People Being People
2 min read

People Being People

A review of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens."

I’m pretty sure I read Good Omens before, a long time ago. But it might as well have been a different life, I remember so little. So I re-read it over the last couple of weeks.

Good Omens is ostensibly about an angel and a demon trying to manage the end of the world. But at its heart, it’s really about people being people, doing people things—and it’s a gentle criticism of the people-y way that said people do those people-ish things. Neil and Terry are upfront early on in the book:

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

So yes, this story involves several figures from both “up there” and “down there,” but the lesson in the book isn’t that there are forces beyond us running the show. Quite the opposite in fact: we are in charge, like it or not, and we better not fuck it up.

“… he rather liked people. It was a major failing in a demon.

Oh, he did his best to make their short lives miserable, because that was his job, but nothing he could think up was half as bad as the stuff they thought up themselves. They seemed to have a talent for it. It was built into the design, somehow. They were born into a world that was against them in a thousand little ways, and then devoted most of their energies to making it worse.”

The book is smart, sweet, amusing, and very British (I found myself looking up terms here and there). And while it’s justifiably compared to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’d contend they are still very different breeds. The style and wit are certainly familiar, but Good Omens doesn’t have quite the laugh-out-loud, transportive qualities of Douglas Adams’ seminal work.

My chief complaint is—as it often is—the ending. Unironically, they wrap things up in a deus ex machina. It lacks the excitement you’d expect from the Great Cosmic Battle™: some pithy words, snaps of the fingers, and most everyone goes home. It feels complete, I guess, but doesn’t leave me, the reader, quite as satisfied as the characters seem to be.

As always with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, though, I’m happy to have (re?)read it. I’m grateful for the chuckles, the new vocab, and the gentle reminders that we need to do a better job taking care of this planet we’ve been given (regardless of who may or may not have given it to us). After all, we don’t want to be charged with an alien DUI:

The small alien walked past the car.

“CO2 level up point five percent,” it rasped, giving him a meaningful look. “You do know you could find yourself charged with being a dominant species while under the influence of impulse-driven consumerism, don’t you?”

I give Good Omens three stars out of five.