BOOK REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

written by David Steffen

American Gods is a contemporary fantasy/mythology novel by Neil Gaiman, published in 2001. I’ve heard the book highly recommended by many readers, and in 2017 Starz started airing a TV series adaptation, so I decided I needed to find out what it was all about.

The protagonist of the book, Shadow, is released from prison three days early when his wife Laura and best friend die in a car accident, and he learns had been having an affair with each other. He had gotten through his time in prison largely by looking forward to reuniting with her, and his job prospects after his release had depended on his best friend’s business.

Bereaved and bereft of all of his hopes for the future, with no good prospects for worth and nothing to look forward to, he is offered employment by a strange man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday is a con man, and takes on Shadow as a bodyguard. Shadow is skeptical at first, but in the face of his options finding work as a recent ex-con, he takes the job.

Soon he is drawn into a strange war between ancient and new mythologies. The gods of the old world, a version of them transported here by the belief of immigrants who traveled here to the United States, are weak and dying from the waning beliefs of the people who brought them here. Meanwhile, new gods are rising up, not of the traditional sort, gods of technology and change. A cold war has been building for quite some time, and it’s about to come to a head.

I had trouble getting into this book. Much of the book is spent with Shadow spending time in random hotels or apartments by himself, waiting for Mr. Wednesday to come back again. And while much of the purpose of the seemingly unimportant events of these “waiting around” times becomes clear later, it didn’t make it quicker or more interesting to read at the time. In addition, it’s almost two hundred pages into the book before the mythology plot comes to the forefront–until that point it’s just Shadow hanging about with odd people with quesitonable motivations. The mythology plot is what drew me to the book, so it was frustrating to wait so long to really get into it.

I found Shadow hard to relate to in particular, which made it especially difficult to keep going with the book. I empathized with the depths of his despair when he was released early because of tragedy but many of the decisions he makes in the book make no sense whatsoever to me. Taking the job with Mr. Wednesday, I get in itself, because he was very short on options at the time for being able to make a living in his post-conviction life. But throughout much of the rest of it, he would make a decision that would just leave me scratching my head, and this is for major decisions that the entire plot is built on, so I couldn’t just ignore the oddity, the entire book depended on them.

There were some elements near the very end that helped justify some of the long periods of not much happening, which helped some in retrospect.

This book was not for me. I’d like to talk with some of the people who recommended it so highly and see what it was they got out of the book, because I am curious to hear another perspective. I might consider trying out the TV show at some point because I feel like the premise is very promising, maybe I’ll enjoy a different adaptation of the story.

Interview: Mur Lafferty

Mur_lafferty_headshotMur Lafferty is one of the pioneers of podcasting – founder, producer, host, voice, editor, author. She has won the Parsec Award several times. Her Shambling Guide comedy-horror series is available from Orbit.

Member of the Podcast Pickle Hall of Fame
One of the Top Ten Savvy Women in Podcasting, 2006
Tricks of the Podcasting Masters was named one of the top reference books for 2006 by
2007 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Short Form): I Look Forward To Remembering You
2007 Parsec Award for Best Writing Related Podcast: I Should Be Writing
2008 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Heaven – Season Four: Wasteland
2008 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Long Form): Playing for Keeps
2010 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Heaven – Season Five: War
2011 Parsec Nomination for Best Speculative Fiction Story (Novella Form): Marco and the Red Granny
2012 Nomination for John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer


Lafferty_ShamblingGuide2F8-1-200x300CARL SLAUGHTER: You’re one of the pioneers of podcasting. Geek Fu Action Grip, Wingin’ It, I Should Be Writing, Mad Science with the Princess Scientist, Angry Robot Books, Pseudopod, Escape Pod. Did I miss any?

MUR LAFFERTY: Almost! I did the Lulu Podcast and This Day in Alternate History back in 2007.


CARL SLAUGHTER: How did you get involved in each of these projects and what significant happened while you were there?

MUR LAFFERTY: I’m not sure what significant things happened- I was simply interested in podcasting and I became part of the podcasting community where I met Michael and Evo of Dragon Page, and Steve Eley of Escape Pod. My communications with them had me working on Wingin’ It and the Pseudopod and Escape Pod, and editor Lee Harris was a listener of mine for I Should Be Writing and he asked me to do the Angry Robot show.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You recently returned to Escape Pod. In what capacity?

MUR LAFFERTY: I’m Editor at Large for Escape Artists, which means I am co-editing Escape Pod with Norm Sherman, but I have some other duties that will be apparent in future months.


CARL SLAUGHTER: I Should Be Writing is your longest running podcast. How many episodes have there been? What topics have you discussed? Who have you interviewed?

MUR LAFFERTY: Probably around 400 to 500 total. I have video, special eps, and some premium content for people who have supported me for years. I talk mainly about the anxieties that can stop new writers, and how to work past them. I’ve interviewed Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin, and, coming up, Seanan McGuire and Charlaine Harris.


Mur_lafferty-300x198CARL SLAUGHTER: Who is the Princess Scientist, what are the science topics, and how mad is the science?

MUR LAFFERTY: She’s my 11 year old daughter, we do science experiments around a theme via video. We’ve done sun science and baking soda science.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Whose idea was it to launch the Parsec Award? Who was involved?

MUR LAFFERTY: I thought SF podcasting needed an award, since podcasting awards started coming on the scene in 2005, but no one was recognizing the geeky section of shows. I got together with Michael R. Menenga and Tracy Hickman and we launched the award.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You carved out a fiction career for yourself in podcasting before you broke into print. How does an author get podcasted without getting published first? Is it easier to get a story published after it’s been podcasted? Is it easier to break into print after you’ve been podcasted?

MUR LAFFERTY: Publishing fiction via podcast is a DIY endeavor – an author doesn’t “get” podcasted, she does it herself. As for easier, I don’t think so. Like all self publishing, if something is a huge hit, publishers may take notice, but if it’s not, then publishers will consider it already published and not worth their time. One thing podcasting will give you is an audience which can make you more attractive to publishers, but ultimately you have to have a good book.


Lafferty_GhostTraintoNOLA-TP-200x300CARL SLAUGHTER: Suppose someone wanted to launch a podcast. How much money would they need to raise? What would they need in the way of recording equipment and web resources? What would they need in terms of personnel?

MUR LAFFERTY: I think you’re thinking bigger than I’ve ever been! You can launch a podcast with a $20 mic and some web space, which can be $120 a year. You don’t need a group to do it, the biggest thing is make sure you have a host with plenty of bandwidth so, if you get popular, you don’t get hit with a huge server bill.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Anything else an aspiring podcaster needs to know?

MUR LAFFERTY: You will hate your voice and your first few shows will likely suck. It happens to everyone. Don’t let it stop you.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.