Wednesday, March 13, 2013

David Wong's JOHN DIES AT THE END #OneBookAtATime

If you've always dreamed of Bill & Ted reuniting to make a horror film, if you like the elaborate magical systems dreamed up by Tim Powers but think they're too well-planned and logical, if you think the head growing legs and crawling away gag in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing is the best SFX ever, if you love the combination of buddy comedy and demon hunting in Reaper... I believe I have found your new favorite book.

John Dies at the End is long on imaginative gore and slapstick horror, but short on sense. Part of this is, I suspect, by design; our protagonist Dave Wong (wink) and his friend John are shrewd but poorly educated working class stiffs who stumble upon a drug that allows -- indeed forces -- the user to see into other dimensions, most of which are way scarier than ours, menacing and gross and hostile to humanity, and thereby uncover a multidimensional conspiracy to take over and effectively destroy our world. Their grasp on what is going on is usually, therefore, on the slack side, and so, therefore, is our hero's narration -- long on pop culture references and descriptions of things as "stupid" or "retarded", short on sense.

But what John Dies at the End lacks in sense, it makes up for in sheer inventiveness and flair. Wong was at great pains to invent all new monsters, though he was obviously inspired by Stephen King's lobstrosities (but his monsters rarely ask nonsensical questions while they attack). I was particularly amused/sickened by, for instance, the "wigmonsters" that trash a famous paranormal hunter's floor show in a Las Vegas casino. They're quite Carpenteresque, multiform and multi-limbed and multi-eyed, and are, in fact, wearing jaunty little wigs complete with rubber chinstraps. And they are equipped with scorpion-like stingers that pump their victims full of the Drug of Dimensional Seeing.

There are body-snatchings, "alien" abductions, gunfights, sword fights (sort of), bombs and beer bongs. There is an abandoned shopping mall infested fire-breathing coyotes and deer with pincers at the end of their antlers. Exploding dogs and explosions of dog feces. Road trips. And then there's the Bill and Ted element: several times our heroes' bacon is saved by timely delivery of objects or information that could only be achieved via time travel. And John's spirit, or something, seems to be unstuck in time (as is their dog, Molly) and able to make cell phone calls to Dave even while Dave is sitting with the supposed real John. This is never explained but it's amusing enough to let it slide.

Anyway, I liked it well enough to take the trouble to get my hands on the sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders, which I'll be reading in due course. But first, I have promises to keep.

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