McCauley’s (It All Started with a Bicycle, 2011) novella, inspired by the Greek myths, tells a short story about Hephaestus and his grand plans for mankind.
Hephaestus, Greek god of blacksmiths and craftsmen, has a pretty good life on Mount Olympus even if he’s the ugliest god. He’s married to Aphrodite; he has a beautiful home that he made for himself; and has a workshop in the volcano Aetna. Despite these pleasures, he has been risking it all by helping humans advance in their technology. Knowing that he risks Zeus’ wrath by doing so, he goes to the cliffs by the Hyrcanian Sea to visit Prometheus, whom he’d heard was given a terrible punishment for bringing fire to the mortals. Hephaestus sees the fate of the chained Prometheus: a vulture devours his organs, a daily torment for the immortal. Shaken, Hephaestus still wants to help the mortals create a new invention. His mischievous wife, Aphrodite, can tell that he’s up to something, and she devises a disguise to allow her to follow him. She tails him to 1708 England, where Hephaestus plans to cross paths with a man named Thomas Newcomen. The consequence implied by this story is that human advances in technology have downsides, even perhaps leading to our destruction as a species. This novella leaves it at that, however, and its conclusion doesn’t offer any specifics about innovation leading to destruction, although readers are likely able to come up with their own thoughts on the subject. The prose has just the right amount of lush description of the world of the gods, and the characterization gives a little extra inner life to the immortals we already know.
A well-written riff on Greek mythology that poses more questions than it answers.