Savas Abadsidis talks to David Berger about his new book Task Force: Gaea, comics, movies, and Greek Gods.
One of the most intriguing self-published novels in recent years, comes from an AP English teacher in Florida named David Berger. Billed as a Percy Jackson for adults, Task Force: Gaea blends history, myth with all the trappings of a political thriller. If you’ve been looking for that next summer must-read, The Good Men Project has it (as well as the following interview with Mr. Berger)!
What was the initial impetus for the story?
When I was in high school, I wrote a short story called “The Olympus Corps.” for my English class senior year, but back then the premise was a little different. The story took place in outer space and was more of a Star-Trek-meets-Greek-myth, but over time, I moved away from that premise and made the story more earthbound; about ten years before I published the novel, I changed the name to Task Force: Gaea. The story shifted to where I had involved the United Nations Task Force Division, and the idea for the title evolved from that plot element.
Have you always been fascinated by Greek mythology?
Ever since I can remember reading, I’ve been intrigued by Greek mythology, probably from school. I was the kid who read under the blanket at night with the flashlight, and I read Junior Encyclopedias. Entries about the gods, specifically Olympian and Egyptian first, had me captivated. I’m not entirely sure why. I found books on mythology at the local and school library and read them until I could almost recite the myths. Around ten, I become enamored of comic books, specifically Wonder Woman, and when I learned about her Greek mythological roots, that just cemented my interest. In high school, I had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and I tore through that book as if it defined the world; in some senses, it did. I remember watching the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans and that brought the gods to life for me. Comic books fed my lust for those types of stories, and I watched Superfriends and Wonder Woman on TV around that time. These things just fueled my hunger for the ancient world. Later, I discovered more about Egyptian and Norse mythologies, and with playing Dungeons & Dragons, I also learned about mythologies from Ireland, Japan, etc.
Why do you think there’s been a resurgence of interest in this genre?
Songwriter Peter Allen wrote a song called, “Everything Old is New Again,” and I believe that’s so true, but the fantasy genre has shown mythologies for a long time. Currently, with books like Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, movies like Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, and Immortals, we get ancient stories molded for a modern audience. Sometimes, however, the movies take liberties with the stories we know and love, but the spirit of the genre prevails. Magic, sorcery, and superheroes have been the mainstay of the arts in the modern era because, I believe, people still need and want to believe in heroes. There’s something about Heracles, Perseus, and Theseus that hold sway over us that modern, more secular heroes, do not. The exception to that might be Harry Potter, but there’s still the magical element there. Even with social media and the Internet, as well as other forms of technology we can currently avail ourselves of, we (and I include adults) enjoy seeing heroes and gods from a bygone era or ancient culture succeed over seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles. Swords, bows and arrows, and spears—either magical or not—anchor our minds to the time when Homer or Virgil mesmerized us with the Iliad, Odyssey, or the Aeneid. I don’t know if resurgence is the word I would use here; the interest has always been there. I just think modern moviemaking technology and CGI has made it possible to see more realistic magical beings and force us to suspend our beliefs more so than they ever have before. Society loves, and I imagine always will love, the Hero’s Journey in whatever form it comes, but all the more with mythic tales (e.g. Thor in The Avengers is another good example).
Are there any personal narratives weaved in the novel?
Not especially, if I understand the question correctly. The only character who has elements that reflect parts of who I am is Dan Fairmont, being gay and a (college) teacher. I didn’t want the stories or the characters to come from my life, though. First, I don’t think any aspect of my life would make the story any more interesting to the reader, and second, this is fantasy novel; linking characters or plot elements to me or other people I know would make me feel as if I were writing nonfiction with magical elements, if that makes sense.
About how many volumes of the series do you envision?
How many volumes really depend on how many stories I want to tell with these characters. The deeper I delve into Greek mythology and the supporting texts, the more I find fodder for my mind, but I also don’t want to include the same creatures, gods, or ideas in each book. The characters have a finite set of abilities and a prescribed milieu, so if I venture beyond that too much, I fear I’ll dilute the premise of the team. I’ll have to get more inventive, apparently, in order to build more volumes. Storytelling isn’t an exact science, so I could finish book three, for example, and decide I’m done with this set of stories, or I could jump ahead into a different volume or story arc. With each story, the characters take on different dimensions, and they actually mature and grow like real people, so the time will come when I need to say I’m done. I hope that it’s not for a long time, however.
Since you mentioned some of your influences, what is your take on the current slate of comic books and movies at the moment?
I assume you mean Greek mythology-based movies and Wonder Woman, since those are my influences. Greek myths, as with any myths, originated with the oral tradition, so many of these stories have changed from their original telling. Depending on what volume of mythology one reads, he or she will find a prism of stories. Minor details are tweaked depending on the source material, whether it be Hesiod, Homer, Aeschylus, or Ovid. Having seen movies like Immortals, or the revised Clash of the Titans and its sequel, Wrath of the Titans, I can honestly say I don’t enjoy when myths I’m familiar with are changed for the sake of changing them. Immortals tells the story of the hero Theseus and the Minotaur, but it’s not the traditional story of Theseus, Ariadne, and Minos. Rather, the Minotaur serves the mortal king Hyperion, whose name belongs to a Titan, and part of the movie seems to revolve around the Titanomachy, or war between the gods and the Titans. According to mythology, the Minotaur was situated at the center of the labyrinth, and offerings of seven male and seven female virgins were made to appease him. Theseus ventures into the labyrinth, with Ariadne’s help, and defeats the half man, half bull. I prefer mythology be more classical than anything. The recent Clash of the Titans seeks to replace the original tale with a new cast and a slightly different story, although there’s a nod to the original film: Perseus picks up Bubo, the mechanical owl from the first movie, and is instructed to “leave that behind.” While story changes run rampant in the variety of sources in mythology, using the same name as an earlier movie to garner some attachment to it, only to “leave behind” so much of the original idea, seems silly to me.
When DC Comics announced its “nu52” slate of comics, I was initially excited about the idea of having some #1s in my collection, but due to a variety of circumstances, I found that I was less than enamored with the books, namely Wonder Woman. This book has prompted much debate among my friends, some of whom approve of the authorial changes while others stand vehemently against them. I want to say this first: when I fell in love with Wonder Woman, she was the daughter of Hippolyte, queen of the immortal Amazons of Paradise Island. The queen crafted a sculpture out of clay and asked the gods to breathe into it. Through Amazon training, Diana—Hippolyte’s daughter—rose above her sisters through advancing her skills, making her the best Amazon of them all and eventually defeating her sisters in a tournament that would determine who would return the pilot Steve Trevor back to the U.S. I admired her tenacity and desire to challenge herself. A woman, strong in so many ways, raised by women without gender roles thrust upon her, Diana could become whoever she wanted to be.
In the 1980s, DC Comics had a maxi-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths where they systematically erased many characters, only to have them reappear months later in all new series. In 1986, in the new Wonder Woman series, Hippolyte and the Amazons were reincarnations of women struck down by man’s ignorance, and Hippolyte, pregnant in her past life when she was killed, later yearned for a her unborn child and was instructed to create the clay sculpture into which the gods would again breathe new life. Raised by a loving mother and her sisters, she grew into womanhood with a strong foundation. Diana, again, became the best among her sisters and would be an ambassador of her people. The role of women is what drew me to the stories, and it was the role of women that kept me ensorcelled. Two years ago, DC introduced a new line-up, and this time Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyte, and her clay story had de-evolved into myth and legend. Later, when Hera learns of Zeus’ infidelity, she turns the Amazons into snakes, and Hippolyte into stone. This new birth and parentage bothers me greatly, and the idea that Wonder Woman had to be made more relatable is ludicrous, as if giving her a father and a soap opera-style family would make her a better character. Diana no longer had her loving mother, sisters, or the feminine story behind her birth. My Muse had been changed in a way I found deplorable. Change for the sake of change makes no sense to me. I understand companies want to make money, but I don’t feel that all of their choices made sense or had the desired effect.
Who is your favorite Greek god?
Of all the gods, my favorite has to be Apollo, although I’m not sure why he became my favorite. Being the god of music, prophecy, reason, the sun, and healing, his purview gives him strength and substance. These spheres of influence tend to revolve around the mind, too. Additionally, he uses a bow, something that fills me with unrelenting fascination. Part of the allure could also have been that he was the “blond-haired, blue-eyed” god that I wanted to be as a child, after reading story after story about him, I found myself intrigued by his personality, sometimes harsh, sometimes gentle. When I began the short story in high school (that eventually became my novel), I wanted Apollo to figure prominently. For as much light that shined on him, he was continuously shrouded in mystery.