Nicky Drayden’s website promises “speculative fiction, with a twist,” and her debut novel, The Prey of Gods (Harper Voyager, June 13), delivers on that pledge with a story set in a futuristic South Africa overrun with artificial intelligence, a powerful new hallucinogenic, and at least one very vengeful demigoddess. When she’s not writing fiction, the Houston native has an aptly twenty-first-century job: she works as a systems analyst in Austin.

Texas Monthly: What was the inspiration behind this book?

Nicky Drayden

Nicky Drayden: When I was in college, I went to South Africa with an environmental protection program for high schoolers—I was one of their peer counselors. The point was to see what the world was like and try to figure out ways that renewable energy and environmental protection could be helpful. We got to tour a lot of the rural townships and see how people lived, and everyone was really welcoming and excited to have us.

When I was looking to write a novel, I was like, “I’m going to write about South Africa.” I’d read Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, which speculates on a future India, maybe fifty to sixty years out, and I thought it would be kind of cool to see how my experiences in South Africa would translate fifty years into the future. I keep character sketch files, and I had a bunch of different characters that I pulled out randomly—most of them aren’t related or don’t know one another—and I stuck ’em in. Then I just sat back and watched how their stories intertwined and overlapped.