There is a good reason that comedic fiction is not a very common genre – it is devilishly difficult to write without becoming self-gratuitous and unoriginal. Luckily for Tom Holt, he’s right on the mark for his newest comedic science-fiction fantasy novel, The Management Style of the Supreme Beings.
It is a simple premise for a story that is explored imaginatively and humorously. To summarise, God is tired of managing the Earth so he decides to sell the business to the alien family business, the Venturi brothers. With this new management comes a whole new system of justice that does wonders for the economy, crime rate, and world peace. However, despite this, the citizens of Earth are more miserable than ever.
Here, in its sci-fi based, metaphysical dissection of morality and reason, Holt’s novel excels. The story assumes the existence of higher beings and simultaneously treats them with irreverence, effectively humanising them. So as readers we begin to wonder – if morality comes from beings that are just as flawed as us, then why is their moral system any better than our own?
In comes Jersey Thorpe, the archetypal Indiana Jones-type adventurer. In more traditional fiction, this stereotype of the charismatic, hyper-masculine hero has a broad set of skills that help him save the day and win the heart of the love interest. But when this stock character ends up in a story like this one that doesn’t play to traditional conventions, these strengths are comically rendered useless. After all, not every attractive female is a damsel in distress. Not every antagonist is a one-dimensional villain with an overly complex, ineffectual evil scheme.
Sometimes it is the love interest who saves the day, or perhaps the antagonists are merely two misguided brothers trying to look out for each other. Jersey’s naivety to the workings of this world is played to great comedic effect, using the same fish-out-of-water trope that makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so memorable and funny.
This constant subversion of familiar tropes keeps us on edge, as the story takes unpredictable yet still believable twists. Much of this stems from the story’s strange blend of science fiction and fantasy – it is a little bit of both, but does not quite embrace either fully. By referencing these two genres in such unique ways, an ensemble of flat, formulaic characters gradually develop into confident, fully realised individuals.
However, with all this focus on character building, the plot itself starts to get a little messy towards the middle. The subplots take over so much that the main storyline starts to fade into the background. When this main plot becomes the focus once again a little before its resolution, you would be forgiven for flipping back to earlier in the book to try and recall the recent events leading up to this moment.
While the novel could have delivered a little more on its plot development and abrupt resolution, overall it is successful at what it sets out to achieve. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings is genuinely one of the funniest books that I’ve read in recent memory. While it doesn’t reach the heights of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Tom Holt’s knack for characterisation and incorporating philosophy into his story ranges from subtly witty to downright hilarious.
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Synopsis | Goodreads
When the Supreme Being and his son decide that being supreme isn’t for them any more, it’s inevitable that things get a bit of a shake-up. It soon becomes apparent that our new owners, the Venturi brothers, have a very different perspective on all sorts of things. Take Good and Evil, for example. For them, it’s an outdated concept that never worked particularly well in the first place. Unfortunately, the sudden disappearance of right and wrong, while welcomed by some, raises certain concerns amongst those still attached to the previous team’s management style. In particular, there’s one of the old gods who didn’t move out with the others. A reclusive chap, he lives somewhere up north, and only a handful even believe in him. But he’s watching. And he really does need to know if you’ve been naughty or nice.