Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett,
Good Omens
(Workman, 1990; Ace, 1996)

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Well, who couldn't feel great when the climactic finale of human civilization is brought about by the cleverly fiendish minds of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, best known as the creators of The Sandman and Discworld, respectively. Combined, the two British authors have penned Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, which is a laugh riot of apocalyptic proportions.

The book begins shortly after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and the conversation between Crowley, a certain serpent-shaped demon, and Aziraphale, the angel guarding the eastern gate. Then, fast-forward to 20th century England, where the Antichrist has just been born. Unfortunately, despite the tender ministrations of the Satanic nuns (the Chattering Order of Saint Beryl), the hellspawn is switched with the wrong baby, and instead of growing up the son of a wealthy and powerful diplomat with an infernal nanny by his side, he lives a quiet childhood in rural Tadfield. There, by age 11, Adam leads "Them," a gang of mischievous children, and he's accompanied by a former hellhound, now a scruffy mongrel, transformed by his unconscious will.

But Armageddon isn't easily swayed, and soon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- Death, War, Famine and Pollution (substituting for Pestilence), riding motorcycles instead of horses -- are making their final ride. (Death, interestingly enough, bears a remarkable resemblance to his popular Discworld namesake.) But Crowley and Aziraphale, still on opposite sides although guardedly aware that being foes for so long makes them sort of friends, really don't want the end of the world to happen.

Neither does Anathema Device, the last descendant of England's last, best witch and prophetess, Agnes Nutter. Agnes, who went cheerfully to her witch's pyre three centuries before, has outlined pretty much everything that's going to happen with incredible accuracy ... although figuring out what she means in her predictions often requires waiting for the event to happen first. And, in a twist of fate which amused old Agnes to no end, Anathema runs afoul of Newt Pulsifer, a new recruit in the Witchfinder Army (membership: two) and a direct descendant of the very witchfinder who put the torch to old Agnes.

Throw in an extremely job-devoted deliveryman, a gaggle of children, a pair of vengeful demons, the Voice of God, the devoted Witchfinder Sgt. Shadwell, a sweet elderly psychic and part-time dominatrix, a quartet of would-be Bikers of the Apocalypse (including Grievous Bodily Harm and Embarassing Personal Problems, among others) and possibly even Elvis, and you have the delightful cast of a book overflowing with laughter, as well as its share of maggots, untimely deaths, rains of fish, a blazing Bentley and other stuff straight from Revelations.

The Earth, by the way, is a Libra.

Adam and his friends provide the sort of wise view of the world with the kind of insight only children -- or, perhaps, Gaiman and Pratchett -- could muster. The pair of writers also provide the sort of laugh-out-loud entertainment which should keep this book from gathering much dust on your shelf -- you'll want to read it again, and share it with friends.

Because this end of the world is too much fun to experience just once.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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