Published on May 8th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
‘Strawberry scented death’ – Review of Yahtzee Croshaw’s ‘Jam’
Another week and another book by Yahtzee Croshaw who we might remember from my previous review of the Mogworld Audiobook and certainly not from Zero Punctuation.
This time round though we’re straying from the videogame roots and instead focusing on a more internet society theme, where an entirely unexpected type of apocalypse happens, where altruists are forced to adapt and zombie-apocalypse opportunists have to deal with a less noble kind of survivalism.
One day Brisbane wakes up, covered in Jam. Specifically Strawberry Jam. Carnivorous Strawberry Jam. It’s about 3 foot deep all over and is rather hungry for all things organic, including humans.
The protagonist, for lack of a better word, is Travis an unemployed man in his late 20’s whose lack of direction is his only unfaltering aspect of his personality, who lives in a flat with two other flatmates the day the Jam hits. After losing Frank, Tim the other flatmate takes up the leader mantle as he gets stuck in to the current situation, seeing it rather as an opportunity than a tragedy.
Soon the duo are making rounds of the building, gathering supplies and knowledge about the jam in order to brave the future when they meet Angela, a starbucks waitress-turned-journalist, who decides it would be a fabulous idea to tag along and document the whole thing. A further addition of a videogame designer and a pair of not-so-secret-agents join the gang and begin to scout for signs of human civilisation, which turns out to be a lot less civilised than they hoped.
The book’s told in a first-person style like Mogworld, but instead of making the main character an exaggerated version of himself, Travis is drastically different, being someone who tends to follow and make more helpful observations and an active interest in the welfare of his peers, than constantly cracking sarcy jokes and lacking any real drive. Although not wholly as interesting, it does make the book overall feel a lot less depressing and it suits the narrative style more. I feel when using first person writing, it’s best to let situations and other characters do the legwork of providing exposition and development, using the main character as someone to view these through. This also means that the writer has a better opportunity at proving that they can create and direct characters.
The other characters, although not as interesting as those in Mogworld, seem more real and believable, and in the context of the book, fits a lot better.
Basically what I’m trying to say is this book is better. The story premise seems a little weak at first. A quirky idea like an unusual apocalypse happening, poking fun at all those people who thought they had the best idea for survival could only go so far right? Well, without resorting to utter ridiculousness it all flows and progresses well, turning into more than survival, but also an amusing commentary on internet culture and modern group bonding, which as we all know just doesn’t represent what we see in shows like the Walking Dead and such. Well not in England anyway.
The jam itself hardly remains the sole focus of the novel, not having the near-sentience of The Blob, that’s a good thing, as there really isn’t much that can be done new with the concept. The jam doesn’t eat anything made from non-natural resources, making it navigable by boat and other devices, it also reflexively oozes towards people when catching their scent, it doesn’t follow without direct cause.
The same acerbic and distinctly English humour is retained in this novel, but I feel is a lot more developed and less overwhelming than in Mogworld, I can’t say that Yahtzee fans would like either of his novels as they encompass a wider range of popular and geek culture, mixed with what seems like a genuine passion for the literature medium, something that a lot of videogame fans aren’t too keen on.
Overall the writing level is much better, but not without complaints.
I’m not sure if this was the case with Mogworld, as I read (listened to? What’s the bloody term here?) an audiobook, but the spelling of “multi-coloured” was American, which I find disturbing.
The female characters were a bit drippy and the end felt rather rushed through. Usually I would issue a spoiler alert right here, but I think that pointing out clichés shouldn’t warrant one to be frank.
A lot apocalypse-themed entertainment tend to suffer from frail and unfulfilling endings, but I suppose it’s because people in general are still wholly accustomed to try and make either Disney style “good” endings, which obviously don’t work when you’ve got more dead team members than living ones and then there’s the Harlan Ellison “bad” ending, something Ira Levin also specialises in, where they don’t even try to reconcile and just damn everyone to premature and miserable deaths without even showing us the gory details, what apocalypse endings usually end up like is a bastard amalgamation of the two, half-arse sickly sweetness between a pair of young lovers and the loose conviction of killing off the more interesting characters.
But we’re all here for the ride anyway and it manages to deliver a fun and “jam-packed” (Yeah, go on, tut, raise your eyebrow. YOU try writing a 1000 words on a novel called Jam with killer Jam and not make a single pun all the way though) adventure in Brisbane, a city I know pretty much nothing about. Except that Croshaw obviously lives there. It was interesting to make use of an apocalypse in an unlikely place, we’re too used to backwater & cityscape America and boring old London.
This was a great read and was quite addictive, I think that the plot was a lot more memorable than Mogworld, which seemed to have an ABC style direction to it. It’s a must for fans of Mogworld and a definite try for fans of Zero Punctuation and a cheeky go on then for Apocalypse enthusiasts.
If only the apocalypse were made out of cheese pasta bake, I would be more than happy to sacrifice myself to a crusty grave.