of the research actually was about Cortés and the conquest for the opening section [of the book] which was originally much longer. […] if anything turns out to be inaccurate, it is due to alternate universes, for which I am not responsible. But yes, you can trust most of the stuff Sandra [the cultural anthropologist] says.
Although you are an American with Italian heritage, you wrote this book with a special sensitivity towards Latinos. I read on your website that you are a member of a Latino theater company.
I guess I’m what you call “latinamericanizado.” I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of really close Latino friends and associates, who have turned me on to a lot of Latino culture. I work with Salsation Theatre Company, which is one of the first and only Latino sketch comedy and improv companies in the US. I came on board through a friend and really fell in love with the tight family vibe. It’s funny though, as an Italian American I have a different perspective especially on the whole immigration issue, which I see as being really cyclical. A lot of the ugliness and xenophobia that we see now is really eerily like what we had in the 20’s directed towards the Italian community. The immigrant experience in the US is really a long continuum.
What’s next for you?
I feel like promotions for this book will keep me busy at least through the end of the year but I have something that is percolating. I have to see if it sticks or not. But at some point, I’d like to revisit Quetzalcoatl. I feel like he has some more stories in him.
Where can we purchase City of the Gods?
Right now the book is available on Amazon.com and on my site. It will be coming to the Kindle Store in December for those newfangled anti-paper people.
City of the Gods is a great read, and considering this is Garone’s first novel, I expect even greater ones in the future. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.