Tag Archives: humor

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror

To my surprise, a third John Dies at the End book has existed for nearly five years. So… oops, I guess? I almost want to reread these, because of how long it’s been, and particularly because of how accurate the current title is, but then I remember I’d probably get spiders everywhere, so maybe not just yet.

David Wong and John Cheese are at it again, and by “it”, I mean being forced into solving weird problems that nobody else understands, because everyone else is either too annoyed to deal with said problems, or else too dead. In this case, they’re trying to figure out who is kidnapping local children, and why nobody’s memories on the topic quite match up with anybody else’s, or for that matter, with reality, and also why… well, they’re trying to figure out a lot of things, and following that rabbit hole too deep would lead to me just typing out the book, more or less.

What the Hell Did I Just Read is for the most part as weird and inexplicably funny as you’d expect based on the prior books, while also being darker than I remember those being, and also also being at least moderately authorial therapy. (Or maybe not! I don’t know the man who wrote the book, but it feels that way all the same.) I’m only inclined to say it’s weirder than the other books because I haven’t read them in a very long time. Nevertheless, this feels true. Even if you leave out the big obvious reason why I’m saying that, what about the snowman?

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

I first read Good Omens while I was in college, I reckon, based on recommendation and the brand recognition of one Terry Pratchett. So, years before I’d read Sandman or otherwise knew anything about one Neil Gaiman. Finding it now, of course, I would be ecstatic about the collaboration between two such giants, with possibly Gaiman tilting the scale even more?

Anyway, though, I think I only read it the once, which is to say 25 years ago[1], so once I recently learned there was a television adaptation, well. I think I saw all of the first episode rather than part? But for sure no more than that before I acknowledged that I would probably get more out of the show with familiarity, and anyway I had recently finished my current Malazan listen and was in the middle of a Hobb trilogy, which made it impossible to read the next physical book in the Malazan world anytime soon, so hey, time to switch audiobooks to something immediately useful!

“Immediately.” Ha.

Because, you see, a bit over halfway through this fairly short book (12 and a half hours), I no longer had a daily commute. Or much reason to drive literally anywhere at all, but especially in the car by myself. (Good god, my podcasting queue has swelled.) This is probably the least meaningful side-effect of Covid (to me personally I mean, much less to you who reads these words), but it doesn’t stop it being annoying.

But all that to say, I finished the damn book finally, and I do have a handful of scattered thoughts:

  1. Although clearly dated from a technological perspective, the story is otherwise still more timely than not. One supposes that this will always be true of the apocalypse?
  2. The casting of David Tennant as Crowley was an inspired choice. Having just heard the book, I can backfill him into my mental image at any moment and he works perfectly.
  3. The narration, as almost always since I started listening to these, was a) mostly excellent with the caveat that b) the producer or director or sound engineer or whoever makes the choice to edit out pauses needs to be given a crash course in how books are presented. It is always a good idea to let the reader know that a tonal shift of some kind has occurred, whether it be change of viewpoint character, narrator, or scene. Just a second’s pause to let us know something changed. Why is this so hard?
  4. I wish I had a good way to know who wrote what. My instinct is to assign plot to Gaiman[2], humor to Pratchett, with biting social commentary split between them. But of course I have no way to really know.
  5. That said: the four other horsemen subplot goes ultimately nowhere at all and accomplishes nothing except humor, but not nearly enough of that to justify its existence. So I wish I knew who to blame there.

Anyway, it’s a good to occasionally great book, even thirty years after publication, and I’m pretty excited to watch the adaptation now. Six episodes, which seems like plenty enough? We’ll see! …well, I will anyway. It’s not like I’ll eventually report back or anything.

[1] goddammit
[2] This is not a shot at Pratchett’s plotting, nor is the other a shot at Gaiman’s humor. It’s just that it does feel like a Gaiman-style plot overall, and also he does not focus on things being specifically funny, in the general sense.

Small Gods

When people talk about Discworld, they say that the first books are uneven (which is true, but not in a way that bothers me) and that if they were to recommend a place for people to start, it would be with Small Gods. I now understand why that is, although I’m not sure how I feel about it for my own recommendations.

Like, on the one hand, this is a brilliant book that puts into words a lot of my thoughts about the institutions of religion and the tug of war they have with the concept of faith. I would happily recommend it to any person who likes social satire and has an open mind. It is a masterpiece of its genre. But on the other hand, it is so thoroughly divorced from the majority of Discworld novels I’ve read so far that it feels strange sending someone here for their first foray into the series. To the extent that it really is the same world, the smaller part falls into using the setting as a keystone for the brilliant satire I mentioned[1], and the larger part is artificially shoehorned in[2]. On the third hand, I have no idea what I would point to instead? Although Mort, or the first Guards book or the second Witches book all seem feasible. Or maybe the very first book, not because it’s first, but because it’s hard to accept any other Rincewind book later when compared to the other options, if you don’t have an attachment to him by starting there. (Also because Nethack.)

Long story short, I’m glad I read this, and I’m sad it took me so long. Learn from my example, if you haven’t read it yet!

[1] The shape of Discworld as religious tenet vs observable fact. The Turtle Moves, y’all.
[2] The ubiquitous food vendor guy really did seem like, no, you guys, look, it’s still Discworld. See? He’s right here, cutting off his own nose!

Witches Abroad

513Bs4HYbmLI seem to be reading more lately? I dunno. House is more unpacked than not, and things that are left to do, I cannot really progress on without outside interference. Either way, I’ve also been reading more of the partial series I have scattered all over the map, instead of new stuff. In a way that’s good, because progress, in a way it’s bad because there’s so many things I still have no idea about even though they’ve been talked about lately. That is the problem of lacking infinite free time, I suppose.

So I read another Pratchett. In Witches Abroad, he studies the nature of fairy tales, mirrors, and family relationships[1]. Mostly the nature of fairy tales, though the characters say it’s the nature of stories. That said, the characters are analogues for the Fates, so any story they’d be in would have fairy tale elements nearly by definition. See, this one fairy godmother (only distinguishable from any other witch, so far as I can tell, by her possession of a magic wand) died prior to handling all her affairs, so she sets the witches from Wyrd Sisters[2] on a quest to wrap things up. So they head off to Genua, which is to say New Orleans, and proceed about their appointed tasks.

I know I’m very near the threshold where these books are basically always of high quality, so it’s nice to be able to say that yep, this one was really quite good, very funny throughout and with the characters who are currently my favorites. Yay, Discworld!

[1] The last one is a bit of a stretch, in that it’s not untrue but also in that most of these books have been about family to some degree, especially if you accept “the family you choose” as fitting the paradigm.
[2] Who I suppose will be henceforth known as the witches in any of the Discworld “witches” books.

Unicorn Being a Jerk

51rt0NUfXwLMy girlfriend got this book for Christmas from her brother, and I read it myself over the course of about five or ten horrified minutes. You see, on the one hand, Unicorn Being a Jerk is an extremely accurate title. On the other hand… every time I thought I had a handle on how big of a jerk Unicorn was, I would turn a page and learn that I was the Jon Snow of this book.

If your reaction to things too horrible to look at is laughter, this is the book for you. If not… at least it’s short and there isn’t a whole lot of text? I suppose if you were kidnapped and forced to read it against your will, you could kill time figuring out the correct timeline of Unicorn’s life and how all the events relate to each other.

But, yeah, it was pretty funny.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

51wAAzcD2uLAs you probably know if you’ve spent much time on the internet over the last five years, there’s a bizarrely drawn website about (mostly) childhood, dogs, and/or mental health called Hyperbole and a Half. What there’s a slight chance you don’t know is that the creator of that site has also released a book compiled partially from what’s already on the internet and partially from new essays.

She’s funny, often relatable, and the book reads quickly. I’m not sure you’ll get a deeper insight into the human condition, although if you’ve never dealt with depression, maybe you would learn something? But people often don’t, if they haven’t seen it themselves, so maybe not. By and large, it’s a humorous essay book, and they all cover the same thematic ground. The specific circumstances of this one? Yep, funny.

I do really wonder about her self-image, though. Her drawings are all on par with each other, rough but good enough that you can tell there’s some real talent going into them. The dogs start out looking like caricatures of bad dog drawings until you realize how well she captures different poses and moods. All of the people look like people, and so forth. Except, her self portrait is of a worm with a blonde sharkfin, wearing a tubesock. This is universally true, every time, even amidst other perfectly normally (but still roughly) drawn people. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, I just… like I said, I cannot help wondering what it means, on the inside. The answer to that question does not, as far as I can tell, reside within this book.

But it’s still worth reading!

This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It

The thing about John Dies at the End is that, despite the highly visible spoiler, it still left some room for a review. Who is this John fellow anyway, for example, and what kinds of emotions will I experience when he dies? The problem with David Wong’s finally-arrived sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders with its helpful sticker warning of Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, is that pretty well sums the book up. It is very much full of spiders, that book. Invisible spiders, on the bright(?) side, unless you are like David and his friend John Cheese and have been dosed with an alien drug called Soy Sauce on the street, which gives you all kinds of time-and-space-spanning knowledge and also allows you to see all the invisible things in the world that your brain usually protects you from, like (in this case) giant far-too-large spiders that intend to crawl into your brain and take over control of your actions and decisions, possibly while leaving you unaware of this fact.

The good news is, that’s pretty much the only problem with David Wong’s new book. Just like JDatE, it is funny and terrifying and occasionally entirely sweet, only this time it was plotted as a novel instead of a long, rambling series of internet stories that got turned into a novel at the last second, which means it works a lot better structurally, with all manner of foreshadowing and sinking “oh hell, that really just / is about to happen/ed” feelings, and he even got to toss in another mention of the Monkeysphere.

Shorter version of this review: man, I’m happy I read this book, and man I’m sad that there probably won’t be another one anytime soon[1], considering the five year gap between these two. Also, I’m glad I finally reviewed it, because I’m caught up again and, not that reading tons of old comics isn’t gratifying in itself, but it will be nice to be reading actual books again also. Truth.

[1] I wonder if there will be a movie, though? That wouldn’t suck.

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories

Remember that time when you watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and it was funny and poignant even though Felicia Day’s character ended up being wasted? And then nothing else ever happened, since it was a writer’s strike project for fun that didn’t really go anywhere, despite solid DVD sales? And you wished the story could continue? Well, albeit in prequel format, that very thing has occurred! Although perhaps a little pricey for the speed of the read, it was consistently interesting and funny both, and I hope to see more of the same sooner rather than later. The best of a good lot followed the Evil League of Evil’s rampage through the city, while the superheroes were all off on a forest retreat, getting back to nature or something.

If none of the premises in the previous paragraph are valid, I have the show on DVD and will happily watch it with you at any time. You’ll be glad you did!

Guards! Guards!

This is the point at which, if I understand conventional wisdom, the Discworld novels start to become “good”. Also, more incidentally, this is probably the first Discworld book I ever read, far back in the depths of junior high. (All I remembered is the “mllion to one shot” gag, so, it was basically like reading it all over again.) And most incidentally of all, I’m pretty sure it’s the farthest I had read into the series, so everything from here on will be entirely new, cultural zeitgeist notwithstanding. Anyway, that “good” thing, though: as much as I have enjoyed the last several books on their own merits, Guards! Guards! definitely has some barely definable adult quality that the previous books have not had, though some have grasped at it.

In addition to first introducing Ankh-Morpork’s city night watch and its world-weary, heroic-in-spite-of-himself Captain Samuel Vimes, a group character study that could have carried a book with no plot whatsoever, the novel also for the first time superficially grazes the inner political workings of the city at the dark, ulcerated heart of the Disc. It asks and perhaps answers the essential question of whether democracy or monarchy ought best be left to run amok through the lives of a citizenry that barely comprehends either and tends to cheer whichever of the two it has seen least recently. Also, and here is the only point at which it diverges from any standard reality to which you may be accustomed, there is a dragon.

The Order of the Stick: On the Origin of PCs

The convenient thing about having a friend who owns and is willing to lend out the second Order of the Stick prequel novel is the increased likelihood with which he will own and be willing to lend out the first one. (Signed by the author with a drawing of Belkar, no less! Which, if you knew the guy, Belkar was definitely requested art.) The upshot of which is that I snagged and read it as well. And will return the book no later than Friday, if you happen to see this, Ryan. And, y’know, because of the borrowing, I read it way out of the order I would otherwise employ. Which is cool, as it provided good perspective between the books.

On the Origin of PCs does the same thing as Start of Darkness, except for the good guys. What motivates them? How did they meet? Why are they on the trail of a douchebag lich? The stories are every bit as funny as in the other book and in the comics themselves, but there’s one stark difference between the books that also highlights a difference in the comics. When the PC prequel was written, the comic was a lot more about humor and a lot less about story depth. Which is not to say that the comics have grown less funny, only that the plot has become increasingly more important. But it happened so gradually that, without a comparison point such as between these, highlighting how much better of a story was present in the other book, it would be difficult to see how much the main sequence comic has improved.

Still, though: this one was funny and had nuggets of pretty awesome information that have yet to pay off in the comic itself, years later now. That is pretty good news, if you ask me.