Neil Gamian and Terry Pratchett, 1990
the seventeenth book in the visitor recommendation series;
suggested by Øyvind Thorsby
A while back a few articles were circulating around about how poverty forces people into making shortsighted decisions. Instead of buying a $100 pair of shoes that will last you five years, you keep buying $10 pairs that last a few weeks, because you never have a full $100 to spare. I've made a lot of bad decisions in my life, both major and minor, and of the minor ones, there's one that really eats at me, and it's related to this phenomenon. In 1998 my interactive fiction story Photopia won a competition, and I got first pick of the prizes on offer. At the time, I was close to flat broke. My ATM receipts informed me that I wasn't even a hundredaire. So I picked a cash prize: $150, which I spent on I have no idea what. What I did not pick, and what I have bitterly regretted not picking ever since, was the chance to have a scene from Photopia illustrated by renowned X-Men artist Dave Cockrum. By the time I had saved up enough to pay for a commission and thereby make up for my mistake, Cockrum had died. I have a blank spot on my wall where that picture should go.
I did make a good choice at the same time, though. The top finishers of the '98 IF competition also got certificates signed by the Infocom author of their choice, and as the winner, I got first pick. I chose Douglas Adams. I was glad that I hadn't come in second, because I didn't really have a second choice; I had poked at a couple of the Infocom games as a kid, but they didn't really mean much to me. But I'd gone crazy for the Hitchhiker books when I was eleven, like every other eleven-year-old nerd in the world. Three years later I picked up a book called Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion by some guy named Neil Gaiman. Two years after that I was in college and came to know a guy named Bob who, like me, was into comic books. He was talking about a new miniseries that was coming out — I think it was The Books of Magic — and said, "It's by Neil Gaiman, so it'll be dark and literary and concerned with the occult." This was the first time I had ever heard that name spoken aloud. I was like, what? The Douglas Adams guy?? Later I read some of The Sandman and couldn't stop boggling that the goths' favorite author was the same person who'd written a companion book to a series about Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters.
But hey, up in my queue pops this book co-written by Neil Gaiman, and sure enough it seems to be trying really really hard to be a Douglas Adams book, only with angels and antichrists instead of aliens and androids. It's got a lot of the same sort of lingo to it as the Hitchhiker books; e.g., Satan is described as "A Fallen Angel", and another demonic character is described as "An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards". A baby is described as "looking sort of, though not really, like Winston Churchill", a phrasing that is a first cousin to the Nutri-Mat's beverage that is "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea". I've gathered that this tone can be attributed more to Pratchett (with whom I am unfamiliar) than to Gaiman, though. Sadly, I have to report that it rubbed me the wrong way. For one, I'm not eleven anymore; I don't know what I would make of the Hitchhiker books if I were reading them for the first time as an adult. I do know that the Hitchhiker books sent me into some extended laughing fits when I was a kid and that reading this I didn't crack a smile, though I concede that I may not currently be physiologically capable of doing so. But I don't think that's entirely it. Reading Good Omens, I kept getting this vibe that the authors were chuckling, "Look how clever we're being and what a jolly time we're all having!", and "jovially self-satisfied" was not really a tone I was in the mood for. There are a lot of bad jokes (see, one of the "bad" guys is named Crowley, like Aleister Crowley, but back in the day his name was Crawly, because he was a snake!!) and a lot of potshots at things like The Golden Girls and the M25 motorway that reminded me of Robb Sherwin's classic tweet: "With the holiday travel season coming up, it means one thing: Wikipedia trolling over untraceable airport IP addresses. Time to settle some scores!!" On top of all this, there's the fact that the whole book is an extended riff on the Book of Revelation, and Pattern 17 says that I have too little time left on this earth for stories based on Abrahamic religions, even parodic ones. So, all in all, this was not for me.