Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw

Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw is a book that I picked up through one of the Humble eBook Bundles. . . I may have already mentioned this before.  Oh yeah, that was last week.  But I actually finished Jam sometime around the middle of last month, hence why I am not including it among the Summer Book BINGO thing.

But let me give you some background first.  Unlike an apparent large portion of the population, I had never heard of Yahtzee Croshaw before picking this book up.  I know of The Escapist, but only because LoadingReadyRun runs Feed Dump through The Escapist as well as the early episodes of Extra Credits.  So he apparently does some stuff over there.  Some of the reviews I read over on Amazon criticized Mr. Croshaw about his bounding into books having previously only written articles.  And, if I had been paying attention, or at least retaining information that Dr. Potts has posted on a number of occasions, I would have remembered that Mr. Croshaw is also the creator of the Chzo Mythos games.  I of course knew none of this information so I came from the perspective of an apocalypse fiction aficionado.

For an apocalypse book, I enjoyed the semi-new direction that the story took in regards to the world ending.  Except it takes place in Australia, which is not the world, but it is a very refreshing setting for the end of the world when you consider every-other-story about the end of the world taking place in London, New York or Tokyo.

*~SPOILERS~*  sort of

The premise of Jam is that overnight, the city of Brisbane, Australia is covered in a carnivorous form of strawberry smelling jam-like substance.  The story follows Travis (the narrator), Tim (his flat-mate), Don (the upstairs neighbor), Angela (a neighbor), X a female intelligence agent and her partner Y.  Yes, the premise is a bit silly, but it was the characters reactions to the absurdity of the events that initially drew me into the book/story.
"The jam killed him," I said, finally getting the words out.  "He was eaten. By the jam."
"Ah.  Right." A pause. "Actually, no, not right. Back up.  What happened?"
I gave an account of the morning's events. Tim slowly nodded in bafflement after each significant word, drinking them all in one by one but not quite connecting them in his head.
Eventually, he ducked back inside his room and picked his dressing gown up off the floor. "I think you're going to have to show me," he said.
I think that the dialogue was the high point of the novel for me.  If people were to speak in the exact way that many stories are written, they would sound very controlled and stilted.

The biggest problem I had with the book was that I was occasionally unable to picture the layout of the city of Brisbane.  Now, I have no concept of what Brisbane looked like while reading the book, but now that I look at a map, certain events in the story make sense.  There is indeed a river that runs through the middle of what looks like a commercial district as opposed to a river that suddenly appeared in the story without previously being mentioned.  This information feels like it would have been somewhat necessary for someone not from Brisbane, but that could just be my America-centric view of all things communist and axis of evil-like.  I think that I just felt that, based off of Yahtzee's description of the city, I did not have a good idea as to who was where in relation to everything else.  It would be as if you were reading a book and had this image in your head then in the span of two to three sentences, you know had to input this new development.

My other critique of the book was the character of Don.  I understand his inclusion in the story, which was to act as the rest of the audience in this world of hungry jam; that was at least my impression of him.  Constantly questioning the rationalness of the situation is what a lot of people would do in that situation.  Don, however was also an antagonist to pretty much every character he came into contact with.  Frequent responses with negative sarcasm got old pretty quickly.  I feel that with that kind of a character needs to have some kind of arc to their development, but for the entire story, Don was the unhelping voice of negativity and it was tiring to see that his character was not going to change for the length of the story.  Now that I think about it, there was not a whole lot of character development throughout the course of the story, even if the book only last for about a weeks worth of time.

As a whole, I really enjoyed the premise and the new take on an apocalypse scenario that did not include zombies (although I am not yet tired of the zombie apocalypse), but, as previously mentioned, there could have been better descriptions as to the various locations in relation to each other as well as the general layout of the city.  Character development as a whole could have used a bit of work.  That is all I feel qualified to say about Jam.  Maybe the book is "better" for readers of Yahtzee's regular column, or maybe it is not (another critique that I had read on Amazon).  Either way, if you happen to be looking for a quirky apocalyptic story that does not take place in either England or the United States, then you could do a lot worse than by picking up Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw; now to find out what his Escapist personality is like.

Lend Me Your Ears And I'll Sing You A Song

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