Saturday, February 25, 2006

Anansi Boys, etc.

Neil Gaiman and Christopher Moore occupy a narrow universe of fiction that's focused on adding fantasy elements into everyday life. Recently Gaiman has moved even closer into Moore's milieu and decided to place old myths in the modern world, something he did full-scale with the wonderful American Gods. Here he tells of straitlaced Fat Charlie Nancy, the adult son of the West African spider god, the trickster Anansi (Moore explored such a concept several years ago in telling of the Native American trickster god Coyote in Coyote Blue). As a boy Fat Charlie was embarrassed about the silly things his father did, and is somewhat relieved to hear that the man he hadn't seen in about 20 years has died so he won't have to invite him to his upcoming wedding. Nevertheless he duly flies to Florida from London, where he now lives, to attend the funeral, and there he learns from an old woman in the neighborhood that his father was a god, and that he has a brother. Not having any powers of his own, he believed neither of these things until events show otherwise, most notably when Spider, his brother with the powers, starts taking over his life, including moving in on his fiancee.

Gaiman weaves a clever if somewhat predictable story, about a normal man having to confront an increasingly abnormal universe. Spider's character and the interplay between him and Charlie, particularly when they're getting to know each other, are the highlights of the book. Other than the predictability, the book's biggest weakness is that beyond Charlie's well-developed character, most of the other characters, especially his fiancee Rosie, lack much depth (Spider's character also is shallow, but that's deliberate).

Rating: 7/10.

Even though a lot of my recent posts have been book reviews (largely because I've written so little otherwise, sorry about that), I've been resisting turning this site into a book review site. Case in point -- rather than full reviews, I'm just noting that two books I've recently read, David Liss' A Spectacle of Corruption and Kage Baker's The Children of the Company, were fairly disappointing reads and I can't really recommend either of them. I've read books by both before, and neither of these books compares to their best work. Liss creates a world of intrigue and politics in 1720 London, but does a poor job of wrapping things up. Baker reprints a bunch of short stories, together with a few new thoughts, and ties them together in a very loose manner in what's held out to be a new novel in the Company series -- there are good stories here, but I had read a few of them already (including the best one), and I was expecting more. Ratings: 6/10 and 5/10, respectively.