Let me begin by stating the obvious Kanan Gill runs the dangerous risk of being typecast as an Indian Douglas Adams, and this is both good and bad.

Good, because who wouldn’t want to be typecast as the Douglas Adams of their country? Bad, because it would end up creating a kind of expectation from Gill for any future work (or for even this very book) to be a certain way. But the fundamental difference between the Indian version of anything and the original is emotion. Like all things Indian, Acts of God maintains a strong emotional core, sometimes stronger than the plot itself. There are times when you just begin to take things lightly, sailing along with the book’s casually humorous tone, when the author yanks you back to feelings.

A sci-fi novel set in an apparently utopian future where The State Has No Secrets and The World Has No Borders, where everyone exists happily under a single Government, Acts of God takes its own sweet time to get to the point. It’s almost like someone let Gill run an improv show for five hours and then edited it together in the form of a book (which might well be how the book came about). At least the first 100 pages are spent trying to catch up with whatever new word salad Gill throws at you.

Self-aware and wild

The plot, running between two different worlds, is unclear until you’re well-invested. Who just got blown up? Who is drinking themselves to sleep? Who just got blown up again? But, surprisingly, it’s all fun. A lot of fun. There is no dearth of humour, even in the grimmest of circumstances. Sample: There is a death, a scientist is in mourning, and he decides to remember the person who is gone in a portrait, which he commissions to his AI, except that the AI is horrible at it, and also very melodramatic about being told the truth about its artistic skills.

It is nearly impossible to reveal anything about the plot because of potential spoilers, which in my opinion is a testament to Gill’s writing, but here are the basics. There’s a scientist, who quite literally is playing god and experimenting with the creation of multiple universes, and there’s an airhead detective and his slightly less of an airhead sidekick, who are unaware of this board game going on, but start suspecting something in their world is not quite right. But what do you do when you’re up against none other than god?

Like most sci-fi, Acts of God is plot-heavy and thought-heavy. The writing is wild, but good wild. It helps if you are familiar with Gill’s work because then you are constantly hearing his voice in your head while reading, which makes the experience ten times funnier. But it also doesn’t matter if you are not. Acts of God is extremely aware of itself, constantly reminding us what the book and its intentions are, to the point that the reader is caught off guard every so often.

The book swings between actual storytelling and narrative fourth wall breaking so frequently that it becomes an exercise in comprehensive reading. I had to go back and re-read pages several times to make sure I was leading up to the next plot point properly. The book dabbles in some romance, philosophy, heartbreak, drama, and tragedy, and all of this surprisingly adds to its readability.

Playing to strengths

This is not to say it doesn’t have its flaws. It is at times too indulgent and not entirely an easy read, not by a long shot. It might not even be a good read until you are sure you want to read this at all. It takes a certain level of commitment to pass the minimum threshold energy bar. I would read five pages on my commute to work and then come back and read them again because of how much textual dance-around the writing has. And while this works if you are a reader with this level of dedication, it is not something you can finish off quickly before jumping to write the review (as I learnt).

Observing Gill’s book tour and subsequent reactions from friends, it appeared that many of them seemed to be surprised by “this side of Gill”, one which is so dryly funny and blunt. But, if you have been following his recent works or even the occasionally active Instagram account, this is exactly how Kanan Gill the comedian has been for long. The same candid humour of his stand-up specials extends to his writing. Right from the days of his YouTube fame, Gill’s humour and perceived personality have decidedly been more urbane than those of others, and as a result, maybe not as relatable in stand-up. In writing, however, it translates into words beautifully. There is enough understanding of the language to create nonsense with it, and there is enough understanding of humour to enable this. But the very best thing about Acts of God is that there is finally an Indian entertainer with a well-written half-decent book.

Acts of God, Kanan Gill, HarperCollins India.