This book is a bit of a mess, frankly. Characters are introduced and then disappear without explanation, sometimes to turn up again chapters later. ThThis book is a bit of a mess, frankly. Characters are introduced and then disappear without explanation, sometimes to turn up again chapters later. The narration is a mix of first, second and third person, and the tenses are all over the place, which I suppose is due to the fact that it is the product of innumerable authors and sources, and repeated translation.
The cast of characters is huge but, frankly, none of them are likable. The main character in the first half - the Old Testament - is quite seriously the most unpleasant character I've ever come across. This God character is venal, spiteful, petty, self-aggrandising, controlling, dishonest, murderous and constantly demanding. He sets impossible tasks for people and then punishes them for failure; he encourages (even orders!) the genocide of whole peoples that are doing nothing so much as living peacefully on a patch of land that he had promised generations earlier to a different bunch of people; he personally arranges the destruction of whole cities for violating rules that he has set down, even though they are nothing to do with him, the death of children for calling one of his followers names, the execution of an old man for collecting firewood on the wrong day - the list goes on and on.
The second part starts more promisingly. The main character here is God's son, Jesus (although there does seem to be an issue of parentage; Jesus is described as belonging to the bloodline of King David through his 'foster father' Joseph) who, when we rejoin him as an adult, is preaching some pretty nifty ideas about peace and brotherly love - curiously rather consonant with some Buddhist teachings that probably arrived in the Middle East in the first century BCE, but that's another story. Jesus has obviously inherited a few of his dad's less pleasant aspects; he has a temper on him, and can be seriously controlling - he tells his followers that they have to give up (indeed "hate") their families to follow him, in the manner that has been beloved of modern cult leaders, and he reinforces the earlier injunctions ("commandments"), although i was never clear on which set of sometimes contradictory orders he meant. But maybe that's just me.
Then, after Jesus is killed by the Romans for being a trouble maker, it gets seriously weird again. It's interesting that the four witnesses to the execution that write about it give massively contradictory accounts, both of the execution and Jesus life (kind of a Rashomon difference of perception thing going on there, I guess), then it rapidly gets weird and nasty again. Paul, the guy who takes over Jesus' work, is frankly a nutter. I think he's one of these "operating psychopaths" that you sometimes find in senior management positions, with a healthy dose of misogyny and self loathing thrown in. The drugs he must be taking probably don't help. I mean, you can see how bipolar he is in some of his letters to the Corinthians, but then by Revelations he's completely lost it. The apocalyptic rantings here fail as horror, mostly because they just don't make any sense. A decent horror writer knows that terror works when it connects with the reader, touches something in their psyche, but this just seems like random, drug-fuelled imagery.
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair. This book should probably be approached as a massive collection of (sometimes loosely) connected stories. Some of them are obviously meant to be parables - although sometimes you have to wonder just what lesson the reader is meant to take away - and probably not take it too seriously. And the saving grace, in this edition at least, is that some of the language is simply wonderful, he imagery occasionally breathtaking. It's interesting to compare to The Epic of Gilgamesh or the Mahabharata, books from different cultures on similar themes, although I think both of those are told better....more
As with most short story collections, Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors is something of a mixed bag. When he is good he is sublime, and there is plenty in thAs with most short story collections, Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors is something of a mixed bag. When he is good he is sublime, and there is plenty in this volume that fits that description, but there are also a few stories that seem little more than jottings of ideas meant to be fleshed out or perhaps left over from longer works. There is also some laudable inventiveness which, for me, doesn't always quite work - for example his triptych of narrative poems - but nonetheless shows the writer's great talent and shows also how important it is to stretch oneself.
As I say, there are some utterly wonderful stories in this collection. The book closes with two of the best. Murder Mysteries, about the death of an angel during the construction of the universe and Snow, Glass, Apples, a new view on the Snow White story that is both reminiscent of Angela Carter and one of the best of its kind I have read. These and other stand-out stories such as The Goldfish Pool and other stories show, like Angela Carter, a deep connection to and understanding of myth and folklore - both an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject but also a thorough understanding of the workings and themes of the mythic, something that resonates through all his best work, from the Sandman graphic novels to American Gods and Stardust....more
The RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the SecThe RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the Security Services which is tasked with protecting Her Britannic Majesties Domains and Protectorates - and, incidentally the world - from all manner of unspeakable, tentacled monstrosities from beyond space and time. HP Lovecraft called them The Old Gods, others have called them the Many-Angled Ones, but they are multitudinous and ever hungry for human souls (or quantum thought patterns, as modern terminology has it), and almost always possessed of some deranged cult that feels summoning them to our world is a good idea. Add to this the aspects of the espionage genre that Charles Stross has woven into the novels on which the game is based and the authors make full use of here, and you have a fun game that can be played as any mix of Lovecraft and le Carre that you wish.
The characters are not superheroes, or even necessarily heroes, just ordinary people who have been inducted (often forcefully after being involved in an Incident) into the dark secrets that hide behind our modern, wipe-clean world. Magic has always existed, of course, but the utterance of complex grammatical and mathematical summoning structures (or spells and incantations, if you prefer) was always hit and miss until Alan Turing developed both the computer and the algorithms that made the process a little safer. Hence there is a substantial emphasis on IT and CD (Information Technology and Computational Demonology), with gadgets like the specially adapted Apple product (nicknamed the NecronomiPhone) being a must have for any smart Laundry operative.
The system used is the classic BRPS (Basic Role-Playing System, usually pronounced 'burps'), a nice simple metric that leaves most of the emphasis on role playing rather than dice but offers a good solid backbone for the mechanical aspects of the game. It is also a natural fit for this setting; having been developed from the original Call of Cthulhu RPG system the players should feel right at home as their characters' sanity begins to ebb away when they encounter all manner of squamous, cyclopean terrors....more