Wednesday, September 16, 2009

American Gods

A few weeks ago, Rish and I ran Book Scouts Of The Galactic Rim by Jason Sanford on the podcast. If you haven't heard it yet, it's a story that talks a lot about various seminal science fiction works. The story got the both of us thinking. We did mention the fact that we both felt lacking in our knowledge of science fiction literature. Independently, without ever conversing about it, we both decided to start working on remedying that fault.

I happened over to Rish's blog, and saw that he'd posted about his first venture. He's reading Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. That's one of the few books that I already have read, and I must admit that it wasn't my favorite. It was hard to get through, but I struggled away, and made it to the end. I never felt rewarded for my persistence though. I had recently finished reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which I loved, so I was hoping for more of the same with Stranger. It's not what I got, for sure. Okay, I'll further admit, not only was it not my favorite, I hated it. But you can't always win, it's just life. I just hope that Rish doesn't feel quite the same way as I did, because it could easily damage his resolve to continue.

My reading time is so very limited these days, but my listening time isn't. So I went in search of Audio Books. I wanted to hear Neuromancer by William Gibson, a book that Jason Sanford referred to in his story. While I searched for that, I got Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a book that won a Hugo Award a few years ago. It isn't classic science fiction, but as a Hugo winner, it likely will be someday.I really enjoyed the book. Gaiman has a very readable (or maybe I should say listenable) style of writing. And his story was very fun. I heard it described somewhere as a cross between Americana, Fantasy, and Myth. I really liked the combination. Sometimes it seemed like it could have been Garrison Keillor writing about the residents of Lake Wobegon, except that those residents were Ibis of Egyptian mythology or Odin of Norse mythology or Kali of Indian mythology.

I have to admit that, like most Americans, I have little to no knowledge of the mythos of gods that don't belong to the Greek pantheon. They teach Greek mythology in public schools, and, even though there's a great deal of time spent in history class discussing Egypt, their mythology is not heavily explained. Go beyond that, and there's no time spent whatsoever on myth. Not the Norse gods, Indian gods, African gods, or Mayan gods. If you want to know a little or a lot about those pantheons, then you've got to seek it out on your own. Neil Gaiman must have spent a few lifetimes researching for this book. He refers to so many different gods from so many different places, that it leaves an ignoramus like me feeling dumb...but entertained all the same.

One thing, which was probably a wise move, that I found interesting was the almost complete lack of mention that we got of the Judeo-Christian pantheon. There was a small mention, but it was probably better to just leave it out and save himself the trouble it could create. Besides, in America Jesus is just too powerful. He didn't fit into the story about old, forgotten gods at all.

I was led by curiosity to see if there was a site out there somewhere that gives some sort of glossary for us dummies that just don't know mythology like an intelligent guy like Gaiman does. The book in several places gives you only a description of one god or another, and I was just so curious that I had to find out exactly who they were. If you're the same as me, check out frowl.org, but wait until you are finished reading, because some of the entries contain spoilers that might blow some of the surprises that the book has in store for you.

My only complaint about the book (and it's just because I'm a sad old prude) was that I could have done without the various graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. These were mostly found in the "Coming To America" segments, that were interspersed throughout the book. I think the book would have been fine without them, but I'm a prude. Oh well. I got through the book just fine, and they weren't enough to scare me off or take away from my enjoyment of the book, but depending on your level of prudishness, they could be.

Up next, Gibson's Neuromancer!

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