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Jam Mass Market Paperback – October 23, 2012
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About the Author
The Marvel and Other Short Stories is a collected anthology of six short stories written by the winners of the Austin Macauley World Book Day short story competition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I would recommend this book to anyone who is easily amused by slapstick, sarcastic, and satirical humor, and enjoys reading about dystopian settings.
Ever since I was introduced to Zero Punctuation -- Croshaw's weekly video game review series -- I've been a fan of his work. I read and enjoyed his first novel, Mogworld. I even dove in to his old Web site and read some earlier novel-length works of his entitled "Articulate Jim" and "Fog Juice." The man is a very engaging writer, an ascerbic and entertaining wit, and his gaming review is one of the highlights of my week. So I eagerly pre-ordered "Jam" when it was announced, and set about to reading it the day it arrived...
I imagine the way I feel about "Jam" is something like the way Croshaw himself felt when he reviewed the game "Brütal Legend" -- a work by a respected author/designer that he ended up not really liking -- and find myself wanting to crib notes from that very review: "Do I make excuses for old time's sake and compromise my integrity, or jeapordize my chances of being invited to his birthday party?"
"Jam" opens briskly enough, with the protagonist Travis in the first two pages witnessing his flatmate Frank getting devoured by a three-foot layer of carnivorous strawberry-scented jam that engulfed the city sometime early that morning. What survivors Travis encounters are fairly typical and variably neurotic young city dwellers wholly unequipped to deal with the Internet momentarily dropping out, much less an ongoing apocalypse. There's Tim, another flatmate and support character with no memorable characteristics whatsoever; Angela from one floor down, a journalism major obsessively video recording everything as if she were making a documentary; Don from the top floor, easily the most memorable for his single-minded devotion to recover a software build from work, with all other considerations secondary; and Mary, a Goliath Birdeater tarantula. The story follows this small group of by-chance survivors as they attempt to make their way toward perceived safety in the city's center over the world's largest and most hardcore game of The Floor Is Lava.
Unfortunately, the most interesting characters -- enigmatic pseudo-military types known only by the names X and Y -- appear only occasionally and far too briefly, just long enough to engage interest, and then disappear again.
Ernest Hemingway is widely quoted as saying, "Write what you know," and what Croshaw appears to know is grindingly sarcastic (passed off as ironic) 20-something slacker/hipsters perennially hanging out at the local mall, and low-level white-collar office sociopathy. Every idea in the book -- from the jam-based apocalypse to the way the camps of survivors apply their extremely specialized, and extremely useless, skillset and worldview to get on -- is interesting and clever on its own. Even individual passages are clever and funny. Sadly, for me, they never seem to gel into an engaging story, and we're just left with a 398-page pile of clever bits.
Honestly, I really, really wanted to like this, because I know Croshaw is capable of good work, and I've enjoyed all his other stuff. And because I know he has done better, I find myself wondering if I'm the one who's missing some crucial life experience or cultural narrative that prevents me from appreciating "Jam" properly. But I simply failed to connect with it. It's not that it's bad; it's simply not as engaging or as memorable as I wanted it to be. It's been barely three weeks since I read "Jam," and I've had to refer to the book to remember even the characters' names. Yet it's been months since I read "Mogworld," "Articulate Jim," and "Fog Juice," and I can still remember many character names and specific moments from those stories.
If you are looking for a first exposure to Yahtzee's work, you are far better served reading Mogworld, or viewing any one of his (as of this writing) over 270 Zero Punctuation reviews, and leave "Jam" for later.
The character work is strong, the writing is solid, and there's sarcasm in abundance. Some of the comedy is hit or miss, probably your style if you've ever enjoyed Douglas Adams, but any rational person will find themselves frustrated at times by the heights of human absurdity being presented. Though if there's a better indictment of the culture of disingenuous tastes built upon herd mentalities, I haven't seen it. maybe that means I should get out more.
So not perfect book by any stretch, but another fine effort by Yahtzee Croshaw. I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a comedic spin on science fantasy, or anyone who's ever hated a teenager.
Compared to 'Mogworld' though, I was a little disappointed with the overall story arc of 'Jam' and the longer it went on the more it seemed to fizzle out rather than end with the same sort of fantastic climax as 'Mogworld'. I guess I just liked the characters more in his first book, and I felt like they grew and changed more in that book than this one.
Jam is definitely not a bad read and Yahtzee as always is a very strong writer. Definitely still on my 'read immediately on the first day out' list of writers.