By Neil Gaiman
As a science fiction fan it has to be said that we are becoming increasingly lucky. Film and TV companies seem to have finally grasped that the genre is a gold mine for stories, and that when done right, these stories can attract a big audience.
American Gods is one of the more recent stories to become a colourful, imaginative and clever TV series. It's not before time either, the book being released some 16 years ago.
The Folio Society have created a superb version of this magnificent book which features eleven colour illustrations by the award winning artist Dave McKean. There isn't an artist alive who could do greater justice to Neil Gaiman's work. McKean knows Gaiman and more importantly understands his work, they collaborated on graphic novels in the 80's - including the astonishing Sandman series, and he was a concept artist for the TV series of Neverwhere in the 90's.
Set in the typefaces Maxime and Wicked Grit, the book is bound in cloth and has a printed slipcase.
One important point to note about American Gods is that when the book was first released the editor at the time persuaded Gaiman to trim the novel down. Years later he revisited the story and released the "Author's prefered text" version which is over twelve thousand words longer. Not only is this the "Authors prefered text" version but it also features an introduction by the author himself. Reason alone to get this version of the book.
Gaiman is one of those naturally gifted story-tellers who transcend genre and refuse to be restrained; instead simply writing engaging stories that have the potential to appeal to any reader. American Gods is the perfect example of this, first published back in 2001 it won the Hugo and Nebula; Awards that are primarily given to Scifi novels, the Locus in the Fantasy category and the Bram Stoker Award which is mainly given to works of Horror.
Set within the United States, the story follows Shadow, who having just finished a 3 year stretch in the slammer finds his wife dead and new employment in the enigmatic figure of Mr Wednesday. What follows is a completely off-the-wall, bizzare psychotomimetic road trip which examines the American spirit from the assault of the digital age all the way through to the meaning of death and the afterlife. The main concept is that beings like gods and mythological creatures such as leprechauns, sprites or elves exist because people believe in them and when people move to a new land taking their beliefs, a version of their God is transferred to that land. So we have an American version of Odin and Loki for example, along with beings including Leprechauns and pixies.
Present day Americans (along with other western societies) have of course replaced much of these traditional beliefs with newer forms such as media, technology or the Internet and the novel examines these waning "old gods" along with the rise of the new.
This is the fourth or perhaps fifth time I've read American Gods and each time the novel manages to offer something a bit different, I am once again surprised at how the book manages to enthrall the reader right from the start. This isn't just the story though, largely its a result of the authors talent with words, managing to disarm and disturb at the same time while also creating a visually acute story that is completely engaging.
The story itself is quite meandering, breaking off on a number of occasions to learn about a little story or other however each one of these little tales does add to the overall plot often without the reader realising it at the time. We also see the slow development of Shadow as he learns about the hidden world of God's and sprites, woven expertly into the main plot and one of the highlights of the novel. Gaiman has an incredible talent to write about realistic characters and those who are much more (or less) than human in such a way that really does engage the reader and injects a great deal of colour. On top of this his narrative style is highly rewarding, never trying too hard or being clever for the sake of it and often laugh out loud funny and there is a self-depreciating, earthy quality that really stands out.
There is no getting away from the fact that American Gods is a long book, the meandering style and non-linear plot do at times highlight the scale of this novel but it's also one of those stories that imitate life; read it for the journey and not the destination. If you are going to read it, The Folio Society version is the best version available anywhere.
Written on 11th August 2017 by Ant .