Nebula Winners Announced

The winners of the Nebula awards have been announced. I have but have yet to read American Gods, the winner of the “Best Novel” award. Anyone interested in that review?

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  1. here’s a quick review

    “People know nothing about my people here,” says the driver. “They think we grant wishes. If I could grant wishes do you think I would be driving a cab?”

    American Gods, a brilliant, bursting-at-the-bindings novel takes a phantastic road trip through America. Neil Gaiman weaves ancient gods into the fabric of everyday life, creating a compelling tapestry of genres. While it represents Gaiman’s best work to date, several of its parts work better than the whole.

    The plot follows a likeable ex-con named Shadow, the Teutonic god Odin, and Shadow’s dead wife on a journey through the old, decaying sacred places of America: the classic roadside attractions. Odin and his fellows have a problem; human belief creates gods, and their continued existence depends upon our continued belief. Odin, reduced to the status of a travelling grifter named “Wednesday,” is organizing the old gods against the threatening new guard: the reified incarnations of the Internet, television, and so forth. Bizarre as all this sounds, Gaiman renders it convincingly. The interactions between Shadow and his late wife, for instance, manage to be both touching and funny. And when we eventually learn Wednesday’s motives for hiring Shadow, they prove convincing (in context) and disturbing.

    I had to occasionally wonder where the Greek gods were hiding. Jesus, too, makes only a cameo appearance. I expect Gaiman wanted to avoid the overly-familiar. Nevertheless, I kept looking for them, or some explanation for why they weren’t present.

    Along with its strong characters, this novel presents an exceptional sense of setting. Gaiman admits he neither sought nor received permission to use the various real locations mentioned but, really, I can’t imagine anyone complaining: American Gods may actually serve to encourage tourism to certain sites.

    As Shadow’s odyssey progresses, Gaiman takes frequent side trips to relate the stories of the gods and the people who brought them to America. We hear about the Irishwoman who brought faeries to America and the spirits who came with a slave ship; we observe an encounter between an Arabic New Yorker and a jinn cabbie. While only tangentially related to the main plot, these pieces give the novel its atmosphere and ground its version of reality. The breathtaking quality of the best of these short pieces, however, overshadows the rest of the book. Enjoyable as American Gods is, it might have worked better as a collection of short stories. (Likewise, the story of Lakeside, a town where Shadow settles for a time, could stand alone, as a Lovecraft-influenced mystery.)

    The pressure to produce the next novel always accompanies commercial success. American Gods deserves its Nebula Award, but I believe Gaiman’s best work remains as yet unwritten.

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