Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Humans - Donald Westlake

1992; 355 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Apocalyptic Fiction.  Rating : 8½*/10.

    The end of the world is at hand; God has decreed it.  And to carry it out, He's summoned one of his angels, Ananayel.  Like any angel (except for those who fell with Lucifer, and we don't talk about them), Ananayel is a faithful servant, eager and resolved to do His will.

    The plan is clear, at least to Ananayel.  It's just a matter of selecting a team of humans to carry it out, since the Man Upstairs has ordained that supernatural means are not to be used.  Ah, but if it's God's plan, then we can expect the Arch-Fiend and his minions to oppose it.  Which means, funnily enough, that they will be trying to save the world.

What's To Like...
    Ananayel's team is scattered around the globe and have one thing in common - the world has royally dumped on them all.  There's a Kenyan prostitute who has AIDS; a Russian firefighter dying from Chernobyl radiation; a Chinese democracy activist forced into hiding and running from the authorities; a washed-up Brazilian singer now futilely trying to save the rainforest; and an American ex-con petty thief whose only future is to get caught yet again and sent back to jail.

    Ananayel makes for a fascinating study as he interacts with his team and painstakingly tries to herd them towards New York.  He's a shape-shifter and can summon objects (such as a wad of cash or a car), but he is limited by having to make everything appear to be a natural occurrence.  It's fun to watch his "shepherding" as he endeavors to carry out his plan.

Kewlest New Word...
Bruit (v.) : to spread (a rumor or some news) around.

    "You'll have your day in court, Kwan.  That's the name, right?  Li Kwan?  Your last name's Kwan?"
    "My family name is Li," Kwan answered.  My given name is Kwan."
    "Oh."  The man frowned some more at the papers.  "They got it backward here."
    "Li Kwan.  That's correct."
    The man smiled in sudden understanding.  "I get it!  You do it backward!  Is that a Chinese thing, or is it just you?"  (pg. 212)

    Why were they so cheerful?  By now, bitterness and sorrow should have made those five much more silent and introspective.  It must be their companionship that was raising their spirits, but unfortunately I couldn't give them a properly disheartening solitude; they had to work together.  Would they do the right thing when the time came?  Yes, they would, they would, there was no real question.  I would turn the screw until they did what I wanted.  Of their free will, of course.  (pg. 273)

Don't be afraid, you wretched vermin.  We will save you.  (pg. 117)
    The underlying theme in Humans is Free Will.  Humans theoretically have it, but Ananayel deftly maneuvers them towards his desired goal.  Angels theoretically don't have it, but unforseen counterplans call for improvisation.  And spending time in the world of humans can't help but have unscripted consequences.

    Donald Westlake's primary genre is Crime, not apocalyptic fiction.  He puts out both serious novels and the captivating and hilarous Dortmunder series.  By penning Humans, he demonstrates that a gifted author can excel in any genre.  8½ Stars.

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