Friday, June 24, 2011

American Gods

After suffering through the untold misery bound inside a paperback novel that was "Atlas Shrugged", I decided that I don't want to read bad books anymore.  This realization probably should have hit me earlier, I admit.  But since that fateful moment where I finally excised terrible literature from my life, I have to say I've been considerably happier.  Not euphoric, but measurably more content.  Maybe I should cut out bad games from my life too...  Its worth considering at least.  Anyway, to christen my new Ayn Rand-free existence*, I decided to read "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman.

"American Gods" is a novel with a great premise, which is good.  Because novels that don't have great premises are usually bad.  (See how that works?)  That premise is:  what if the Gods we humans worshipped thousands of year ago were still walking around amongst us?  What if they were aged, forgotten beings desperate for the love and sacrifices they once received.  They are as much immigrants in the New World as the peoples who once worshiped them.  Now they work in butchery shops, run funeral homes, or just bum around the country looking for people to rip-off.  Of course, there are new Gods in America, the iron gods of the railroad, the teenage nerdy gods of the Internet, and Media itself.  What happens when Old Gods meet New Gods?  What else?  They go to war.

The main character of "American Gods" is Shadow - just Shadow.  He's a freed convict with a penchant for coin magic tricks with a wife and a best friend waiting for him at home.  Oh wait, he doesn't have those things because they both died in a car accident while she was making his penis happy with her tongue.  Now Shadow is recruited by Wednesday, a crooked con-artist who is actually the American avatar of Odin, and brought into the bizarre world of Gods, magic, and undead zombie wives following you around.  ...This is a weird book.  Shadow himself is a pretty vague dull-minded protagonist, as per his name, something that often annoys everybody around him.  He kinda takes everything that's happening to him with a weird kind of acceptance.  You'd think that hanging around with the All-Father, Lord of Asgard might make a man a bit disturbed, but not Shadow.  He joins with the Old Gods in their war only because it seems they're his only job prospect.

Between the two sides, you have every thing human kind has worshiped in the last three thousand years.  The Old Gods are populated by pantheons from every culture, though strangely the super popular Greek Gods are nowhere to be found.  I guess Gaiman found them to be too predictable and excepted, so instead challenged himself by finding the most obscure deities around to populate his novel.  There's a pile of Czech dieties, the Egyptian Gods of the Underworld, an Algonquin god, the Queen of Sheba, and Johnny Appleseed.  Serious research has gone into the character ranks of this novel, and the vast majority of characters were completely above me, and I don't think of myself as a slouch when it comes to the names of gods.  At least I got the Egyptian gods...  But Gaiman gets really creative when it comes to creating the New Gods.  Of course there's the living incarnations of Media, the Internet (who is a fat teenage nerd, big surprise), and transportation.  But there's also a pile of Men in Black, creatures who think they are human, but actually only exist thanks to the paranoid belief energy of wackjobs across our great nation.  Elvis is indicated to be one of them, along with a couple of movie stars.  Personally I was disappointed to find that there weren't any aliens.

And once again I have been screwed out of Midgardsormr, the monster snake so long as to wrap around the entire Earth and nibble on his tail.  I don't know why nobody ever wants to put this guy into anything other than "Final Fantasy VII" where he has brought misery to gamers for fourteen years.  Maybe "Thor 2"... but that's going to suck and I won't ever see it.

As a protagonist Shadow is somewhat... hard to grasp.  He takes all the insane stuff that happens to him, such as having Media take over his hotel TV and try to recruit him to the New Gods' side by offering to show him Lucy Ball's breasts (not a bad offer), and he the next day he's complaining that the New Gods all speak in cliches.  He plays a game of checkers with Chernobog and puts up his own life as stakes to get the old man to join Wednesday's team against the New Gods.  Even faced with the prospect of getting his brains bashed in with a hammer, Shadow is only mildly concerned.  This is a source of great complaints from his Undead Zombie Wife, who claims that often enough she'd forget he was in the room.  But he was nice enough to give her a magic coin that brought her back from the dead, not for any particular reason, only because it seemed like a nice gesture.  (Shadow also may or may not be Baldur, because at one point Loki threatens him with a spear made of mistletoe.  Though this may just be a joke, because Shadow's backstory is entirely human.)

My favorite parts of "American Gods" were the various side-sections called "Coming to America" which detail completely different stories in various other times and places.  So we have the stories of Vikings appearing in Canada, only to be wiped out by Indians**.  But these aren't the stories of people coming to America, its of gods.  So these Vikings made a human sacrifice, meaning that when Leif Erikson came to America later, his gods were waiting for him.  Then there's a tale of a tribe crossing over the Beringia into North America, bringing with them their skull-head god.  There's also sidestories during the course of the story.  I came to really want to finish this book during the first one, where a man gets... let's say, "eaten" by the Queen of Sheba.  You'll know it when you find it.

I would have liked to have known more about how the original gods were doing in their own land, since honestly I can't imagine that Odin is doing all that great in Norway where I'm sure Media and Internet are just as strong as here.  He seems fine in the epilogue, I guess.  And I was disappointed to find that there were no Saints or Christian figures to be found.  What are St. Peter and the Virgin Mary and Jesus but a pantheon themselves?  It would have been cool to see how gods that are still worshipped are doing compared to say, Horus.  I can see how the Big Guy Upstairs, would have trouble appearing, being nameless, faceless, and formless, but St. Jude wouldn't have a problem, would he?  But again, I think Gaiman just wanted to write a story about lesser-known gods.  And one novel is definitely not enough space to completely cover the epic scale of his idea.

So I got to say, "American Gods" all in all was a really good book.  I expected as much from the main who created "Coraline".  It gives an interesting commentary on the nature of American culture from a British outsider's perspective.  And its a fun read too.  I recommend it enough that I took the time to write all of this.

* Ironically enough, the first book I grabbed was "Wizard's First Rule" by Terry Goodkind, the first novel in the long-standing Sword of Truth series.  I don't really know what I was excepting from it, just a decent enough fantasy tale.  Instead it was a load of tired old boring storylines and horrid writing.  By page 80 I gave up on the book and started skimming in search of tits.  Its a bad thing when I'm only watching a movie in search of boobies, but its far worse when literature has reduced me to thumbing through pages in search of anything vaguely naughty.  It delivered... and back to the library it went.  Also ironically enough, I picked the one fantasy author on Earth who is desperately in love with Ayn Rand, and so spent the last half of the Sword of Truth series sucking her erect Objectionist dick.

Yes, Ayn Rand has a penis.

** Gaiman believes - rightfully so - that Columbus was not the first to discover America, but that travelers have gone to his land all across time.  This is almost certainly true (though all evidence has been lost), its not like America was ever unreachable before 1492.  There are dozens of stories of explorers who have reached North America from Mali to Scotland, and probably some are true.  Though his claim that Ancient Egyptians were able to settle in modern-day Illinois is a little too bizarre for my tastes.


  1. I've been meaning to read this for a while now.
    Have you ever read "Good Omens?" It was co-authored by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, definitely worth a read.

  2. Neil Gaiman is always a fun read, although I haven't got around to reading American Gods. I think I may seek it out from this review though. Great post as ever.

  3. I wanted to read this when it was announced. Never did it.

  4. I bought this book of amazon a few weeks back when I saw Neil Gaiman's perfectly written episode of Doctor Who, most people recommended it to me, when I saw the size of it my revision impeded me and now I've just started reading Clash of the Kings so it'll be a while before this gets read. Glad you liked it though!

  5. you get +1000 for your knowledge of ye olde Norse gods. I got the terribly average game too human just because of the cyber Norse storyline

  6. Presumably Gods that are worshipped and acknowledged don't appear as humans on the planet, and I expect Gaiman to dodge around the Christian issue. Also, the sidestory with the Taxi driver teaches an important lesson; If you're going to give a supernatural demon a blowjob, don't swallow.