Lando Calrissian Darnell Cooper is a standup comic in Chicago. He has a lovely girlfriend, Surabhi, and two feuding separated parents; he’s just trying to be like one of us. Lando, however, is also the decanted incarnation of the retired god Yahweh, the God of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Mormons. What is God trying to do being a stand-up comic in Chicago? Trying to make a living at being an ex-God, that is.
Power abhors a vacuum, however, and Lando’s mostly deactivated status as a deity means that the rest of the retired and supplanted gods out there can smell blood in the water. A chance to get back on top, perhaps? Or just eliminate the God of the Hebrews and re-establish the old order. Worse, there are hints that a new power, a new God for the age, might be looking to eliminate the competition and the old regime — to wit, Lando. And all Lando wants to do is find the right time and moment to propose to his girlfriend. Oh, and to kill them on stage.
Last God Standing is a first novel from Michael Boatman. Boatman is best known as being an actor on shows like Spin City, Anger Management and Law and Order: SUV. He’s written a couple of short stories prior to this, but Last God Standing is his into-the-deep end transition from acting to writing.
The comedy and humor are the selling point of the novel. The translation of the author’s experience, especially in comedy television, have translated well onto the printed page. Having Lando be a stand-up comic allows for a character who can be a wiseass and crack jokes at the drop of a hat. The humor ranges from one-liners and put downs (Lando’s confrontations and encounters with other deities are full of these) to wry and funny observations on life, the universe and everything.
The novel’s tone and style are distinctive, and provide a quick read, as laced as they are with that unique sense of comedy that the author favors. As an example, early in the novel, after Lando has had a confrontation with a rival deity and is cleaning up the mess:
I’d cleaned up the Mercedes sized droppings left by Cheezy Domino and sent him back to his home dimension: he was adorable but his presence in my dimension was an abomination. I’d brought back the Sears Tower: no one noticed. The only person who acknowledged my efforts was the orphaned toddler. As I resurrected his mother and placed him back in the stroller, he’d asked if I could sweeten his mother’s breast milk. According to him it tasted like mucus. I’d granted his wish because…well, who needs snotty breast milk?
The novel’s weaknesses for me, however, were significant. Although the Mythpunk setting is interesting in the abstract, the execution of the worldbuilding suffers from one major problem. As we learn right from the get go, as Lando IS Yahweh, consequences and major problems, for the most part, can be unwound and undone. Fight with a deity and wreck half of Chicago? No problem! Unwind reality to suit. It was never entirely clear why Yahweh was able to do this if he is a deity looking to retire, either. Because he was the last deific head honcho and so had admin privileges on the UNIX computer that is the universe? Too, the emotional and character arcs of the novel feel for the most part that they never get out of first gear. Lando’s character arc, however imperfect, does exist, but none of the secondary characters, for all of their amusing and funny natures, seem to have one. Lando’s mother does have a story arc, but I never connected it to her personality or a personality change.
Some of the most intriguing worldbuilding and character development occurs, though, as one might expect, when Lando is put into a position where he is unable to hit the aforementioned magic reset button. An all too brief excursion into an alternate reality late in the book provides a fascinating world that we don’t get to see enough of. It puts Lando in a place of real vulnerability and the novel sings for this section as it fails to do, aside from its humor, elsewhere. The emotional beats of the book, which vary widely for the rest of the novel, crystalize and gel and work. It is as if that alternate world is the story and world which is encapsulated and constricted by the rest of the book, to the detriment of both.
Last God Standing was entertaining, funny and a light, frothy book that, were I a visitor to the sands that lie against the waters, I would classify as a beach read. I hoped for something deeper, and richer from the novel. But in the end, it does not often rise much above the level of disposable, serviceable entertainment.