The first book I read this year was Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman. It is a book about the apocalypse, the ultimate battle between good and evil, the antichrist, the four horsemen, hell hounds, angels, and devils.
It is also a comedy.
It's very much a Hitchhiker's Guide meets Monty Python British take on the events of the end of the world in which the angel with the flaming sword, and the snake from the Garden of Eden become friends whilst on Earth doing their respective jobs, and decide, when the time comes, that they're actually quite fond of the planet and of humanity in general, and that things will be, on the whole, terribly uninteresting if the world were to end. So they decide to thwart it.
Fortunately, it doesn't need a whole lot of thwarting. Things start to go wrong when the antichrist is switched at birth and given to the wrong set of parents so that, when he should have been raised by a couple of satanists, he is, in fact, raised by a painfully normal couple in a nice little village.
The best parts of this book are the two main characters, Aziraphale the angel, and his friend Crowley the demon. Their discussions about the nature of good and evil, the ineffability of the divine plan, and the fact that really, their jobs aren't too difficult, because humans get up to more evil, and greater good, than either of them could ever come up with.
And just when you'd think they were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this free-will thing, of course. It was a bugger.
Aziraphale had tried to explain it to him once. The whole point he'd said -- this was somewhere around 1020, when they'd first reached their little Arrangement -- the whole point was that when a human was good or bad it was because they wanted to be. Whereas people like Crowley and, of course, himself, were set in their ways right from the start. People couldn't become truly holy, he said, unless they also had the opportunity to be definitively wicked.
Crowley had though about this for some time and, around 1023, had said, Hang on, that only works, right, if you start everyone off equal, okay? You can't start someone off in a muddy shack in the middle of a war zone and expect them to do as well as someone born in a castle.
Ah, Aziraphale had said, that's the good bit. The lower you start, the more opportunities you have,.
Crowley had said, That's lunatic.
No, said Aziraphale, it's ineffable.
I really quite enjoyed the humor, and, in fact, most of the psychological theological discussion. Some of the characters wandered dangerously close to idiotic and ridiculous, while others were just plain boring. The four horsemen, for example, could have been ingenious, but ended up merely as plot points, which was rather disappointing.
The ending was... a tad anticlimactic. Which is saying a lot for a book about the end of the world. But in the end, I'm not sure there was much other way for them to end it. It was certainly no "Left Behind" in terms of vast religious doom, but it was entertaining, and a very fun read.
I would recommend it.