Like a few other disasters brought about by the unpredictable fury of nature, the destruction of Pompeii occupies an outsize place in our collective imagination considering the relative number of lives lost—to the point that it even inspired a recent Hollywood blockbuster. Next year, Titan Books will release New Pompeii, the debut novel by Daniel Godfrey, which will look at the tragedy through the lens of science-fiction, beginning from an irresistible premise: what if, shortly before Mount Vesuvius erupted, scientists from the future were able to transport nearly all of the city’s residents forward in time?
This sci-fi/fantasy mashup already has our wheels spinning, and it isn’t out until next June! Fortunately, Titan has given us an exclusive excerpt to whet our appetites…and an exclusive peek at the cover. You’ll find both following the publisher’s blurb, which outlines the plot in a bit more detail.
Sometime in the near future, energy giant NovusPart develops technology with an unexpected side-effect: it can transport objects and people from deep in the past to the present day.
For post-grad historian Nick Houghton, the controversy surrounding the programme matters less than the opportunity the company offers him. NovusPart’s executives reveal their biggest secret: they have saved most of the people from Pompeii, minutes before the volcanic eruption. Somewhere in central Asia, far from prying eyes, the company has built a replica of the city. In it are thousands of real Romans.
The Romans may be ignorant of modern technology—for now—but city boss Manius Barbatus wasn’t appointed by the emperor because he was soft. The Romans carved out the biggest empire the world had ever seen, thanks to the uncompromising leadership of men like Barbatus. The stage is set for the ultimate clash of cultures…
Keep reading for an excerpt from New Pompeii, publishing in June 2016 from Titan.
Historian Nick Houghton has arrived in New Pompeii, a replica of the Roman town built by Novus Particles, an energy company that has created the technology to pull people forward through time. The town is now populated with real Romans, saved just before the eruption of Vesuvius.
Nick continued to curse all the way to the courtyard. As soon as he stepped into the open air, a security guard directed him through a doorway marked CONTROL ROOM. The room was dominated by rows of video screens.
Their glare was sufficient to plunge the rest of the space into relative gloom. It took a few moments for Nick’s eyes to adjust but, once they had, he realised he was being shown images from security cameras.
This was his first glimpse of New Pompeii.
Nick felt his breath grow shallow. Each screen showed a different view of the town. And there they were. The people of Pompeii. Walking around the streets of their new home. Eating. Drinking. Rolling dice. Just going about their daily lives.
“You like my town?”
The man was completely bald, with a satisfied smile on his face. And from the look of the video feeds, his smugness was entirely deserved. Behind him, Whelan prowled.
“Yes,” said Nick, his throat dry. “I can’t wait to visit.”
“Well, it’s a few hours by horse. Have you ridden before, Mr…?”
“This is Dr Houghton,” cut in Whelan, stepping forward. “Nick, meet Robert Astridge, our project architect.”
Nick offered his hand.
The architect shot a glance at Whelan, his grin turning sardonic. “I take it you’re here to replace Professor Samson?”
Replace. That word again.
“Yes,” he said.
“Well, I don’t see your work as being that relevant to be honest. Samson’s work was almost complete – you can’t keep on advising about the historical details of a town when the buildings are occupied, can you?”
Maggie gave an impatient sigh. “At least you look a bit more human today, Dr Houghton.”
“Thank you. But you can drop the ‘doctor’. It’s still something of a work in progress.”
“I see. It seems odd to have replaced an eminent professor with a student, doesn’t it?”
Nick swallowed, not knowing what to say. Certainly Whelan didn’t appear to want to cut in and justify his appointment. “Someone mentioned something about a briefing?”
“So, Nick,” said Whelan. The NovusPart operations chief took a step forward. “What do you think the most important thing is, in making all of this work?”
Nick’s mind cycled quickly, trying to find an answer that wouldn’t make him look stupid. The buildings? The logistics? The technology?
It always boiled down to people. He looked back at the screens. Thought about what this all meant from their perspective. “You brought them here just before they were about to die,” he said, letting his thoughts click into place. “They would have seen the eruption. Felt the earthquakes in the days leading up to it. Maybe seen the ash fall. So when they woke up here, they would want to know what had happened.”
“Spot on,” replied Whelan, smiling. “It’s all about the story. Anybody going in or out of New Pompeii has to remember it, and stick to it. We’ve tried to keep it simple. The people here think they’re still in Pompeii. A good three quarters of the town is physically similar; the eruption and tremors account for the changed landscape beyond the walls.”
“So no volcano?”
“And no water either – we’re way inland.”
Nick felt his eyebrows raise, but didn’t say anything. The strangeness of the town map suddenly clicked into place. Pompeii had been a trading port. But there was plenty of evidence that Pompeii and neighbouring Herculaneum had experienced their fair share of sea level changes. So it wasn’t entirely implausible…
“The Italian peninsular is in chaos,” Whelan continued. “Travel between towns is prohibited. They have to stay in the town and make the best of it.” Whelan’s voice rose, as if taken in by the story himself. Maybe he was. “By order of the Emperor.”
“The good news is that the populace were so shell-shocked they believed it straight away,” said Astridge. “We’ve got them all settled into their new homes.”
“How’s the economy working?”
Whelan grimaced, then turned to Astridge. “You see, Robert? I knew our new historical advisor would get to the nub of the issue.” He turned back to Nick. “We’re getting there,” he said. “Pompeii made its money mainly from wine.”
“Yes. Quite. But once the vineyards and olive groves are up and running, we can take their wine and oil, and in return give them anything they want. But we’re supporting the economy externally for the time being.”
“What about us?”
“We have a house at the centre of town. It looks like a Roman villa but is in fact a central control station.”
“Great,” said Nick. “But, again, with due respect… you said all the population is from Pompeii. But we’re not. What’s our story?”
Whelan smiled. “We’re their saviours, Nick.”
From beside him, Astridge chuckled. “Sent by the God Emperor himself, Augustus Caesar.”