Phaethon

A story is only as good as its villain. Once I set my novel in the Bronze Age, it was inevitable that I choose Phaethon for that role. In Greek mythology, Phaethon was the bastard son of Helios, the Sun God, and a mortal woman. Desperate to prove his divine patrimony to his unbelieving friends, he tricked his father into letting him drive the chariot of the sun, but he was unable to handle its immortal horses. The team panicked at his mortal touch and alternately bolted into the heavens, freezing parts of the Earth, and swooped too near the ground, burning vast regions to desert. When the Earth herself cried out for help, Zeus struck Phaethon with a thunderbolt, killing him and saving the planet.

Jan van Eyck – Fall of Phaethon

Phaethon has long been a metaphor for humanity’s tendency to embrace technologies we cannot safely manage, which gives him a contemporary resonance.

Swarm: Metamorphosis assumes that Phaethon escaped death, but that Zeus’ bolt left him disfigured, driven mad with pain, and obsessed with vengeance against the gods who rejected, then nearly killed him.

Phaethon was also Circe’s half brother through their father, Helios, but the enchantress is of pure immortal blood. For this reason (and others revealed in the book), Circe becomes the singular object of his hatred.

There is nothing like an immortal blood feud to spice up a story.

[The gods] are said to be immortal, but that means nothing. Anyone can be killed . . .

Would a god’s death bring some sense of finality? Something worthy of ceremony?

Would a god die prettily, like a hero in a play, with no blood or excrement staining his immortal robes, just an immaculate catharsis spoken in perfect meter. Would we exit the theater with moistened eyes, stumbling into a world without gods? Or would the fools simply create a replacement, perhaps choose one of their own . . . to become their new god?”

Phaethon

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