Put this book down and go read Wong’s work at cracked.com, particularly his piece “6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying,” a brilliant piece of humor, psychology and economics: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-things-rich-people-need-to-stop-saying/
Back to John Dies. Yes, like the book blurb says, in some ways it resembles The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams–it’s that strange blend of humor that occurs partially because of stacking two incongruities in a slice of bread and calling it a sandwich. The heroes are similar and somewhat unlikeable; the rather boring Arthur Dent and 20-something slacker, David, a video store clerk. Both plots involve the end of the world as we know it, and time travel or alternate realities may or may not be involved. However, there are critical, fun-diminishing differences. Adams envisioned an entire universe for his absurdity while Wong plays around in modern America, where we’ve navel-gazed at absurdity so long, the commentary is hardly unique. Adams managed to turn the entire SF genre sideways with is originality, John Dies mostly feels like an unfinished stew of popular culture references and genre mashup.
Why Hitchhiker’s works: Vogon poetry. To appreciate the humor, he built a race entirely absent in emotional expression and vulnerability and then provided an example of their self expression, and the appropriate screams of horror from the audience.
Why John Dies doesn’t: two pages of random girlish chatroom transcript, complete with chat shorthand and exclamation points. With characters we haven’t met or know nothing about but that (spoiler) they appear to be taken over by aliens by the end of chat.
Why Hitchhiker’s works: exactly one exploding body, in the form of a sperm whale landing on a planet. It might be connected to a vase of petunias and have existential meaning.
Why John Dies doesn’t: numerous exploding bodies. Wet meaty chunks in various sizes throughout the book that have no meaning, except to impress us that people can die in a gross fashion.
Why Hitchhiker’s works: a robot so depressed, talking to him compels other machines to suicide, including life-support systems.
Why John doesn’t: waiting for a dog to poop so that the humans can retrieve a bomb. Aiming said dog’s hind end at bad guy when he has burrito gut.
Why Hitchhiker’s works: white mice running experiments on the human race and threatening to carve up Arthur’s brain.
Why John doesn’t: scorpion-tailed wig-wearing monsters stinging people.
Why Hitchhiker’s works: one ominous old man who looks a lot like a Biblical God, who creates fjords and completely fails at intimidation.
Why John doesn’t: numerous old and wrinkly men covered from the chest up, so the narrator can muse on sagging nether regions and greying pubic hair.
There are certainly laugh-worthy and smart pieces. Loved the beginning brain puzzler with the ax and zombie. The meat puppet provided a groan-worthy pun. John channeling through a dog was amusing, as were the calming kittens. The occasional nicely-worded laugh. Comparing a downward, depressed slide in life to one’s action playing sport video games.
“I reached back and, for the first time in my life, smacked a dog across the nose with an envelope full of cash.“
“Things started to spin out of control. Soon we were playing (hockey) without the goalies… finally, when we started both playing on the same side (Red Wings) against an inept team controlled by the computer… I knew I had hit rock bottom.“
The language can be fun. But then there are the almost-but-not-quite analogies, such as the supposition if aliens had helped the Egyptians build a casino pyramid, it would look like the Luxor. Um, I believe that’s the idea, more or less; a casino pyramid. I’m not sure myself how to take that to the next level of potential weirdness, but that’s not it.
And, of course, there’s the toilet humor and penis imagery, a la movies like The Hangover. Clearly, I’m old, because it was funny for about a sentence, but unfortunately continued much longer. How many times can you freak out about grabbing penis doorknobs before you sound homophobic? Then there are the weird self-conscious references like, “now you’ve freaked out. Time to go start a website.” Haha–just like the author. More distressing was the nagging deja vu feeling of “I think I recognize that scene from…”
The characters were only mildly sympathetic, and John served as that zany foil that continued to lead our narrator astray. I felt like a lot of the situations were set up to get a laugh, which meant plot and narrative suffered. The tone struggled as well; I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be frightened, or tense as David found himself facing monsters or almost strangled, or if I should be waiting for the laugh. Since Wong went for the laugh almost every time, and his sense of humor doesn’t entirely correspond with my own, it proved an ultimately unsatisfying read.
My rating: 2 of 5 grossed-out stars