When I was 19, I wrote a story called “Bookgirl and the Mystery of the Dead Gods” that I later expanded and retitled “The Animal Machine”. It was about a clerk named Beatrice whose head was occupied by mutated fragments of old archetypes. There was Mr. Bird (Thoth), Mr. Strobe (Quetzalcoatl), and Mr. Trench (Jörmungandr). She dislikes this possession, but the gods give her someone to talk to.
The story had a lot of problems with structure and pacing and I eventually dropped it. The ideas were fun, though, and I might go back to it some day. When I showed it around to people back in the day, they said, “Have you read American Gods?”
I hadn’t. I’d simply been reading lots of Jung and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Then, last year, I finally read American Gods, and then Anansi Boys, and then “The Monarch of the Glen”. Obviously, I liked Neil Gaiman’s world.
Some time later a story came up on PodCastle called “The Nalender”. It was about small gods who feed of belief, and a system of power based around that idea. I liked that one, too.
A few weeks ago, I finished China Miéville’s Kraken. I liked it. I really, really liked it.
Gaiman focuses more on familiar, dusty gods and mythical creatures. Miéville’s world is more animistic: anything that can be a metaphor can have a bit of god to it. A lightbulb, a key encased in concrete, or a giant squid preserved in formaldehyde. I love this kind of stuff. The thing all of these systems have in common is the power of belief: the more believers a god has, the more powerful or real he becomes.
There’s something about theology/mythology that’s really appealing to areligious writers of weird fiction. If you look at the tenents of religious belief as implausible as say, magic, it’s easy to construct a world based around them. Lots of speculative fiction asks, “What if magic was real?” In the last 20 years or so, more speculative fiction writers have been asking, “What if religion were real?”