“Phos and fire!” is a curse commonly heard in the dark city of Vox, centrepiece of Dark Star. In Vox, the phrase is an utterance, a piece of mild blasphemy used casually and out of frustration. To a reader, like you, it might also sound a bit familiar. Maybe something in the rhythm of it sparks recognition. And you would be right to think that. The trick is in comparing it to the rhythm of a blasphemy you’re probably very used to hearing. “Jesus Christ!” you might say, having stubbed a toe. Stress on the first and last syllables, and the taking of a name in vain. Same blasphemy, same utterance, different God.
The city of Vox resembles prohibition era New York in a lot of ways. Tall towers, crowds and concrete. Only, instead of a shortage of freely available alcohol, imagine a shortage of readily available light. Imagine, too, the figure of Christ, altered to be a symbol of a population lusting after light. Imagine Phos, the star-faced God of Vox.
Tailoring a religion to a society created from a science fiction idea is a lot of fun, and actually a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. There’s that fundamental question: how much does a society represent its religion, and how much does a religion represent its society? The answer, I think, is that it varies wildly, and that opinion is liable to differ from person to person. A great example is the USA. Ask one person whether the USA is a Christian nation, and they might tell you no, that the constitution separates church and state, and that society is not exclusively Christian. But ask another, and they will tell you that the country was founded upon Christian principles, and continues to be informed by Christian morality.
In terms of creating a religion for a science fiction setting, I came to the conclusion that it needed to represent the wants of the people it was for. It needed to answer the questions that they had no readily available answers to, and it also needed to feel quite familiar, for a setting and society that is meant to feel familiar. In that way, I struck a balance between the religion of Vox informing its society, and its society informing its religion. Phos would be a Christ figure, and feel familiar for it, and the church would be a variation on Christianity, with pastors and cathedrals and quiet prayer in pews. But at the same time, my new religion had to be heavily affected by the lack of light in Vox. It had to represent the lust of its citizens.
So, in the eternal dark of their city, citizens would be able to turn to a symbol of light: the literally glowing face of their God. And in this way, his arms outstretched in welcoming, and his statues heavily illuminated, Phos was born.
In Dark Star, the mythology behind Phos is never really explored in detail. Instead, I chose to represent him through dozens of subtleties in the way that the more religious people in Vox interact. There is mention of things like “the sign of Phos,” an eight-pointed star symbolic of their God, along with that mild blasphemy, “Phos and fire!” Mention of “the Garden of Phos” is made as well, and idols turn up from time to time, with various effect. But mostly, I hope that the reader can form their own opinions on Phos and the religion of Vox without an extensive mythology being explored. Hopefully, Phos is a mysterious presence: a background character in his own right, with subtle influence on the world, just as a God should be.
Hopefully, my star-faced God will feel familiar to you. A variation on a theme, perhaps. But most of all, I hope he truly represents the wants of his light-starved congregation: the yearning of the people of Vox for something as simple as a glow by which they might see.
Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Dundee. He has an LLB in Law, and an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, with a distinction. In his own words, he is occasionally seen behind a midi keyboard or shouting into a microphone, but mostly behind a regular household keyboard, agonising over word order.
GS Guest Blogger: Oliver Langmead