I swear by all that's (un)holy, I didn't deliberately choose to read this book (which I finished last night at precisely 10.36 pm Eastern) timed to the coming Apocalypse. But how delightful a coincidence, huh?
This is broad-strokes, high-farce, slapstick-laden, Monty Python-esque humour, with at its core (of the apple of Knowledge, get it?), a tart sweetness. Some of the jokes and puns are broad enough to be groaners, but it works because it is anchored by Pratchett and Gaiman's dead(!)pan humour grounded in the inescapable, ineffable, both direct and parodied, angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin philosophical conundrum: freewill or destiny?
Freewheeling and careening in parts, with a pink-helmeted psychic, a 17th-Century book of prophecies, and the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse caricatured and modernized deliciously (Pestilence was here renamed Pollution; my fave was War, personified as a--natch--war correspondent for a sleazy, Virgin-Mary-appears-in-the-toast tabloid) and mirrored for a short while by four trivia-playing Hell's Angels (our categories: Pop Music, Current Events, Famine and War - hah!) and four 11-yr-olds, busy filling their days with the stuff that children fill their days with, headed up by our hero (or anti-hero, aye - there's the rub), Adam Young.
The humour can't truly be called black -- its absurdities were light and fanciful, not dark and discomforting. And in this, Pratchett and Gaiman achieve the somewhat delicate balance required to tip this from a 3 to a 4 star book for me: while it was silly in parts, it was also at times deeply poignant, especially the rare spot of prose where they slowed it down:If you took the world away and just left the electricity, it would look like the most exquisite filigree ever made -- a ball of twinkling silver lines with the occasional coruscating spike of a satellite beam. Even the dark areas would glow with radar and commercial radio waves. It could be the nervous system of a great beast.
Here and there cities make knots in the web but most of the electricity is, as it were, mere musculature, concerned only with crude work. But for fifty years or so people had been giving electricity brains.
And now it was alive, in the same way that fire is alive.
And they are fundamentally and deeply in love with the world, from six feet under to the height of the ozone layer, and with humanity, flawed humanity.
If you like your apocalyptic fiction served up with high and clever comedy as well as points of poignancy, this one is highly recommended. I'd love to see it made into a movie, directed by Terry Gilliam.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and it turns out fine.