Top 100 SF and Fantasy Books, These Fantastic Worlds, Jake Jackson

Top 100 SF & Fantasy Books. American Gods. Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaman, American Gods, These Fantastic Worlds, Jake JacksonGaiman’s American Gods is a modern wonder of the world. Somehow it manages to straddle the chaos of the everyday, with the power and mystery of the ancients, stirring the gods of America’s various constituent populations, with the all-powerful, glittering, idols of today. A modern moral story it’s a beast of a ride, and one of my absolute favourite books.

Published in 2001, I think I read it sometime that year or so, but I knew Gaiman more as a comic writer, Blue Orchid and Sandman mainly, where he achieved the rare balance of delivering a cracking good read, with something to say about the world we live in, in a format which, when I was young, was much derided. His work is always on the edge, without being pretentious, and he plays with multiple concepts so deftly its impossible not to be entranced by the intricacy of it all.

Gaiman: Ancient and Modern

Gaiman’s storytelling prowess is front and centre in American Gods, it races along, building myths and mini marvels, as the main character Shadow encounters the crumbling remains of once-mighty deities, their lustre diminished, destroyed even by the new Gods of the modern world: commerce, media, superficiality. The story is a road trip through the gritty, grungy landscape of the everyday, with carousels, and drunkards tumbling into a celebration of America’s combustable mix of immigrants, from the original native american tribes, to the Viking settlements of the 1100s and the many European traditions that surged into the new territories from the 1600s. This huge continent played host to the pagan gods of so many peoples, allowing Gaiman a vast playground of wonder.

The terrible power of the old Gods, from manifestions of the all-father Odin (who appears as Mr Wednesday, and brings visions of the gallows) to Anubis (Egyptian), Anansi (African) and Kali (Hindu), and Whisky Jack (a Loki-like figure from native American lore), surges through the subterranea of the narrative, emerging and sinking in the shifting dreams of reality. This is a battle for the soul of America, offering an intriguing view of the search for a cohesive American mythology that matches the power of its economic, entrepreneurial might. I loved it on first read, and every one since. Easily in the top 10, probably top 5 of the 100 SF and Fantasy Books of all time.

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 Front cover photograph by Elise Wells, 2016