on 2 December 2012
'Jam' reads like an hilarious cross between a zombie apocalypse story, The Blob and a slacker comedy. If you've ever read or watched any of Ben Croshaws internet material or his first novel 'Mogworld' you know what to expect. Black humour and an atmosphere of cynicism that hangs in the air like a toxic vapor. Fortunately it all works really really well (for the most part). This book is funny, has likable (or very deliberately annoying) characters, insane cults of bag wearing hipsters and obviously the whole 'death of the world by strawberry jam' thing. If you've ever enjoyed books like 'Red Dwarf' or 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' then this will be right up your ally.
Unfortunately it isn't all perfect. I was ready to give this a full five stars right up until the very ending. The last few chapters manage to solve a couple of plot threads that didn't really need answering, but leave a few you would like to see closure on dangling. The pace also becomes a bit too frantic, the lead monster gets to re-appear with no good reason, and the tired old 'Eeeeeevil Americans' plot gets dragged out (some of the logic is also a little questionable). Its not nearly enough to ruin the book, but it leaves it a little bit flat.
Still this is a solid book, you'll have a blast reading it and it has a ton of funny moments and memorable characters. Hopefully Croshaws next book will be earn the full five stars this one was close to getting.
Remember when your cousins would stay over at your house, and when you all went to bed you played a game where the bedroom carpet was poison and you couldn't touch it? You had to jump from bed to chair to cushion, or climb on top of the dresser and toy box, and if you touched the carpet at all, you died. Well, that's this book.
The whole city is flooded by three feet of strawberry slime that consumes anything organic. Our slacker heroes have to get from their apartment building to a distant office building that looks like it may be a place of refuge.
We have an overwhelmed, under motivated hero, a heroine, a burned out anti-hero, a snarky businessman, and a devious CIA type who knows more than she'll say. As we follow their adventures we get two things in abundance - some very funny dialogue and some really abrupt and shocking violent death. So we are deeply into the comedy/horror genre, and how you feel about that particular style will probably determine how you react to this book.
For what it's worth, I probably would have liked this less, but for some very sly and high concept characters and adventures. Especially appealing was an extended stay at a shopping arcade run by a dystopian group motivated entirely by irony, and a long segment involving an office building and a classically corporate response to apocalypse. These two stand out and stand-alone bits put the book over the top for me.
So, a successful entertainment with some low humor and some sly humor. Not a bad combination, and all very skillfully constructed.
Please note that I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for a candid review.
on 23 October 2012
Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee (I wonder if he's sick of being introduced with that association yet) returns to print form with a worthy follow up to [the now out of print ?!] Mogworld. This time around it's set in Brisbane, Australia during a apocalypse of jam. Without going too much into the plot (I wouldn't want to spoil a smudge of it) the story contains the expected spattering of the usual apocalyptic tropes, warring factions, ragtag group of survivors (one of which makes an appearance in Yahtzee's début book) all of which feature a spin you've come to expect from Mr Crowshaw which, to be honest, isn't always a good thing. I know it's a novel set during an "jampocalypse" but the mood wanders just a bit too much on the side of slapstick for my liking which stopped me caring too much about any of the characters that get devoured by the flesh hungry jam. Yes I know the premise is all a bit silly but none of the characters act anything close to normal people so it all feels a bit like reading a cartoon and not like the disaster parody that Yahtzee was probably aiming for here. That said it's a good read and offers plenty of laugh out loud moments, of which I'll end with my favourite:
"This is how I would die. Strangled by an attractive, semi-naked woman inside a fridge with a giant tarantula in the middle of the sea of carnivorous jam. As I blacked out, all I could think of was fortune-teller I'd spoken to a few years ago, and how full of s%*t she'd turned out to be."
on 20 April 2013
I suppose there is always the chance, considering the way Amazon's search functions are geared, that some people may be at this page that have not heard any of Yahtzee Croshaw's internet reviews named Zero Punctuation. For the unititiated let it be said that these acidic and sometime unbelievably profane and vulgar snippets are guaranteed to make anyone with a sense of humour laugh out loud several times; not bad for a 5 minute review. As a fan of this web journalism it was with some trepidation that I ordered Croshaw's book. You know how it is when somebody who is really good at something decides to do something else and it isn't as good and you feel all cold and hollow inside as a result? Well, this is kind of what I was expecting to feel with Jam and....yeah sorry, but it did live up to that expectation.
Structurally the book is sound. It has no slow sections and flows along quite nicely. My problem with the book were the characters themselves. The book is written in the first person of Travis. On his Zero Punctuation pages, Croshaw alludes to a negative self image and there is a strong suggestion that there is more than a little of Croshaw's wholly pointless self loathing written into this character. A central protagonist needs SOMETHING in him/her to make you want to finish the book. With this guy I just couldn't care less. It wasn't that he was particularly annoying, he was just completely without depth. At the end of the book I hoped to find that the character changed and developed into something, only to find that, no, the same guy continues in the same vain.
This is forgiveable enough, but I am terribly sad that a man that is SO SO SO funny, and SO SO SO sharp - so much so that it is a miracle that he hasn't julienned himself already, seems reluctant to inject any of that excrutiating wit into his writing. I am certain that Croshaw has done this to distance himself from his fame online, but for me it is a step too far.
Now, it is entirely probable that I have missed the point and that Travis', blah factor is some sort on subtle irony lost on a fat middle-aged man that ranks Holiday On The Buses among his favourite films. With this in mind, and in light of a seemingly indifferent review, I would actually recommend this book to fans of people like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. And at the risk of sounding like a patronizing old uncle, I do actually suspect that in time Croshaw could become quite a good writer. For me, he's not quite there yet though.
on 18 November 2012
I've been a fan of Zero Punctuation, Croshaw's game review show, for some time now and whilst I didn't give Mogworld the time of day, I was rather more interested in the concept of 'Jam'. A jam apocalypse- without echoing the blurb completely the last apocalypse anyone expected. It's certainly far removed from that zombie apocalypse the whole world seems to be in love with these days...
But I digress. I review this with the benefit of not having Mogworld as a point of reference, as it appears fans seem to see that book as 'better'. And from that standpoint, it is indeed a very entertaining read. Funny in all the right places- subversive and satirical when necessary and a genuinely engaging plot-line. And, somehow, the use of carnivorous jam as the main danger never broke my disbelief. Without spoiling anything, the presence of the jam is eventually explained, though never 'why' it is jam, and not something else to the same, viscous effect. However I think that simply goes back to the sardonic premise 'any apocalypse other than a another fricking zombie one'.
Why I don't simply give this 5 stars is of course because it's not without it's flaws. The absurdity, not necessarily of the jam but some of the characters, sometime leaks from the humorous into the incredible, while the book otherwise establishes a fairly (perhaps a bit of a stretch) realistic tone. The characters, whilst well designed, often verge on the 2D (particularly at the start), as in they basically spend a lot of the time saying overtly 'this is me and this is the character I am' kinda things. Funnily enough, it is Travis's (narrator) companion, Tim, that develops the most. Quite astutely, in fact, one of the female characters observes that 'if this were a film, Tim would be the main character' (not quoted word for word. Whilst I didn't fully agree (don't suppose I was meant to, I could see Travis as a bit characterless (though I think this works to it's own end). Also, I didn't really feel like the whole thing tied up to a fitting, all-encompassing end.
But all that aside, it's a fun journey from the perspective of a somewhat blank every-man, with plenty of laughs from his witty train of thought, and of course the absurdities of the situations and characters. While it's not a master-piece in social satire, it certainly does capture many, many facets of culture today (particularly internet) in a way that made me smirk, and for that part I was certainly on the same wave-length as Croshaw.
on 20 May 2013
It was always going to be difficult for Yahtzee to follow up a debut as great as Mogworld. That book had likeable characters, a great plot, and tons of laughs. His decision to set his next book in the real world is admirable, but where Mogworld allowed him the chance to create wonderful characters based on tropes from video games, he seems to have trouble when it comes to portraying actual human beings. This is Jam's greatest flaw. The premise is quite brilliant, but we are then asked to follow a narrator who pretty much doesn't have any character traits besides being a bit whiny at times. None of the supporting characters show much depth either, with the majority being described by their bad traits. I get that a potential apocalypse would probably bring the worst out in most people, but it really does seem more like Yahtzees general disdain for human beings just led him to have one boring narrator stuck between a gaggle of all the worst people he can imagine. And as such, the whole story suffers. It picks up quite a bit at the end, and Yahtzees writing style is both clever and witty, but most of the book is just too misanthropic to be a really great read. Worth getting second hand.
on 18 November 2013
Jam is most definitely one of the best books I've read in some time. It's humor is laugh out loud funny, such clever use of wit that makes it a delight to read.
I would compare Yahtzee's comedic sense to that of Douglas Adams' in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (but with jam instead of space and stuff).
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a light and witty read.
on 8 April 2014
Now, sorry if I sound a little biased here from the title but I have just finished the book and I must say I haven't enjoyed a book as much as this in a LONG time (not since I first read hitchhikers). Regardless of the Jammy concept the story and the characters are really well put together. I considered deducting a star for the, as I felt, rushed ending but after thinking about it regardless of that I really did enjoy the book immensely, the last 3rd of the book I ended up reading in 1 sitting and I NEVER do that unless I am COMPLETELY drawn into a good book that I am enjoying very much, so, the 5 stars still stand.
I've now read Mogworld and now Jam, i look forward to a 3rd book from the author who's prior works and status in the gaming world I am still completely oblivious to and quite honestly I don't care about, these books are fantastic.
If you're a fan of Hitchhikers in any way then read this NOW.
I can't recommend the book enough.
on 9 April 2013
Science fiction used to be about taking real people and putting them in situations where the logical consequences of technology could play themselves out.
Yahtzee Croshaw's "Jam" is a fine example of this. The protagonists are in the Australian city of Brisbane and faced with a problem, 3 foot of jam is covering the city. Carnivorous, semi-sentient strawberry jam.
I found myself enthralled by the story telling and stayed up late reading it. This was because it's very much calling back to Asimov and Wyndham. Travis, the narrator of dubious reliability, isn't an action hero. Neither are they particularly competent. They're very much how I could see myself being if I was in this situation and the ingenious methods of getting around and coping with the problems again call to mind Verne and Defoe.
Thoroughly enjoyed it.
on 25 February 2014
Despite loving his first book, I didn't quite enjoy this as much.
It is well written, has an excellent sense of humour and great character plot.
But I just didn't enjoy the subject as much as I expected.
Just a reflection on me really, I'm sure others will love it.