Neil Gaiman, American Gods (Author's
Preferred Edition)
(Hill House, 2004)

Neil Gaiman, American Gods (Author's Preferred
Edition -- The Reader's Copy)
(Hill House, 2004)

I am not here to review this novel as Michael M Jones has already done that for us in his review: 'American Gods is the sort of book where you have to reread passages several times, just to be sure you've caught the meaning properly. It's subtle, complex, and at the same time straightforward. It's a story about gods, men, belief, and change. This is the sort of book just about anyone can appreciate. It's about the hero's journey, the rite of passage, the invisible living among us, a cross between Joseph Campbell and Emma Bull, with plenty of Gaiman's own unique style thrown in for good measure. I promise you, it has enough twists that even the most jaded reader will be surprised at least once or twice. And for those who keep their minds and expectations wide open, prepare yourselves for one hell of a journey.' I will only add to his comments that this is my second favorite Gaiman novel after Neverwhere and I consider American Gods to be one of the finest novels written, period. It was, I must admit, fun to read all over again. Neil, at his very best, is one of the best writers ever. And American Gods is superb by any measurement of what comprises great writing!

I repeat -- I am not here to review American Gods. I am here instead to talk with you about not one, but two, of the finest editions of a novel ever printed. I do not say that lightly as I've seen many fine limited editions ranging from the affordable works of Golden Gryphon such as Kage Baker's Black Projects, White Knights -- The Company Dossiers to one by Gaiman himself that Biting Dog Press issued, Murder Mysteries: Two Plays for Voices that is both one of the coolest art objects I ever held in my hands and is quite possibly the most expensive book I've ever actually owned. Now I'm not saying that mainstream publishers such as Tor, Penguin Putnam, and Harpers Collins don't do fine quality work as they most assuredly do, but the really cool stuff comes from publishers who do relatively small runs of a given title. The trade off is, of course, that it costs more (sometimes) to do it this way, but the result in the case of American Gods (Author's Preferred Edition) is well-worth the price.

I first heard of the Hill House printing of American Gods (Author's Preferred Edition) from a writer who had dropped by my office here at Green Man one late summer afternoon to use the collection of Zelazny bibliographies that she knew I had accumulated. (Some day someone will actually do the definitive Zelazny bibliography as none of them are complete, most stopping a decade short of his death in their coverage. Of course, Neil Gaiman would benefit from having a good bibliography as well!) She noticed that I had the BBC edition of Neverwhere out on my desk and we got chatting, over tea and rather decent scones, about Gaiman and his various works. She mentioned that she heard American Gods was being printed in the form that Neil had wished it had been when it was first published by Morrow in the USA few years back. She gave me the name of the publisher and a few short weeks alter the novel along with a few goodies itself arrived here.

As the Hill House page for this edition notes, 'This edition features additional text that did not appear in any previous editions of the novel. This never-before-seen material was cut before publication of the trade editions for space considerations. Prior to this Hill House Limited Edition, the material only existed in Neil’s original typescript -- which most readers would never have the opportunity to see. Now you have a chance to own Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece in the form the author originally intended.' (I have been told by another reviewer that The Reader's Copy actually should be considered the definitive edition as it corrects a few errors that crept in to Author's Preferred Edition, and it has a bit more material that was not in the Author's Preferred Edition. That is indeed correct as it has an appendix that is a conversation between Shadow and an individual with an interest in what the American Gods are up to. It's a nifty riff off... No, it won't say what.)

Here are some of the pertinent facts about American Gods (Author's Preferred Edition) you should be aware of...

It features over 12,000 words, roughly 40 pages, of new material that did not appear in the trade edition of the book. It have heard that this material did appear in a very limited edition printing which Harper Collins did, but nowhere else! Did this additional material add to my enjoyment of the story Gaiman is telling. Oh, yes. It's a story with enough difference from the previous version to make sure that you too will pay close attention to the story once again.

It is bound and slip cased in a beautiful Japanese silk cloth. There is no way to convey in words just how impressive this is as a physical object, as an art fetish, errr, object. Rumor has that many purchasers couldn't bear to soil it, so The Reader's Copy was created so that these souls could read the novel without causing damage, however slight,to it. I'm fussy -- I put mylar jackets on all but the most disposable of hardcovers -- but I did deny myself the pleasure of reading the Hill House hardcover. I was as thrilled by reading this was I was by reading the SoulWave hardcover editions of James Stoddard's Evenmere novels, The High House and The False House, or. after nearly twenty years, finally reading Emma Bull's War for the Oaks in a hardcover edition. I detest cheaply printed reading material -- there are several novels I haven't read because their only printed edition is a mass market paperback that makes me queasy when I consider reading it. (One of these is Simon R. Green's Shadow Falls which as some things in common with American Gods which Jones noted in his Green Man column: 'Shadow Falls, a nifty-keen epic urban fantasy murder mystery that stars the mythical town of Shadow Falls, and all of its myriad inhabitants. Simply put, this is where legends and stories go when their time is done. The forgotten comic book characters, the lost imaginary playmates, the children's' talking animals that weren't a success, the abandoned gods, the lost people. It's a town of regret and magic, existing beyond the last corner, watched over by the mysterious Father Time and his right hand being, Jack Fetch, the turnip-headed scarecrow.' Fortunately BenBella Books is releasing a nifty trade paperback edition soon!) An interesting tale in a well-crafted book is a joy for me, the equivalent of a truly great live performance, or a cup of perfectly brewed coffee. Unlike those pleasures, it is one that I can return to whenever I want!

It is much larger larger than the trade edition which is to say that it feels quite solid in my hands. Oddly enough, it's even heavier than Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke which is (I believe) over eight hundred pages in length. (I'm stuck at a third of the way through it. I will finish it eventually. Maybe.) American Gods in this edition is a mere five hundred or so pages, so the only conclusion I can draw is that both the paper and the boards are made of much sturdier stock. Much sturdier stock. The text, completely reset for this edition, is printed a two-color process (dark purple and black), it is highly readable with a crisp font that stands out nicely. it reminds me of the Victorian hot type set books I've got in my personal Library where the metal makes an impression on the paper. It's that good!

It comes in a very handsome slipcase with a die-cut on the front panel, and a ribbon-pull which allows easy removal of the book. I really can't recall a more impressive printing job that featured a truly well-designed slipcase as well. I wasn't kidding when I said it reminded me of a Victorian book as it's strongly akin to the books William Morris did at Kelmscott Press over a hundred years ago. As craft, it's perfect, and a wonderful presentation of a superb modern classic. If you collect Gaiman, you'll want to purchase this as soon as possible as I'm sure it will rapidly become unavailable; if you love great fantasy and have some extra cash on hand, it might also be worth your purchasing American Gods (Author's Preferred Edition) as you're not just buying this novel, but also the reading copy and an additional story and a Christmas chapbook. The latter, 'American Gods: Ancient Emperor', was, like some of Charles de Lint's shorter works, done by Neil as a Christmas mailing to selected folks. Oh, did I mention that only members of member of Hill House’s Neil Gaiman’s Author's Preferred Edition Series will get the Good Omens film script? Yes, Neil did a script for the novel he and Terry Pratchett wrote! There's only five hundred copies of the bugger and I will review it separately as it deserves a review all by itself.

All in all, I'd say it's one of the better deals I've seen as of late.

Now excuse me as I'm off to read the Good Omens script. If it's anywhere near as interesting as the War for the Oaks script penned by Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, it should be a great read!

[Cat Eldridge]