Review – This Book Is Full Of Spiders

Note #1: This review first appeared on my Goodreads page.

Note #2: This review for This Book Is Full Of Spiders is full of spoilers for John Dies At The End. (You can probably guess what they might be.)

Ah, that most hoary of cliches: The Difficult Second Album. How often you come to the aid of lazy journalists across the world, and, hell, who am I to rock the boat?

Sometimes it’s caused by the spark of creativity waning the second time around. Sometimes the suits get too much of a say and piss over every square inch of what made the first effort so good. Either way someone loses out: oftentimes the very people that made that first effort a hit. The fans.

Yes, as you may have gathered, the follow-up to John Dies At The End (JDATE) didn’t quite set my world alight. (A pity as it’s STILL bastard cold outside.) I notice that this book, like its predecessor, divides opinion like few I have read over the years, and while I can certainly appreciate the points made by either side, ultimately I can’t help but think that This Book Is Full Of Spiders (TBIFOS) has been rush-released by the publisher.

My reasons:

1) The John in TBIFOS is a completely different character to that in JDATE. Seriously, it’s like having Jim Carrey in the first book and replacing him with Will Ferrell for the second. Maybe this was because Wong (or Pargin, if you prefer) intended to beef up John’s character in a further draft, or at least give him more than the handful of funny lines he gets in this book.

2) The book, sold as “another terrifying and hilarious tale of almost Armageddon”, has perhaps a third of the humour of JDATE. This could be a conscious decision by Wong to up the horror aspect; it could be due to the events of the book not lending themselves easily to humour (which they don’t), but could also be because Wong hadn’t had much of a chance to inject much of the slacker humour woven throughout much of the first book.

3) JDATE is told from Wong’s perspective. Around half of TBIFOS, however, is told from umpteen points of view, yet is still presented as Wong’s book. This is obviously caused by the demands of the plot, which sees John Cheese and David Wong separated for a large section of the story, but it frequently left me wondering how Wong could possibly have known the events of the novel happened in such a way. For me, this frequently bounced me out of the story. A spot of author intrusion highlights the fact that Wong is only too aware of this weakness, when he says “don’t ask me how I know this, but…” when presenting a couple of pages from Molly’s point of view. For those who have not read JDATE, Molly is a dog. A funny but ultimately weak epilogue also tries to address this deficiency, but only reinforces the notion that the book had not seen the scrutiny of a strong enough editor, or that the publisher didn’t really care about these weaknesses and was more eager to get the book into the shops.

4) Wong’s insistence of calling the town Undisclosed jars more and more the further into the book you see it. The device is presented as a means to protect the town from Wong’s fans, and his fans from the wrongness of the town. Fair enough. JDATE gets away with this because the events, as loopy as they were, were fairly self-contained. In TBIFOS, however, you have an outbreak that makes worldwide news and its events would ordinarily be etched into history books forever after. Why the hell would you bother continuing to hide the name of the town in light of that? Again, I can’t help thinking this really ought to have been picked up at an early stage.

5) Someone didn’t appear to check the quality of the book prior to release, or at least the edition I bought. Yes, there are typos in there, and the odd unusual formatting issue (“quar-antine” midway across one line). Those I can forgive. But to have the text of page 396 on page 395 and vice versa, well, I’m afraid that’s piss-poor.

The clincher for me, however, is the that the release of TBIFOS ties in too neatly with the movie release of JDATE. The deficiencies of TBIFOS, combined with the pagination error, reeks of a publisher that was too keen to get the second book out of the door while the movie was doing the rounds, when they were perhaps better advised to have tightened the story in time for the Blu-ray release.

That rather long-winded dissection rather paints the book in a bad light, yet there is still much in TBIFOS to enjoy for those willing to overlook the above weaknesses. The humour in the book is still very funny. Wong retains the ability to deliver a knockout gag when he wants to, and Amy’s use of the fur-gun towards the end had me chuckling for a good while. Just don’t expect the same level of laughs as JDATE, nor many killer lines from John.

The horror angle is well served too, with a wonderfully tense lead up to The Massacre At Ffirth Asylum. Those that judge books by their body count and ickyness won’t be disappointed either, as death befalls a good many townspeople in various bloodthirsty ways. The overarching outbreak-cum-zombie invasion story is also very good with several memorable scenes, and the incidental characters – a weak point of JDATE – are considerably better realised in this story.

Overall, This Book Is Full Of Spiders is still worth a read for those ready to forgive its apparent rush release. I would still read a third outing, but only if Wong was allowed to take his time about it.

Rating: 3/5

And finally… I’ll post a few reviews here while I plough through the second draft of The Floors. I’ll have a status update and more news on that whole thing shortly. When I’m not slaving over a hot keyboard, ploughing through a book, or (heaven forbid) at work, you’ll often find me haunting Goodreads. Do mosey on round to my place, why doncha: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543771.Lucian_Poll

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Review – John Dies At The End

Note: This review first appeared on my Goodreads page.

Comedy horror is a tricky thing to get right. Once the writer has set out their stall with a couple of rib-ticklers they will often reach a crossroads: to continue with the comedy, or to continue with the horror. Go along one route and they get something like Army of Darkness: an enormously entertaining romp, yes, but one that can hardly be called horror. Go along the other route and they get something like The Frighteners: still entertaining, but the rapid change in tone makes for an uneven experience.

John Dies At The End, for me, errs towards the latter of these. After a rollercoaster ride of ickyness and about a thousand Roswells’ worth of utterly barking scenes, Wong (or Pargin, if you prefer) tries to inject some heart into the story to give the ensuing drama more oomph and, in doing so, leaves the reader wondering where the laughs went. There are a few other niggles too, such as how some incidental characters drift out of the story leaving you to wonder why they were there in the first place, or are brought into the story and then criminally underused. Also, while not explaining everything is by no means A Bad Thing you are left mulling over some scenes and wondering if they were just thrown in there to keep the wackiness up.

So far, you may say, so negative. So why the four stars? Well, despite its faults, as it turns out I rather liked The Frighteners, and in John Dies At The End I can forgive much of the above in exchange for the genuine belly laughs, the excellent dialogue, the vivid imagery and effective metaphors the guy chucks onto the page, and that’s even before we get to the truckload of imagination that went into knitting together one of the most wilfully odd stories I’ve read in ages.

I’m keen to see the movie, partly because I loved Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, but mostly to see if they can pull it off, and already have the follow-up beside me ready to crack open once I’ve posted this.

In short, I liked this a lot, but I can see how it may grate on others. This might be one to read the first however-many-pages on Amazon beforehand.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a book full of spiders to open…

Rating: 4/5

And finally… I’ll post a few reviews here while I plough through the second draft of The Floors. I’ll have a status update and more news on that whole thing shortly. When I’m not slaving over a hot keyboard, ploughing through a book, or (heaven forbid) at work, you’ll often find me haunting Goodreads. Do mosey on round to my place, why doncha: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543771.Lucian_Poll