Good Omens
March 12, 2019 8:31 PM - by Neil Gaiman - Subscribe

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Having read the novel no fewer than four times since its release, I thought it would be nice to revisit it before the miniseries (which I anticipate will be very good, given Gaiman's involvement) replaces the internal world it has cultivated in my own mind.
posted by vverse23 (36 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Just as long as Death still has yet to lay hands on Elvis I should be good. Though I wonder, does any MP3 player left in a car for a fortnight play only Queen's Greatest Hits?
posted by Ignorantsavage at 10:09 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Queen’s Greatest Hits gag has dated slightly weirdly, given that at the time they were omnipresent but regarded as slightly cheesy and now they seem to be unironically super-popular with young people and Freddie Mercury is now cited as one of the great vocalists of the C20th.

I don’t know what the contemporary equivalent would be: Adele or Ed Sheeran or something?

Is the TV series set now, does anyone know?
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:27 AM on March 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

I imagine the authors had fun working on this. And this seems to be borne out by Gaiman's claim that the only reason he has given up 2 years of of his life to work on the TV adaption - was that it was Terry Pratchett's last request - there have been a number of earlier failed attempts to adapt the book apparently.
posted by rongorongo at 5:04 AM on March 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I’ve always adored the joke about Queen simply because my mom’s 1989 Corolla had no less than two copies of Classic Queen on tape in the center console and I’m pretty sure one copy was formerly the best of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Anyway I’m about 80% done with my fourth or fifth reread and can’t wait for the show.
posted by annathea at 6:13 AM on March 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

And I think instead of the joke sounding dated, the timing is weirdly right for that joke to make a lot of sense again - everybody’s listening to Queen right now.
posted by annathea at 6:17 AM on March 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think the updated version would just be everyone's spotify playlists or pandora stations slowly devolving into Queen's Greatest Hits. The Queen part isn't the part that needs updating.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:53 AM on March 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

I feel like I'm the only person who found this book mediocre, despite loving many of the works of both authors.

The story is disjointed at best and only one of the storylines is particularly memorable. Admittedly it's been decades since I read it, but I couldn't tell you what happened with the kids if you held a gun to my head, I didn't remember Anathema was even a character until I read a synopsis, and after the four horsemen are introduced they do so little that their subplot focuses entirely on random people following them around. And while Aziraphale and Crowley are memorable characters, they don't do a lot to provide the plot with forward momentum either, as the end is resolved by whatever the exact opposite of a deus ex machina is. And I found a few of the jokes funny, sure, but a lot of them kind of fell flat, and some that could have been hilarious ended up getting flogged to death, like the thing Crowley did with the traffic, or Newton Pulsifer working for both sides.

I mean, I didn't hate it. A solid three stars. But they've both done better.

I accept that most of you think I am insane.
posted by kyrademon at 6:55 AM on March 13, 2019 [12 favorites]

Apparently part of the joke was that there wasn't an official "Best of Queen" album at the time?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 AM on March 13, 2019

I reread this last month in anticipation of the show. I'd read it a couple of times as a teenager and it is surely colored to some extent by nostalgia. I quite enjoyed it, although I found that I'd forgotten an awful lot of it over the years. Whether that is due to it being unmemorable or due to the ravages of age I am not sure.

I will say that all of the jokes about how badly humanity had treated the planet landed with a horrifying shudder, this time around.
posted by gauche at 7:37 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

No, you're not alone, kyrademon. I read it during my peak Pratchett years, I loved his non-Discworld novels, there was nothing Terry wrote than I didn't like, and yet I bounced off this pretty hard. I can't explain why, I don't know what about it didn't grab me, but yeah, about like that. I'm seriously looking forward to the miniseries, because the trailers look great and it seems like the sort of thing I'd love, but the book somehow left me cold despite how it seems like it was designed entirely for my interests.
posted by Kyol at 7:37 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I'm the only person who found this book mediocre, despite loving many of the works of both authors.

No, you're not. I enjoyed about 2/3 of it, and the other third was just a boring slog. It basically added up to "it's fine, I guess" in my final estimation. I don't think I ever read it again.

This is normally where I'd look forward to an adaptation for the possibility that it might rewrite things or at least shift emphasis for a better result, but my gut tells me it'll probably be slavishly accurate and a bit too full of itself to be much fun.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:41 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

A question: I came to this book, lo those many years ago, via Pratchett, and had not read anything by Gaiman until a few years later. To me, even on reread, the book feels very much more like a Pratchett book than a Gaiman one. Does that feel right to anybody else, and if so, what was your relative exposure to each author beforehand?
posted by gauche at 7:43 AM on March 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

gauche, it strikes me as being more of a Pratchett book as well. My understanding is that they both worked on it quite a bit, sending drafts back and forth to each other, but Gaiman has admitted to having been a huge Pratchett fan, and perhaps was being somewhat deferential? That's purely speculation. Gaiman's star was still rising at the time; I think he had been doing The Sandman for a year or two, while Pratchett had been at it since the 70s.
posted by vverse23 at 8:18 AM on March 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Apparently part of the joke was that there wasn't an official "Best of Queen" album at the time?

Nah, Greatest Hits was released in 1981 and was, Wikipedia tells me, the fourth-biggest selling album of the 80s in the UK. Just think, it could have been Dire Straits or Phil Collins.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 8:26 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think part of it was that Gaiman had just finished writing about Douglas Adams and was trying to ape his style for a bit (remembering this from an old interview, but can't dig it up now).

Some guy on the internet sent me an ebook copy of this in the mid-2000's and I liked it enough to continue talking to him long after he should have probably been blocked. I do remember feeling that some of the sections were more of a slog, though.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:33 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I read in an interview that Pratchett did in fact write more of the book than Gaiman, so you're not wrong, gauche. Sorry I can't cite it. I see more of Gaiman in the darker parts, especially where the maggots devour people. When I read it again, sometime in the past year, I noticed some jokes that had not aged well, but they don't need to show up in the miniseries, and I expect they won't.

It was hard to judge the whole book objectively, after it was such a joy and a comfort-read to me back at age thirteen or so. Pratchett's pure humanism shone through, although, of course, I did not know what to call it then. I can't overstate the influence that the question "what if the Antichrist were a good kid?" has had on my writing and thinking.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:39 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have not read it in the ensuing years but my feelings were not out of line with yours, kyrademon. My sense at the time was that it was fun but forgettable and I didn't find the voices of the two authors went well together for me. Maybe my opinion will have shifted if I give it another go. My opinion about Pratchet twenty plus years ago was that he was fine but just punny fluff, and I'd only read the first few Discworlds at that point. Which are, I think it's fair to say, largely absent the nuance that shows up later in the series.

It's actually that "it's fine fluff" that makes me more enthused for the adaptation, not less, since I don't feel like there's a lot of detailed bits I'd be sad to be cut but there's plenty of very enjoyable lightweight stuff to riff on and have fun with. I haven't cared one whit to try to see the American Gods adaptation but this I'll seek out asap, largely because of how much more I found to be on the page with AG than Good Omens.
posted by phearlez at 8:49 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I might also note that in checking Twitter and Facebook for news about this, I was surprised and a bit tickled to find that there are still people out there that are angered by the premise. I guess it was too obscure and British a novel for the extremely American people who want to tell you that God is Not Mocked.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:18 AM on March 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

I found it rather Adams-esque in that there were a lot of enjoyable bits that didn't really seem to add up to much.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I first read Good Omens around 1992, and it was so refreshing to read a genuinely funny and warm book about such dreadful characters and events. The book has always been a quick read for me, as is usually the case with Terry Pratchett, and it's the kind of book that I'll pull out to counterbalance weightier reading material. There are still passages that make me laugh out loud even though I've read them multiple times. It has always been very mentally cinematic for me.

As for folks being angered by the premise, the source material is very real and very dark for many people, especially (IMHO) Americans. For millions of people, the Apocalypse is real and is right around the corner, Satan is lurking behind almost every movie and video game, and Jesus is going to whisk them away moments before it all goes down. Speaking of the Rapture, mild spoiler I suppose, but there's a passage in the book where one of the angels, Gabriel I believe, scoffs at the whole idea of it, mentioning that when the whole host of heaven is engaged in the battle of the ages they're hardly going to have time to pick out the correct humans and get them out of Dodge.
posted by vverse23 at 9:24 AM on March 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I love the idea that God is not Mocked. I used to tweak my more serious Catholic friends about it. "Like, have you considered the fact that God invented noses? And when He had invented them, He decided that the best place for them was right in the middle of everybody's face? That's fucking funny."

Also, the God of Good Omens is humane and compassionate and loving. Angels and demons get mocked; deeply religious people and some religious ideas get mocked. God comes off pretty well.
posted by gauche at 9:25 AM on March 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

I loved the book, and the audiobook and am prepared to enjoy the heck out of the coming tv adaptation as well.

I also loved "Small Gods" and man-oh-man would I love to offer that up as an alternative to anyone who thinks their personal omnipotent saviour of choice was too precious to handle "Good Omens".
posted by mce at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2019 [16 favorites]

I liked it quite a lot, and had no problem following the plot--the basic plot is nearly two millenia old, and even the changes in the story have a long and rich precedent in people insisting that it referred, or could refer, to their present situation. (I read an end-times-lit book in my youth that I was much taken with, in part because the Antichrist had a laser ring that looked just like a standard men's signet ring of the time--something like this--but was powerful enough to disintegrate things. I have no idea why they gave the Antichrist a laser ring, but tween me thought it was awesome.) I'd already been acquainted with Gaiman's work thanks to Sandman and other comics, but less so with Pratchett, and I hadn't been impressed with The Colour of Magic. Good Omens encouraged me to look further into his works.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Admittedly it's been decades since I read it, but I couldn't tell you what happened with the kids if you held a gun to my head,

Oh that's the most obvious part of the novel. They get together and um, fight a clown? Or one of them was the son of Poseidon? No wait, wait, I'm SURE it starts when one of them wakes up on their Christmas birthday to a silent world covered in snow...
posted by happyroach at 11:15 AM on March 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm another one who's read it several times and forget it until I read it again and go "oh yeah....". Not terrible, but I wanted it to be so much better than it is.
posted by biscotti at 2:18 PM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Between my husband and I, we've bought more than five, less than ten copies of this book, because we lend it out and never get it back. I'm okay with that, because it's the gateway drug to Discworld.
posted by Ruki at 3:18 PM on March 13, 2019 [9 favorites]

I re-read this recency and it felt more like Pratchett book with Gaiman curlicues which is a very bold recommendation.

I also always remembered two small jokes - the corporate retreat with fake guns that become real guns and then they finally have fun, and the Horseman of War bring a war journalist who just happens to always be in the tight place at the right time.
posted by The Whelk at 9:11 PM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I once heard Neil say that the parts of this book that definitely read like Pratchett were written by Gaiman, and the parts that sound like Gaiman were actually by Pratchett. That is to say, the way these two men worked together to write a coherent-sounding novel was that each one was trying to pastiche the other one's style, and sometimes they overshot each other.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:29 PM on March 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

one of my favourite books, I love a good religion-mocking, and it's just so full of fun little details. really looking forward to the series
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:09 AM on March 14, 2019

Gaiman, on his blog:

We were both living in England when we wrote it. At an educated guess, although neither of us ever counted, Terry probably wrote around 60,000 "raw" and I wrote 45,000 "raw" words of Good Omens, with, on the whole, Terry taking more of the plot with Adam and the Them in, and me doing more of the stuff that was slightly more tangential to the story, except that broke down pretty quickly and when we got towards the end we swapped characters so that we'd both written everyone by the time it was done, but then we also rewrote and footnoted each others bits as we went along, and rolled up our sleeves to take the first draft to the second (quite a lot of words), and by the end of it, neither of us was entirely certain who had written what. It was indeed plotted in long phone daily calls, and we would post floppy disks (and this was back in 1988 when floppy disks really were pretty darn floppy) back and forth

Pratchett, from The Annotated Pratchett File::

...because I was Keeper of the Official Master Copy I can say that I wrote a bit over two thirds of Good Omens. However, we were on the phone to each other every day, at least once. If you have an idea during a brainstorming session with another guy, whose idea is it? One guy goes and writes 2,000 words after thirty minutes on the phone, what exactly is the process that's happening?

Initially, I did most of Adam and the Them and Neil did most of the Four Horsemen, and everything else kind of got done by whoever -- by the end, large sections were being done by a composite creature called Terryandneil, whoever was actually hitting the keys. By agreement, I am allowed to say that Agnes Nutter, her life and death, was completely and utterly mine. And Neil proudly claims responsibility for the maggots. Neil's had a major influence on the opening scenes, me on the ending. In the end, it was this book done by two guys, who shared the money equally and did it for fun and wouldn't do it again for a big clock

posted by Frayed Knot at 7:13 AM on March 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

As a kid who grew up immersed in eschatology nonsense (Dad was a big fan of Hal Lindsey and his ilk, got very into the Bible prophecy thing), who had sat through awful movies like A Thief in the Night at youth events, and so on, this book obviously scratched a very specific itch for me. Though it was a more British, old-school approach to the whole End Times idea than I was used to.

What it mostly made me think about were the awful Omen movies, which is what it seemed to be parodying with Adam's character. That whole "demon child" genre of movies was a thing in my childhood, and I guess sort of evergreen considering there's been several in the last few years. Meaning it's definitely ripe for parody again.

It wasn't a literary classic (none of Gaiman's or Pratchett's stuff is, in my opinion). But it was very them, firmly in the "enjoyable, occasionally brilliant, always uneven" school of writing.

If it works well as a miniseries, it will be because of the actors. The good thing about this book is that it gives a director a lot to work with; Hell, flames, angels, beams of light, massive destruction, etc. But none of that will matter unless the actors manage to make it fun.

But given the two leads, I have hopes for that.
posted by emjaybee at 8:12 AM on March 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

One of my most remembered elements of the book was the highway system devised to draw a giant demonic sigil with the roadways which is why that freeway was such a nightmare, and I think of it everytime I end up on such a road system.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:25 PM on March 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

Haven't read it in a while, but I remember (from a weirdly young age!) empathizing a lot with Crowley. If I had a role in a eschatological comedy, it would be to alienate the "good" guys by asking the wrong questions, annoy the "bad" guys by asking too many questions, spend a millennium as a deadbeat, and then have a very minor part in thwarting the big finish. I've always felt like the fandom endured more intensely because a lot of people ship Crowley/Aziraphale?
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:18 PM on March 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

ok so I just started reading this book for the first time. I wanted to read it before seeing the show. I'm a little put off by what seems to be misogyny (the whole chattering nuns thing). I'm a big fan of prachett, but eeeeesh. I'm thinking that may be a joke that just didn't age well.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:34 PM on April 16, 2019

I just re-read this, after watching the miniseries and having it bring me just absolute, pure joy. I think I last read it a couple of years ago, before I moved to the UK for a time.
Enh, it was fine? I mean, it wasn't bad (other than some jokes that have seriously not aged well), but it's not either author's best. But there were little sparks of joy and lovely bits and I read it pretty quick, which is usually a good indicator of enjoyment. I sort of wish I could have read it when it was first published; I think it would have been a lot more exciting and daring and funny in the late 80's. (My completely inexplicable yet deep desire to have lived in London in the 80's may be playing a role here too?) The style is reasonably easy to pastiche, which makes writing fanfic pretty fun, and it's fun to read too. Having a lot more cultural context helps -- having actually, personally, been stuck on M25, I understand that bit rather better now.
All in all, I can see revisiting it every few years, but I'm kind of shocked by how the show has just absolutely blown the book away, in my heart. And I think, as someone said above, that that's all down to the actors; Michael Sheen in particular brings something to Aziraphale that just catches hold of me in the way the book-Aziraphale doesn't quite manage.
posted by kalimac at 10:11 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ultimately the book is a series of interesting ideas bundled up and delivered as-is. The idea of an angel and a demon teaming up to stop the apocalypse because they want to go on enjoying the material world is fantastic. There's Satanic nuns, heaven and hell being britishly bureaucratic, and all the little amusing asides about religion and fate. There's lots of extremely British dryly amusing stuff in the book, but most of the actual plot involves people actively working to keep things from happening or having no idea what's happening. Scheduled events get cocked up by petty mistakes, and the various players of the apocalypse show up at their appointed times only to discover nobody's ready for them. It's amusing, but it doesn't make for compelling reading. There's not really any point where you can't wait to find out what happens next because everything is loosely connected and situations resolve independently without much fuss.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:37 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older The Flash: Failure is an Orpha...   |  Book: Pale Rider... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments