Review: Good Omens

Book: Good Omens

Author: Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

My Rating: 2/5 Stars

You know when all of your friends talk something up and then when you finally experience it, the reality is so much different than what had been conveyed that it kind of ruins it? That pretty much sums up my experience with Good Omens, an apocalyptic fiction novel by British authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. All of the praise on the inside cover hails this as supremely funny – the same praise my friends gave it – but for me it mostly fell flat. I might have liked it more if I didn’t go in with such high expectations, but here we are nonetheless.

Good Omens is a novel about the apocalypse, the battle between Heaven and Hell brought on by the birth of the Anti-Christ. The list of characters is incredibly long, but the novel is introduced as a story through the eyes of a demon and angel on Earth, Crowley and Aziraphale. Here the story shined, as the interactions between these two were the high points of the book. The humor they brought to the story was mostly the only humor I found in the entire novel, but it wasn’t enough to save an altogether dry story. The premise is essentially that these two realize they don’t want the world to end, so they begin to work against the mechanisms of the higher powers they serve to avoid the end of times. As they attempt this, many other characters are introduced; there are demons, angels, witch hunters, witches and many normal humans that make up the vast cast of this novel. One of my biggest complaints is that the authors did a poor job introducing each character. There was never any segue into a new POV and I had to eventually make a quick list of characters to keep things straight. Some important characters are brought up early on and then we don’t see them again until more than halfway through the novel. This made the read a bit confusing at times. I also strongly disliked the young Anti-Christ and his posy. Every time the novel switched to their part of the story I was yawning and had to force myself to keep reading. Overall, I found most of the characters to be very lackluster and boring.

Another big problem I had from this book was the pacing. When I started it, I was on 100% on board. I loved the banter between Aziraphale and Crowley as they participated in the bible story of Adam and Eve. After this opening scene, though, things really started to slow down and from here until the end of the book there were only a handful of sections that kept me fully engaged – mostly just the ones where Aziraphale and Crowley were the center pieces. One of my favorites was when they both got drunk and fell into deep conversation in the back of Aziraphale’s bookstore. Most of the book, though, was a bit of a slog for me. The first fifth of the novel covers events that took place years ago and then the rest covers events over the course of five days. Almost half of the entire novel covers a single day in time, but because of the vast amount of characters and threads that had to come together and be resolved, it took forever to get to the point. Overall, there were a couple sections that kept me engaged, but for the most part, reading this book was a chore.

Aside from all that I didn’t like about this book, there was some good things to find here. The premise was interesting and I think the story had a lot to say about the nature of good and evil. Like I mentioned before, the interactions between Crowley and Aziraphale were witty and funny and their characters were the saving grace of the book. The four horsemen of the apocalypse was another group of characters I found interesting and the events they were involved in were usually fairly engaging. There is a scene later in the novel where the four horsemen meet a group of Hell’s Angels and the two groups team up and ride together – this was hilarious and I wish there had been more humor like this. Lastly, I can appreciate the themes being touched upon in the novel – fighting against fate, good vs. evil and the innocence of childhood. Oh, and it was interesting how often the authors were able to work the word “ineffable” into a sentence. I didn’t know what it meant when I started the book, so at least I learned one thing from giving it a try.

Overall, Good Omens was a dud for me. I have struck out a couple times this year with Neil Gaiman, which is a shame because I really enjoyed American Gods and his retelling of old stories in Norse Mythology. Perhaps it’s time to give this author a break and return later. I haven’t given up, though, because I still hear so many good things from people I know. If you enjoy all of Gaiman’s novels I would assume you will enjoy this (I have never read anything else by Terry Pratchett so I can’t speak to that side of things). Perhaps I would have liked this more if I were British or had a stronger background in Christian teachings. Either way, this is not one I will be coming back to.

Review: Smoke and Mirrors – Short Fictions and Illusions

Book: Smoke and Mirrors – Short Fictions and Illusions

Author: Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Recommended for: Die hard Neil Gaiman Fans

Reading this book was like sticking my hand into a large jar of loose change. Most of the time you are going to pull out a penny or a nickel, but every once in a while you find that holy grail – the elusive quarter.

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions is a short story collection by British author Neil Gaiman. Within its pages are 31 short stories written throughout Mr. Gaiman’s career. There is a good deal of variety between the stories, which range from poetry to micro-fiction to your standard length short story, and they all seemed to fit into this aptly named collection. That being said, my overall impressions can be summed up in one word…meh.

As a reader, I love short stories because I feel they give an author the chance to showcase their abilities in a way that differs drastically from a novel. All of my favorite authors are ones who can not only write engaging novels, but also short stories that entrap my attention and leave me wanting more. Sometimes life is moving a bit too quickly to find the time to sit down and enjoy a full length novel, so having the option to dive into a collection of shorter works and make my way through them one at a time is a nice option. Some authors (such as a personal favorite – Ray Bradbury) embrace the short story and come up with masterfully written sagas that blend together to tell an overarching narrative (The Illustrated Man) while some, like Mr. Gaiman, prefer to write stories that mostly stand apart. I enjoy both equally, but like I said above, a great number of these were duds, pennies in a jar full of change.

Minor spoilers to follow as I give small summaries for most of the stories in the collection, along with my thoughts.

Reading the Entrails – Not for me. Gaiman’s poetic style is not one I enjoy reading.

The Wedding Present – This was included with Gaiman’s introduction and was somewhat interesting. A couple gets a novel as a wedding present and each time they open it the story has changed. It kept me engaged, but it wasn’t anything special.

Chivalry – One knight’s search for the Holy Grail in modern UK leads him to an old woman’s mantle. Originally written for a children’s story collection and it shows. It was boring.

 Nicholas Was… – The first piece I really liked! A dark twist on Christmas and I think the first time I have ever seen micro fiction in a published work. I liked it a lot.

The Price – A story about a cat who protects a home from a demon. This was one of the better crafted stories in the collection and was one of my favorites. I don’t even like cats, but this was definitely one of the top three for me.

Troll Bridge – I actually read this one first when deciding whether or not to buy this collection in the bookstore. A child meets a troll under a bridge and then again and again as he grows up. The ending was fitting. One of the better stories in my opinion.

Don’t Ask Jack – This one was really boring. I suppose it was supposed to be a chilling tale of a Jack-in-the-Box, but I honestly don’t even remember what happens.

The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories – A story about a writer’s disillusioned journey to Hollywood and the hotel attendant he meets while he is there. Another hit for me, this one was a bit longer and it was entertaining throughout. I loved the way he portrays Hollywood.

The White Road – More narrative poetry – didn’t make it past the first page.

Queen of Knives – I actually finished this narrative poem, but overall it was meh.

Changes – Interesting concept. A new cancer drug has unintentional side effects when it is discovered it can allow people to change gender on a whim. I liked the dialogue it raises on the ethics of pharmaceuticals and the questions of gender in society. Execution felt like it could have been better, though.

The Daughter of Owls – Rape in olden-times. Not for me.

Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar – I kept thinking it would get better, but in the end I don’t really know what this one was about.

Virus – A short piece on video game addiction. It was also very MEH.

Looking for the Girl – I like stories where the main character goes through their life, but there is always that one constant they come back to. Here it was a girl the main character saw in a dirty mag one day. It was well written and entertaining.

Only the End of the World Again – Cult of Cthulhu tries to sacrifice a werewolf to revive the fallen God. Werewolves and ancient gods – what’s not to like?

Bay Wolf – The werewolf character returns in a different story to kill a monster terrorizing Venice Beach. This one was funny and well written. Two thumbs up.

We Can Get Them For You Wholesale – An entirely average guy finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him and finds an ad for an assassination company to kill her lover. As a man who can never turn down a good offer or a sale, he finds himself in a precarious position when the company rep offers him a deal on multiple hits…This one was funny and I liked the concept, but it kind of peters out as it ends.

One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock – I don’t know who Michael Moorcock Elric is so this one wasn’t my cup of tea.

Cold Colors – More poetry so I inevitably didn’t enjoy it.

The Sweeper of Dreams – Who cleans up your dreams when you wake so you can go about your day as a functional human? What happens if he stops cleaning up your dreams? This one was short, but I wish it had been longer. An interesting concept.

Foreign Parts – For someone with minor hypochondria this was a nightmare to read. I don’t need stories about STDs in my life.

Vampire Sestina – Even more poetry.

Mouse – Another one that I finished without really grasping if there was a point to it all. Boring.

The Sea Change – I wish I had known how much poetry was in this collection and how much his poetic prose bores me.

When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, age 11¼ – Yawn.

Desert Wind – A poem about a man who sees a mirage in the desert. The only poem I really enjoyed in the collection.

Tastings – Erotic fiction is not for me, so this was not one I enjoyed.

Babycakes – I liked it. Title says it all.

Murder Mysteries – A story within a story of the first murder in Heaven. This was well crafted and entertaining.

Snow, Glass, Apples – A twist on Snow White. Another top three for me and a good selection for the closing piece. At least I will remember this one when I think back to this collection.

If you bothered to read through all of those then you will see I liked about half of the stories in this collection. Mr. Gaiman writes killer novels and is an amazing storyteller, but this one just fell flat for me. I have heard good things about Fragile Things so maybe I will give that a try some day. Unless you are a die hard Neil Gaiman fan, I would recommend passing on this one.