#CBR4 Maneuver #27-28 – Divine Comedies
Profile: Comic Fantasy, Absurdist Fiction, Satire
Summary: From the Divine Comedies omnibus edition, “Here Comes the Sun: The sun rises late, dirty and so badly in need of a service it’s a wonder it gets up at all. The moon’s going to be scrapped soon and a new one commissioned – but they’ve been saying that for years. All is not well with the universe… and it’s because the mortals [aren’t] running the show. It’s time for a Higher Power to take charge.
Odds and Gods: It’s a god’s life at the Sunnyvoyde Residential home for retired deities. Everlasting life can be a read drag when all you’ve got to look forward to is cauliflower cheese on Wednesdays. But things are about to change, because those almighty duffers Thor, Odin and Frey have restored a thousand-year-old traction engine, and the thing actually works!”
After Action Report:
There’s something soothing about British satire. The formula is simple: take a modern social or political problem; build it into a fantasy or sci-fi setting; ridicule liberally and wrap everything up with a thoughtful look at the original problem. Only, sometimes there’s nothing to do but accept that the universe seems to be built for the express purpose of driving us all to an earlier grave. Tom Holt’s satire runs the gamut from meaningful social criticism to unsuccessful exercises in comic absurdism. I’m particularly fond of his Snow White and the Seven Samurai mashup, but both of the novels in the Divine Comedies omnibus tend toward the absurd end of his spectrum. Part of the problem is that when you’re talking about the meaning of life, the comic framework of satire undermines the thoughtful conclusion. The world is pretty nasty and… we’re supposed to keep laughing?
Here Comes the Sun stages the universe as a supercorporation, with angels running the show. But it’s been a few millennia since things have really run well, so upper management decides to bring in a ringer, a corporate executive from England to shake things up. Jane, the ringer, takes to her new job description a little too well and gets into just enough trouble to really stir things up leading to war in the heavens, while the Devil’s Advocate laughs in the Home Office. The A-plot here is great. Jane gets to fix the universe with corporate aplomb and her interactions with the stogy angels are well written. Unfortunately, the B-plot is a little confusing and eventually derails into a stupid transdimensional chase scene that pulls the rest of the story along with it into a deeply unsatisfying climax. But the story does manage to do a little deus ex magic and end fairly well.
In contrast, Odds and Gods is a well-structured story that can’t quite stick the landing. The preview text is extremely misleading, as the Norse trio have very little to do with the real plot. Instead, Osiris, Egyptian god of the life and death, takes center stage on the run from his godson, an evil attorney (is there any other kind?) out to usurp his godfather’s godhood with a Power of Attorney ruling. Osiris embarks on a quest to find the spirit of Litigation to trounce his godson at his own game, but much of the story is spent trying to come up with the lawyer-god’s hourly. Thor, Odin and Frey act as a single, ongoing literal deus ex machina that keeps the story going.
This story hits the nail on the head, poking fun at the convoluted legal system, human apathy and Robert Ludlum novels. The story holds together well and the characters are more than just the loose stereotype that populate Here Comes the Sun. The whole outing would be fantastic if it weren’t for the somewhat bizarre ending that seems to imply that humanity isn’t capable of saving itself in the long run; that we might need some very real godly interference to keep from destroying ourselves in legal actions. There is a kernel of truth in that message, but it doesn’t quite fit with the message of the main plot. The problem isn’t that the ending is too realistic or depressing, but that it doesn’t fit with the fact that Osiris couldn’t have gotten to the end without help from humans along the way.
If I’m being honest with myself, I can’t really recommend either book. I really did enjoy them both, but my sense of humor is fairly specific, and I’m not sure that Holt has done a good job of being accessible in either story. They both rely, somewhat, on the same pool of jokes (those earthquakes aren’t San Andreas’ fault…! Har har) and a basic understanding of British culture and comedy. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ve read every Discworld book (more than once) and these little idiosyncrasies pose no barrier to entry, but the rest of the world probably won’t get as much out of Tom Holt as I do.