Saturday, June 11, 2011

Obvious goodness is THE WORST. (PART ONE of The Rum Punch Review of "John Dies At The End" By David Wong.)

One day, on my way into work on a Sunday morning, I was thinking about these things:

1. I was sick and tired of vampires.
2. I felt like I needed something new and interesting to write.
3. Sex scenes sell.

I mulled those over as I drove through an almost-empty Madison, and by the time I arrived at work, I'd decided that I would, that very day, start a new blog, a serialized story that I would write in short installments and just see where it went: No real plot idea at all, just a hazy notion of a character, with the driving force behind the story being keep it moving, and the other driving force being throw in a sex scene as often as possible.

That story became a blog that I had for a long time, called Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World, a story that grew from those few driving forces, and also from my thinking "What is the least sexy thing that exists, and can I make it sexy?"

With that thought, I reimagined zombies as sexy lesbian slaves in a futuristic world, slaves created by a mysterious process in the basement of a diner in New York City. With octopi helpers, God as a character, tiny blue men, and something called Fuzzy Bird, the story grew and grew and grew.

The blog has been temporarily moved offline now, as I work on actually editing that story into a more-coherent whole, because as it grew, I loved it more and more until I finally thought I'm onto something here.

(If you're interested, you can read most of the story-so-far for free by clicking here; it's available for download on Scribd.)

I put the blog to inactive, saved the story to my harddrive, and I'm letting it percolate while I finish up editing the two other novels I've written; editing is a slow process for me because I only have limited amounts of time to write and blog, and I tend to do the writing and blogging that pays the best, which is blogging, not editing -- I make more in a week off any of my blogs than I have off all of my books so far, and blogging is more fun than editing, any day -- so I hadn't actually thought much about Lesbian Zombies until I read John Dies At The End.

And, I almost didn't read John Dies At The End. It was on my Kindle wishlist when I finished Patrick Dilloway's book Virgin Territory, but so were about 20 other books, and I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for. So I browsed around and almost picked another book out because the other book I was going to pick out had a very negative review, and I'd just finished reading an article that said that negative reviews sometimes prompt people to buy a book or product even though it's negative, so I wanted to see if that was true by, I guess, proving it true.

Or proving that reading an article about something would make you want to see if that something affected you.

Look, don't psychoanalyze me.

But the title, John Dies At The End, appealed to me, and I was kind of in the mood for what the book promised, a sort of wacky horror story. Here's the Kindle blurb:

In this reissue of an Internet phenomenon originally slapped between two covers in 2007 by indie Permutus Press, Wong— editor Jason Pargin's alter ego—adroitly spoofs the horror genre while simultaneously offering up a genuinely horrifying story. The terror is rooted in a substance known as soy sauce, a paranormal psychoactive that opens video store clerk Wong's—and his penis-obsessed friend John's—minds to higher levels of consciousness. Or is it just hell seeping into the unnamed Midwestern town where Wong and the others live? Meat monsters, wig-wearing scorpion aberrations and wingless white flies that burrow into human skin threaten to kill Wong and his crew before infesting the rest of the world. A multidimensional plot unfolds as the unlikely heroes drink lots of beer and battle the paradoxes of time and space, as well as the clich├ęs of first-person-shooter video games and fantasy gore films. Sure to please the Fangoria set while appealing to a wider audience, the book's smart take on fear manages to tap into readers' existential dread on one page, then have them laughing the next.

That had enough in it to make me want to read the book, so I took a chance on it and downloaded it and began reading it that night...

... and I read for nearly two hours that night.

Now, granted, I'm an insomniac these days and am often up tossing and turning and watching Tosh.0 or old episodes of The Office (Dwight's Army of Champions!), but that wasn't why I kept reading.

This book is good.

And it's good in a way that's not obvious -- to paraphrase Friends, "obvious" goodness is the worst!-- which itself is good.

There are books that are good and you know it -- they have an awesome story, one that's new or told superwell or that takes you by storm, books for which reading them is like watching a virtuoso do something -- like Stradivarius play the violin, or Nolan Ryan pitch, or William Shatner do anything -- and as you're reading them a part of you is aware that the books (or whatever is so good) are that good.

Take The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. That book is a paragon of sci-fi humor. The story is actually interesting and unique, the book itself is somehow thought-provokingly stupid, and almost every single line in it is funny, which is nearly impossible to do. So when I read Hitchhiker, a part of me (even back in 8th grade, when I first read it) was reading it and another part of me was thinking "Wow, this book is great."

That's obvious greatness.

Then there's books like John Dies At The End, which transcend that. It's so good that it just washes over you and through you, insinuating itself into your membranes, pulling you in, without you even realizing it; at no point while reading it did I stop and think "Wow, this book is great," but instead, I just kept reading it, each night, until I was done.

It was when I stopped reading it, each night, that I'd think "Oh, man, this is great, I wish I could keep reading but it's 11:30 p.m. and I'm going to be useless at work tomorrow."

While I was reading it, I didn't have time to stop and think how great the book was, because this book just comes at you and never stops, both in terms of the action it presents (the action is nearly nonstop) and the twisty, turny, way the book keeps on reversing itself and messing with your mind and upping the ante on you and keeping you turning the page.

(Or pressing the next page button, as it is for me on my Kindle. I wonder if someday, turn the page will be an expression we'll use without knowing where it came from, the way nobody under 35 knows what the little 3.5" floppy disk symbol means, other than "save"?)

John Dies At The End is a book that was almost tailor-made to appeal to me, although I didn't realize it when I first downloaded it; I just thought I'd get a maybe-funny horror story; the fact that it was written by an editor at Cracked appealed to me, and I figured I'd have little to lose. What I didn't know, when I began reading it, was why it would appeal so much to me, beyond that I liked David Wong's website, and I liked horror stories.

It was only at the end of the book -- in fact, the author's note about the book -- that I realized part of why it was I'd liked it so much: I'd liked John Dies At The End in part because it's a great story that's well written, but also in part because I had been trying to do the same thing that David Wong did.

And, more than likely, what a lot of you reading this have also tried to do.

Part Two is here.

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