American Gods

Until “American Gods” swept up most of the significant SF and horror writing awards in 2002, Neil Gaiman was known for his work on the DC comic series “Sandman”. He was writing for print all along. His online biography provides details for the curious.
The premise of “American Gods” is that the gods of all the peoples and cultures who came to America are still around, and that new gods like Media and Technology are rising. The story is that Mr. Wednesday – the Norse god Wotan – enlists recently released convict Shadow as his aide. Wednesday travels across America, meeting several old gods and trying to enlist them in a battle against the new gods.
The premise that the old gods are still active was explored by other SF writers, like Roger Zelazny, to whom the novel is dedicated. Zelazny explored the mythic gods of India in some of his fiction.
Because Gaiman is a good writer, he devotes himself to the story, and avoids the temptation of displaying his erudition through lecturing characters. He does however demonstrate considerable research into myth and folklore, and acute understanding of the importance of myth in culture.
He carries the story at a decent pace, although his continuing effort to get a dark and brooding atmosphere often carry the story into eddies and backwaters. His characters are unusual, bizarre, grandiose, larger than life. Even the human characters live on surface of the deep pools of an implied collective unconscious. The gods have many human attributes, but their needs and motives are mythic and their actions are wildly unpredictable.
The plot becomes cluttered with too many characters and too many subplots, which interferes with a clean climax and conclusion. Gaiman ends up having to keep writing past the natural end of the story to resolve loose ends.
This book deserved the genre awards it earned. It explores ideas – in this case cultural, sociological, psychological ideas – in an engaged and entertaining way.


2 responses to “American Gods”

  1. Steve Avatar

    I agree with your assessment. I wondered why he didn’t bring in the most popular “god” in America… but I suppose Shadow is Him, though never identified explicitly… (son of a God, crucified, wound in side, reincarnated…)

  2. garth danielson Avatar
    garth danielson

    I was talking to Neil Gaiman last wednesday while he was at the store signing. I had been talking to Richard (the mail order guy) about the Carry On movies. Neil said his favorite was Carry On Cleo thinking that this was the one that they got everything right. Older Canadians are probably familiar with the series. I had seen them in the 60’s and 70’s and had a rather fond memory of them. Last year there was a box set of about half of the series. I bought it and really enjoyed most of the movies. A few of the later ones are not as good as the early ones.
    I asked Neil if he was familiar with the Carry On Laughing series that I had picked up on DVD the day before and he said sure. It ran on british tv in 1975 for 13 episodes. Most of them were ok. I’ll have to watch them again to once the bloom is off the rose as it were. I was actually more excited about the Danger Man first season with Patrick McGohan. The second season had come out last year and were great.
    I haven’t read any Neil books other than Good Omens. The manager of the store said she thought it was the funniest book she had ever read. I didn’t think so. Scott Imes who was the manager of Uncle Hugo’s said he never read local authors because if he did not like the book he might have to tell them. I have only broken that rule once or twice since I adopted it.

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