Saturday, December 22, 2012

Most Entertaining Book of 2012: Good Omens

"I think it was a bit of an overreaction, to be honest," said the serpent. "I mean, first offense and everything. I can't see what's so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway."

     "It must be bad," reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can't see it either, and is worrying about it, "otherwise you wouldn't have been involved."

     "They just said, Get up there and make some trouble," said the serpent, whose name was Crawly, although he was thinking of changing it now. Crawly, he decided, was not him.

     "Yes, but you're a demon. I'm not sure if it's actually possible for you to do good," said Aziraphale.  "It's down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand."

     "You've got to admit it's a bit of a pantomime though," said Crawly. "I mean, pointing out the Tree and saying 'Don't Touch' in big letters. Not very subtle, is it? I mean, why not put it on top of a high mountain or a long way off? Makes you wonder what He's really planning."

     "Best not to speculate, really," said Aziraphale. "You can't second-guess ineffability, I always say..."

-- excerpt from Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I have a special place in my heart for irreverent British humor. I also am proud to admit that I know all of the lyrics to all of Queen's greatest hits. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that, unlike most of my peers, my knowledge extends beyond the hooks and choruses, but I digress. Good Omens catered to both loves and gave me a unique reading experience that was both hilarious and thought-provoking.

The story begins with Crawly - now known as Crowley - the demon and Aziraphale the angel. They have been working at cross purposes for thousands of years; however, despite their inherent natures, they aren't exactly mortal enemies. In fact, they're a bit like rival businessmen who often meet for lunch. Just doing their jobs, no hard feelings.

One day, Crowley gets the call from The Powers that Be: the Antichrist has been born, and it's Crowley's job to work behind the scenes and ensure the harbinger of the apocalypse gets a properly demonic education. Neither angel nor demon are thrilled by this bit of news. They've come to enjoy the marvels of the modern world, and humans are such interesting creatures. It would be a shame to see both meet their end in a storm of fire and brimstone.

They work together to throw the end of the world off track by giving little Warlock the kind of upbringing that would make it impossible for him to ever choose between good and evil. Eleven years later, they make an embarrassing discovery. Turns out there was an accidental switcheroo at the hospital. Warlock is not the Antichrist. Hi-jinks ensue as the denizens of Heaven and Hell (and a few humans too) race to find the real Antichrist, Adam Young, a typical English boy who is completely unaware of the world-changing powers at his disposal.  

I've loved Pratchett's satirical humor since before I was a teen, but Gaiman is a new discovery, and the timing couldn't be better. My current oddball state of lapsed-but-still-devoted Catholicism has made me much more receptive to humorous, yet honest examinations of faith and the faithful than I would have been in the past. But this book isn't just 300 pages of poking fun at religion. There's a genuinely good story happening on the surface, and the characters are their own people, not just mouthpieces for the authors' worldviews.

To put it in figurative terms, Good Omens is like broccoli disguised as cotton candy, but not at all like broccoli flavored cotton-candy. (If Mr. Pratchett or Mr. Gaiman ever read this, I hope they understand what a ringing endorsement that is.) If that isn't enough of a sell, how about this bold declaration: I think any book that contains demons using the recorded voice of Freddie Mercury to communicate with one another is a book that deserves to be on anyone's reading list, regardless of their creed.

Although Good Omens was new to me, this is not a recent release by any means. Some aspects of the setting are comically dated; however, given how angsty the world is getting about faith, politics, and the blending thereof, the themes are perhaps even more relevant now than they were when Good Omens was first published in 1990.

In fact, I'm rather disappointed that I couldn't get this post done a day earlier, when the Mayans supposedly predicted that the world was supposed to end. It would have been so wonderfully fitting. *kicks self*

P.S. I would encourage you to read a physical copy of this book, rather than the e-book version. The footnotes are great, but the e-book format makes flipping back and forth such a pain. It really hampers the delivery of the humor.

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