Here are three books in the category, “if you haven’t read these, go get them immediately and read them right now.” I believe these all won awards, too, but that’s not important. Just read them.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
One of the best books of the Twentieth Century, not least because it was a collaboration of two of the finest writers of the 20th.
These two master story tellers recount the coming of the end of the world (much on our minds as the millennium approached). In this case, the world apparently will end in neither water nor fire nor ice, but in irony.
Who can forget the Four Motorcyclists of the Apocalypse, marvelously updated to the late twentieth century, or the reaction of Satan’s representative to software licenses:
“Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: ‘Learn, guys.’”
Underneath the slapstick and satire there is a steely core of humanity and the beauty and morality you expect from these gentlemen.
Awesome. Thank you, sirs.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
O’Malley is an Aussie and a civil servant and gives us a very peculiar tale from the hidden magical government of England. Go figure.
This story follows a rather bad couple of weeks in the life of Myfanwy Thomas (rhymes with ‘Tiffany’), who wakes up with no memory and a letter to her from herself.
She has to quickly learn that she is part of a secret organization (the Checquy) in constant battle to protect Britain from supernatural attacks.
The tale is wonderfully funny, as the supernatural is wild and very weird and her side is—wait for it—a bureaucracy. She must unravel a massive conspiracy and unmask the evil doers, within and without her own organization. Who is who and what is what? And for goodness sake, what are the rules, anyway?
This is a great yarn, and we come to really like Myfanwy and want her to come out OK.
Evidently, a sequel is in preparation, though who knows when it will appear.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This is one of several novels about time travelling academic/time police, which includes several stories and Doomsday Book (1992).
This particular story was inspired by Jerome K. Jerome’s gentle Victorian novel Three Men in a Boat (which I have never read myself).
These stories involve time traveling Oxford historians, who visit past eras and live among the natives, attempting to blend in. This is a perilous game, both for the traveler and because a mistake might rip apart time and space. In particular, you mustn’t contaminate either the present or the past by transferring objects.
To Say Nothing of the Dog involves an emergency foray to the Victorian era by an underbriefed student who must try not to stumble and also to find his contact and try to fix the potential rend in time.
The story is a beautiful homage to Jerome’s story, and filled with comically English Victorians. It would all be lovely if the fate of the continuum wasn’t at stake, and if we knew what the heck is going on.
- Daniel O’Malley, The Rook. Hachette, New York, 2012.
- Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, New York, Workman, 1990.
- Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog, New York, Bantam Spectra, 1997.
Sunday Book Reviews