The Big Idea: Mark Teppo

Got faith? This question is more complicated than it seems here in our world — and in the world of Mark Teppo’s Codex of Souls series, of which the newly-released Heartland is the second installment, it’s even more complicated than that. Why? Because in Teppo’s world, faith has a quality to it that’s distinctly different than it is in our world — a quality that, at the very least, makes the world of the Codex of Souls a lot more interesting, in a teleological sense. Here’s Teppo to give you the lay of the land.

MARK TEPPO:

It starts with the idea of faith.  One of the underlying conceits in modern thrillers is the occult macguffin–some divinely blessed thingamajig crafted from technology so otherworldly that our ancestors immediately shat themselves in fear when they realized what it was and then scattered it across the known world like Set hiding the evidence after he dismembered the body of his brother, Osiris. Typically, what separates the rag-tag group of heroes from the band of villains is the idea of faith:  one group believes in the power of the thingamajig, one doesn’t.  These secular empiricists, through the right and principled application of their rational minds, triumph over the apocalyptic dementia of faith and belief.

Or do they?  Because the little trick these writers always pull is to tag on an epilogue wherein they show the reader that maybe–just maybe, if you let them take you down an alternate path a little ways–the zealots weren’t crazy.  Maybe there was something to the mystic device they were seeking.  Maybe God does live in the Machine.

Now, there are two ways to read this technique.  The cynical way, which is to say that writers are aware of the preponderance of some manner of religious belief in their readership, and they don’t want to alienate their audience by sticking to the hard and fast definition of a scientifically discernible universe.  In which case, this little nod and wink at the end is to say, “It’s okay; I understand that you need a little mystery, so here, let me give it to you.”  Or, they actually want to hedge their bets.  They want to leave the door open on the idea of faith.  Perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing, religious zealotry aside.  There may be more things in Heaven and Earth than our wee brains can discern, and we shouldn’t discount the possibility.

But the trouble with that tiny quibble is that it is a thread that will unravel everything.  If the author, who has just spent several hundred pages discounting the religious and philosophical implications of the occult macguffin, suddenly flashes you the secret hand signal–It’s okay; I’m in on the secret!–where does that leave the heroes?  It makes their rational pragmatism just another crazy dogma, and their victory dance into the sunset is the Fool dancing off the edge of the cliff.  Indiana Jones stands on the steps of a building in Washington, D.C. and says, “Damnit, the government can’t take the Ark and put it in a box; it needs to be studied.”  Then Marion sidles up to him and says, “Hey, sailor, can I buy you a drink?”  Really?  These two just witnessed the power of the Hand of God, and they’re heading off to the nearest bar for a drink?

If you’re going to suggest the world is not as it seems, why be so coy about it?  Why have only a few of your characters believe that something lies beyond the Veil?  If you’re going to hunt for occult artifacts, then why wouldn’t people who believe in the occult be working for Team Heroic as well as Team Nefarious?

Once you go there, the rest is easy.  Magic is afoot.  The Grail, the Spear, the Ark of the Covenant, the Emerald Tablet:  they’re all real.  Alchemy works.  Astrology and tarot are viable means of charting and seeing the future.  Aleister Crowley’s maxim of “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law” becomes the driving principle of how the world works.  Occult knowledge is knowledge of the secret workings of God, and you had better believe that everyone who is looking for the secrets is going to know how to use them.

This is the basic premise of the Codex of Souls series.  I assume every occult conspiracy theory, every scrap of religious doctrine, every third-world myth, every blood-soaked grimoire, and every justification for sacrificing babies and cute animals is true.  The entire occult history of the human race is up for grabs, and the rest is a matter of finding patterns in that world of crazy.  You know what? After a while, you start seeing some.

The first two are called Lightbreaker and Heartland, and they’re about faith.  Our hero needs to discover how to have faith in himself, because in a world where everything is true (and nothing is permitted, says the Old Man in the Mountain), believing in yourself is the first step toward discovering some real truth.  If, like the Gnostics attest, you can’t trust the Demiurge, then who can you trust?

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Heartland: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit the Codex of Souls web site, which includes the short story “Wolves, in Darkness,” taking place in the CoS universe. Visit Teppo’s LiveJournal.

19 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Mark Teppo

  1. Wait. Why does this sound so familiar to the Old World of Darkness universe?

    And, besides… you’re not supposed to trust the Demiurge, aren’t you? I mean, Yaldabaoth wasn’t exactly a worthy object of worship, was he?

  2. Unfortunately, Lightbreaker really turned me off. You know that creepy guy at parties who dresses all in black, has an opinion on everything, and claims to have psychic powers and do magick (he insists on the k and reminds you of it every other time he says the word) “but not that wussy Wiccan stuff”? And he never shuts up? The one who’s semi-employed as a freelance artist, which means mostly that he goes to cons and draws nude furry caricatures of everyone he sees?

    That’s who the protagonist reminds me of.

    There was probably a good story buried in Lightbreaker, but the interminable internal monologues (pages at a time, breaking up conversations) drove me away before I finished the book. I skimmed it after about the 2/3 mark.

  3. “Aleister Crowley’s maxim of “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law” becomes the driving principle of how the world works.”

    Isn’t that how the world works?

    Nothing is True. Everything is permitted.

  4. It sounds like fantasy. I like fantasy where gods are not just statue ornaments in temples and excuses for zealots to do what they think is right, but who have a personality and an opinion about what humans do. That’s the thing I’m missing in this description ( I haven’t read the books): if everything is real, then God must be real too. Wouldn’t he have an opinion about who invokes His power and why?

  5. Axe to grind much?
    I’m really not sure of the premise, that somehow SF/FA is dominated by heroes who are science minded, cult-smashing scrooges.

    Have you read any of the tidal wave of books that have come out and that we now call “Urban Fantasy”? What you’re describing here is the premise to nearly all of them. Protagonist is wizard/vampire/excorcist/half-demon/whatever and knows “TEH SEKRETS!” and has to use them to fight the other who use “TEH SEKRETS!” for evil.

    There’s nothing wrong with that. The reason that people love it so much is that it’s a formula that has yet to stop working, and execution on that formula is still the most important piece. But it is a lot more common today than the “secular empiricists”. At least it is at the borders that I go to.

  6. One other thing. “If you like Twilight…” on the cover is probably going to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you will probably get a piece of that crowd. On the other hand, it will be a deal breaker for snobs like me if all they don’t hear about through a fine blog such as this, hosted by such a talented and handsome author (did I mention generous?) as John Scalzi.

  7. unfortunate, but noted.

    I always imagine I’d pick up more of the new Urban Fantasy books that come out at any given time if half of them didn’t have goth babes in tight leather pants holding knives behind their backs.

    I guess it’s better than space-ships firing lasers, though. There weren’t very many of those in the last Harry Dresden book.

  8. I have sampled a small portion of the urban fantasy genre including Lightbreaker. I will say that Teppo’s protagonist Markham is someone that I found hard to warm up to and may not be everyones cup of Jo but his journey in the novel is one I rather enjoyed.
    Mark’s world is one that in positing that it’s all true I think has allowed him to create a setting that is fresh to visit when coming from other modern fantasies like Butchers or maybe Kadray’s. I’m looking forward to Heartland to see what else he has cooked up out of the stew of the mess that is real world occult.

  9. Ok, rereading my earlier posts, I’m being a damn grouch. So I’ll say this:

    “Our hero needs to discover how to have faith in himself, because in a world where everything is true (and nothing is permitted, says the Old Man in the Mountain), believing in yourself is the first step toward discovering some real truth.”

    That’s a good hook. If the answer to the multiple choice question of universal truth is “all of the above”, that suddenly makes things like religions and superstitions more interesting.

  10. I’m reading a series in which “the wussy Wiccans” are the only ones with magic (or at least they’re the only ones who pay attention to it).

    Kind of annoys me. I like undefined, grey heroes and baddies. Sounds like CODEX is something I should take a look at.

  11. goth babes in tight leather pants holding knives behind their backs.

    I guess it’s better than space-ships firing lasers, though.

    Ahh, the ultimate formula has been found – a cover with a leather pants-wearing babe, knife behind her back, on a spaceship firing lasers! I’ll buy that book right now.

  12. So, essentially, Mark Teppo is running with the All Myths Are True trope (wwwdottvtropesdotorg/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AllMythsAreTrue). That’s cool.

    ***WARNING: INCOMING RANT***

    As to Indy and Marion and “These two just witnessed the power of the Hand of God, and they’re heading off to the nearest bar for a drink?”: What’s wrong with that? I tell you what, if I’d witnessed the Ark do that, having a drink is the first thing I’d do. And the second. And third. And maybe fourth.
    But I suppose it’s a fair point that Indy is rather nonchalant about these incredible supernatural discoveries. But that leads me to wonder whether the Indiana Jones movies would be just as compelling (or perhaps more so) if God and Shiva hadn’t intervened in the climactic scenes.
    I also have to facepalm at the killjoys who hate hate HATE Kingdome of the Crystal Skulls because it’s aliens in the end. Really? “The Ark of the Covenant is a conduit to God”: fine. “The Shankara stones are how Shiva controls the weather”: no problem. “The Holy Grail will make you immortal if you like living in a cave”: cool beans. But “Aliens helped the Meso-americans build stuff” is right out? REALLY??

  13. Dr. Rocketscience, I think if I witnessed the power of God as Indiana did, I’d get down on my knees and thank God for letting me live. Really, if that’s not a conversion experience, I don’t know what is. Indiana seems so above it All, while at the same time knowing how it All works.

  14. Dr. Rocketscientist: I will be looking at Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a lot different now. Thanks!

  15. Dr. Rocketscience, I think if I witnessed the power of God as Indiana did, I’d get down on my knees and thank God for letting me live.

    Presumably, if he’d forgotten and kept his eyes open, the Ark would have melted him along with the Nazis. And what about Kali and the rest of the Hindu pantheon? They’re just as real as Yaweh and Christ, it seems.

    Indy knows there are Gods. Plural.

  16. Greg:

    “his journey in the novel is one I rather enjoyed”

    Can you describe what you enjoyed about it?

  17. @3 The Grey Area

    “Aleister Crowley’s maxim of “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law” becomes the driving principle of how the world works.”
    Isn’t that how the world works?
    Nothing is True. Everything is permitted.

    TGA – Depends on your definition of “will.” Yes, most folks today take a statement like that and assume it means “do what you want.” However, the whole of Thelema (the occult practice founded by Crowley) revolves around each person finding his or her own true will. (ie. what is your driving principle, what do you want to do with your life).

    So “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” then becomes an admonishment to know yourself, not carte blanche to do whatever you like.

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