The other guy
About a year ago I read the sci-fi/fantasy/comedy Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The plot revolves around the search for the Anti-Christ, a young boy living in England. An angel and a demon are determined to work together to prevent the apocalypse because after all of their centuries living in our world they have quite grown to like it, they even like humans a little bit. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse need to find the boy as well so they can get the ball rolling on ending the world as we know it. Other people involve themselves in the search as well, some seeking to end the world, some to prolong its existence.
Whenever I told people I was reading Good Omens they said that if I liked the book, the author I really liked was Neil Gaiman. They told me it was his writing style that I was enjoying and if I planned on reading either of the authors I should read Gaiman. No one mentioned giving Terry Pratchett a try.
I loved it. It was funny and light and definitely something I could read again and find new details that would entertain me. I actually had trouble not rereading it immediately. I usually don’t laugh out loud while reading books but this one had me shaking with laughter. I would read random sentences or paragraphs aloud to my husband just to have someone to share the humor with.
The book was more than just light fiction, too. The characters were very well written — there was quite the cast but each individual held their own. While it is meant to be humorous, and succeeds quite well, it was good fiction too. I might place Christopher Moore and Tom Holt squarely in the goofy sci-fi/fantasy column, but Good Omens had that little something more. It wasn’t just silly for the sake of being silly, it was a good story told in a light-hearted fashion.
After my love affair with Good Omens was over, I bought American Gods and Anansi Boys, both by Neil Gaiman. Then I pretty much forgot about them until a few weeks ago. Good Omens was not fresh in my mind when I started American Gods, which is probably for the best. If the writing style in Good Omens was supposed to be Gaiman’s, the humor was all Pratchett’s. I’m sure that neither is really true. The two writers collaborated on the novel and there is no way something so cohesive and well done could have been achieved if both men didn’t have a similar sense of humor. But if no one had told me who wrote American Gods I’m not sure I would have thought the same author was involved in both projects.
This isn’t to say the book isn’t good. I really like it. The main character, Shadow, is well written. I want only good things to happen to him. I pity him a little more than I would like to, but shit keeps going down and he gets swept up in so much bad stuff that it’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. The gist of the plot is this: the old gods that people brought to American when they came here are dying. No one worships them and they are fading away. Some have adapted to a smaller life and eke out a living, but some are angry and want to take back the power they once had. The new gods in America are technology and media, television and highways. A battle is coming and Shadow gets caught up in the middle.
At a few points the narrative style is slow and I ended up setting the book aside even though I wanted to read more, I just needed a break from the description of everything. I always wanted to know what would happen next, but I didn’t always want to slog through pages and pages to get there. The last hundred pages or so pick up and while reading the ending I only put the book down when I had to, always a plus. The beginning had pulled me in quickly but I have to say the middle lagged, a lot. Maybe I was expecting too much. I thoroughly enjoyed Good Omens and while I knew that American Gods was a serious book, I thought it might share some properties with the book that got me interested in Gaiman in the first place. There is a large cast of characters and they are skillfully woven together. I never mistake one for another and I haven’t had to go back to figure out who someone was when they reappeared later in the book. The writing is excellent and the story idea is fantastic, I’m just not sure all those people were right in shoving Pratchett out of the way to place the spot light solely on Gaiman.
In doing a little research for this column I found that Pratchett not only did more of the actual writing, Gaiman was working on his Sandman series at the time so it just happened to work out that Pratchett wrote more words, but his most famous series of books, the Discworld series is satirical. So why did everyone who found out I was reading Good Omens recommend the more serious minded author over the guy who has written dozens of comic fantasy books. Discworld is a flat planet resting on the backs of four elephants that balance on a giant turtle. How is this not the guy you point someone to when they are reading Good Omens, a book where the baby Anti-Christ is given to the wrong parents at a hospital?
I certainly don’t dislike Neil Gaiman. I’ll read Anansi Boys, the kind of sequel to American Gods. It turns out I already own Neverwhere, another popular Gaiman book, so I am all set on being a fan of his. I’m just disappointed that I came to him because of a collaboration with someone I will probably end up liking even better. If I had known that Tori Amos was referencing Gaiman in “Tear in Your Hand” (“If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hangin’ out with the dream king. Neil says hi by the way”) I feel like I would have known what to expect from him more.
I think I will try out the Discworld series next though. And maybe I can be the lone voice telling people that if they like Good Omens they should try Terry Pratchett out next. Neil Gaiman is getting enough love already