BOOK REVIEW: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Nature or nurture? That’s the question at the core of this funny take on the coming of the apocalypse, written by two masters of humorous speculative fiction—the late Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The end of days is coming. What if the Antichrist responsible for seeing it through had been switched at the hospital and was raised as a normal kid? Would he be evil enough? If not, how would the apocalypse play out? After a chapter that shows the reader the mix up at the hospital, the bulk of the book takes place over a few days that are supposed to be the last few days of humanity.

There’s an extensive cast of characters including the “gang” of Adam the anti-Christ, the four horse-persons of the apocalypse, angels and demons, witches and witch-hunters, and other sundry characters. However, the characters that most carry the tone and message of the book are Crowley (a demon) and Aziraphale (an angel.) With these two, the authors inject some Taoism into an otherwise Biblical world. That is to say, pure evil and pure good are rarities; there’s always a bit of good amid the bad, and vice versa. Aziraphale can be grumpy, and Crowley’s proclivity to be mischievous has its limits. Being in similar positions, the two bond as low-level managers working for Coke and Pepsi might get on because they face similar demands and have similar complaints about management.

Running through the book are mentions of a book called, “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.” This witch’s prophecies are quite unusual in that they are invariably correct, and yet are specific. That is, the prophecies aren’t “right” in the sense that astrologers are often “right” by making vague statements that offer no disprovable propositions. This might lead one to believe that the book would be a marvelous guide for making predictions. However, there is still the issue of having been written centuries ago. Items like automobiles and cellphones, that play a major role in life today, were unfathomable. Furthermore, it’s usually not clear who, exactly, a given prophecy applies to. In short, the medieval writing style results in the fact that the prophecies usually only make sense after the fact.

I’d recommend this book for readers of humorous speculative fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW: Dodger by Terry Pratchett

DodgerDodger by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book’s protagonist is based loosely on the Artful Dodger character from Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.” Pratchett’s Dodger is a brave scamp with a gift for plunging into the middle of precarious situations. One such situation occurs when he rescues a young woman who’s being battered one night on a London side street. The girl, known only as Simplicity, we later find out was attempting to escape an arranged marriage to an awful chap who’s a member of a foreign royal family. Her husband has no intention of letting her go peaceably, and has power, resources, and goons at his disposal. The story is an attempt to resolve this issue in a way that is satisfactory to the girl, for whom Dodger grows fond.

Dodger is a tosher, which is one who scavenges in London’s sewer system in search of wedding rings that were washed down drains or coins that rolled into storm drains. The fact that he’s mostly collecting lost items may make him more palatable / likable than the pick-pocketing Dodger of Dickens’ work. That said, this version of Dodger isn’t above absconding with valuables that seem to be “lying around”–even if they happen to be “lying” on the owner’s desk in the owner’s house. However, it’s clear from the outset that Dodger has a working moral compass. His liberties with earthly possessions don’t interfere with his understanding of what is right and wrong when it comes to treating others as you would like to be treated. This makes for a character who seems more mischievous than felonious.

Like many modern works that are based on Victorian era fiction, this book not only borrows fictitious characters but also individuals from the real world. Pratchett weaves Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Mayhew, and Angela Burdett-Coutts into his novel. (If the latter two names don’t ring bells, the former among them was an advocate for the poor and the latter was the wealthiest woman in England at the time, a woman who opened schools for impoverished children.) Except for Dickens [and to some extent Burdett-Coutts], these characters don’t play major roles, but more help to make the reader feel they reside in the world of the novel. [However, the book is dedicated to Mayhew.] There are also other fictional characters, most notably Sweeney Todd—the butcherous barber of penny dreadful fame.

This novel displays generous helpings of Pratchett’s humor and skill in setting the reader into a world that would otherwise feel foreign. One needn’t have read “Oliver Twist” [or any other works] to make sense of the book. It stands alone. [It may be easier if you haven’t read “Oliver Twist,” because you won’t have an ingrown sense of the character.]

I’d highly recommend this book for readers who like light-hearted historical fiction. It’s funny and engaging.

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READING REPORT: March 27, 2015

I finished The Painted Word this week. This book is a collection of words that the author finds noteworthy and intriguing as well as the definitions, origins, and interesting usages. There’s a loose theme of art (as the title might suggest), but it’s not particularly blatant and one might miss it if there weren’t quite a so many names of colors that probably didn’t appear in your Crayon box. There are also painting plates used as the books only graphics. Many of the words are one’s that will be well-known to the average reader, but others might be new additions to one’s vocabulary such as: bafflegab (misleading language), farteur (a professional and/or musical farter), and gymnophoria (the uneasy feeling that someone is undressing one with their eyes.)

Painted Word

 

 

I purchase a few new books this week, including: The Stationary Ark (a book by Gerald Durrell about running a zoo), Submission (a Story of O-style tell-all / novel by another Parisian woman), Dodger by Terry Pratchett (Pratchett recently passed away. I’ve only read one of his books to date [the first disc world book], but enjoyed it more than any fantasy book I’ve ever read [not my favorite genre.] This one is apparently Dickensian.), and 100 Films to See before you Die (The nice thing about this one is that it’s written by Anupama Chopra for the Times of India, and–therefore–features not only Indian [Bollywood and other] and Hollywood films but also other global films. I suspect that if I got the same book by an American author it would be 98 to 100% Hollywood–i.e. with maybe a couple French films thrown in if it was a particularly pretentious American film critic.)

Terry_Pratchett_Dodger_cover Anupama-Chopra-2330913 StationaryArk Submission

 

The only book that I spent significant time on that I haven’t mentioned in past Reading Reports was Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction. I read about half of this book a while back, before I got distracted by other readings (in truth, I got burned out on writing books.) However, I’ll now try to plow through this to the end, as well as a few of the other writing books that I’m pretty far into. It’s really a good book on the elements of fiction writing.

GWW_WritingFiction

 

Besides those, I’ve been reading a book, Yoga Education for Children, Vol. 1, that I introduced last week. It’s the text for the yoga teacher training that I’m currently attending (RCYT). I’m about 2/3rds of the way through it.

 

YogaEdforChildren

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Color of Magic by Terry Prachett

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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The Color of Magic is a hero’s journey tale done in comedic fashion. It’s the first book in Prachett’s disc world series. An incompetent wizard, Rincewind, becomes the guide to a goofy but wealthy tourist named Twoflower. However, as it happens the events that confront these two on their journey are part of a game being played between gods. I loved the humor, liked the story, but wasn’t a fan of the organization of the book.

I should admit up front that fantasy is–hands down–my least favorite genre, and I can’t say that view didn’t jaundice my perception of this book. However, it’s a testament to Pratchett’s humor and readability that I continued reading it.

What is my beef with fantasy in general? First, once one introduces magic, how does one maintain tension in an environment in which anything can happen effortlessly? Obviously, fantasy fans find plenty of tension to keep them reading, but I just don’t get it personally. I know that one retort is that the same could be said of other speculative fiction genres. To the degree that is true, I also don’t care for those other genres so much either. However, sci-fi (for example) has a basis for constraints that can be widely agreed upon. Second, the appeal of feudal society for setting perplexes me. I guess there is a certain romance to these periods for fans (perhaps because they imagine themselves in the statistically-unlikely role of king or knight as opposed to the much more likely position of serfdom, but whatever), but I see this type of society as backward and unsustainable (a ten millennia old kingdom maybe possible in a world of magic, but not in a world as we know it.)

I know fantasy fans will be able to come up with examples of how their favorite authors avoid both of the pet peeves mentioned. In truth, Pratchett does a good job of negating these pitfalls. With respect to the magic problem, he makes the protagonist wizard really inept and, therefore, easily in situations over his head. Simply put, he makes his lead weak relative to those confronting him. With respect to the setting issue, Pratchett creates an entirely different kind of world, the disc world. This is not Charlemagne’s Europe with wizards.

Prachett is often compared to Douglas Adams. In fact, if you Google “the Douglas Adams of fantasy,” you are sure to pull sites pertaining to Pratchett. One can see the same type of absurdist humor in Prachett’s work. Here’s a compilation of a few of my favorite lines:

“Being Ymor’s right-hand man was like being gently flogged to death with scented bootlaces.”

“No, what he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.”

“Yah. I outnumber you one to two.”

“He wondered what kind of life it would be, having to keep swimming all the time to stay exactly in the same place. Pretty similar to his own, he decided.”

“But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.”

“Your affected air of craven cowardness does not fool me.”

Pratchett appeals to the downtrodden in all of us. This can best be gleaned from the tale of Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos. Dactylos is a superb craftsman who is blinded, has his hand cut off, and suffers ever greater indignities because the Emir wants him to never again produce anything as lovely. It’s like the myth about Shah Jahan having the hands cut off Taj Mahal craftsman, except Pratchett’s Emir keeps asking the same man of increasing handicaps back to construct ever greater marvels of engineering.

The book is arranged in just four chapters. This is a bit of an oddity for commercial fiction, and I don’t really care for the sparse employment of breaking points in this book. Again, if I was enough of a fan of fantasy to read this in a single sitting (or even a few sittings) I would likely not find this to be an issue. However, I read it over time and interspersed with many other books (a lot of which were more captivating to me personally.) This might seem like a ridiculously nit-picky point, but for those of us who have a lot of reading up in the air at once, being able to readily put a book down and pick it up seamlessly later without losing the story is of great benefit.

If you like humor, this book will appeal to you. If you like fantasy, I suspect you’ll doubly like it–as long as you have a sense of humor. If you don’t like either, this book will not be for you.

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