Tom Holt is not a man who takes much of anything seriously. He writes humorous fantasy that takes aim at all the cliches and tropes of fantasy fiction and turns them inside out in the funniest way possible (don’t believe me? Try some of his other books, including Outsorcerer’s Apprentice, and The Good, the Bad and the Smug, here at The Field Library). In his latest book, The Management Style of the Supreme Beings, he changes his focus a little and starts with the premise that God decides to sell off the whole planet earth and everything on it to the Venturi Brothers, a pair of aliens (originally from Mars, though they’ve been all over the universe since) who have the whole supreme being thing worked out in their own way. The Venturi brothers are not bad, necessarily — in fact, they’re beyond all this “good and bad” stuff in general — but they’re instituting a new regime for the earth and everything is going to be quite different as long as they’re in charge.
You can tell from that much of a description that this is not a reverent book (by any means), and if you’re uncomfortable with an author taking (fairly gentle) pot shots at Christian theology, probably this is not the book for you.
However, if you’re not easily offended, and if you’re curious about how the world would work if this whole “good — bad” dichotomy weren’t the basis for morality, or if you like a warped adventure story that takes you from heaven to hell to other galaxies and all kinds of places in between, that subverts many of the tropes of adventure fiction (take that, Indiana Jones and your pulp forbears!), then you should definitely read The Management Style of the Supreme Beings. It’s a fast read filled with laugh aloud lines and warped characters (also warped looks at characters you think you know).
For instance, we have Kevin, God’s other son, the one who never seemed to find a place o fit in with the divine scheme, and who rebels against God’s sale of the earth and all that’s on it to the Venturis. Yes, he’s supposed to keep away from the earth, but he can’t quite seem to do that, and his two Uncles (Raffa and Gabe, whom you might recognize as the angels Rafael and Gabriel, respectively) have their supernatural hands full trying to keep him out of trouble.
We also have Jersey, an Indiana Jones type of character who’s spent his whole life trying to find the ultimate answer to the existence of God, only to discover, when the Venturi brothers take over, that now everybody knows who the gods are around here, and now he has nothing left to look for, so his life loses its meaning until he discovers a secret that’s been kept for millennia, the secret of another god, one who’s never gone away.
Then there’s Bernie, a human being who’s been working for Uncle Nick in hell for a long time before the sell-off, and who uses his brilliant management skills to make hell into a great tourist destination after the new regime comes to power. I might add that “Uncle Nick” comes across as a much more interesting (and sympathetic) character than you would expect from his traditional depiction, and has real affection for Bernie (to the point of offering to let Bernie take over the joint when Nick retires).
All of this is fun and the plot is entertaining and complicated enough to keep you going, but the thing that makes this book rise to true heights of goofy fun is the inclusion of Santa Claus as a character. It turns out he’s not exactly what we always thought he was, and he is NOT pleased at the new management of the planet. He knows when you are sleeping, after all, and knows when you’re awake, and “good” and “bad” are not things he’s willing to give up on without a fight.
If the news is getting you down and you really feel the need for escape, you could hardly do better than to turn to The Management Style of the Supreme Beings.