By Yahtzee Croshaw
As a young father I quickly learned that when offered a toy telephone handset by a 3 year old I was in fact being invited into a world more enjoyable by far than my allotted one. Then, twenty years later, when the former 3 year old hands me a book of his to read, my instinctive reaction is once again to view it as an invitation into a world that I will probably find as enjoyable as the telephone chatting of those Ogygian days. Despite the cover. The puce green cover. Of a Zombie running amok.
English born but Australian based Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw is a 30 year old writer known principally for his contributions and editorial roles in video game magazines and websites. He enjoys cult status for the caustic, comical presentation of his Zero Punctuation video game reviews published by The Escapist. Mogword is his debut novel.
The hero (“I’m not a hero, I’m a protagonist”) protagonist is Jim, a recently disentombed Zombie who’s quite miffed about his unexpected resurrection and longs to return to his safe and peaceful grave. His world is now inhabited by a continually resurrecting populace who are unable to die permanently. The story plays out as a farcical, dark comedy on Jim’s avidity to achieve his desired everlasting extinction.
Though the role requires him to be self-centred, inflexible and somewhat bereft of tact, Jim is actually a likeable character – in fact the author, in an admirable accomplishment, manages to make all the characters, good or evil, quite winsome in their own ways. While the mien of the characters is zany to the extreme there is a scattering of societal observations that I suspect are not there by accident – Freud would have looked up from his newspaper at the mention of how people in an immortal society would eventually become addicted to suicide attempts. Religion, class and the abuse of political power are treated with similar quasi-sarcastic, intellectual insight.
I enjoy playing electronic video games on a somewhat selective basis but am yet to participate in their online interpretations so it took me some time to grasp that the plot-world was morphing into the ‘Sandbox’ of an online game most famously represented by World of Warcraft (albeit a parody version where the Artificial Intelligence has become self-aware – think ‘Bender’ in Futurama). Once this dawned on me everything started making sense but I wonder how many non-gaming readers gave up and abandoned Jim’s quest as I almost did when the focus seemed occluded about halfway through. As it is, I’m certain that I missed out on a lot by not being more familiar with WoW. The full plot is revealed in the final third of the book but I am certain that the whole story would be much more enjoyable with some foreshadowing or brisker exposé.
But the real mainstay of the book is humour. It is very funny. It has a plethora of uproarious, newly-minted similes and tons of puns. The sarcasm is biting and the wit as sharp as an enchanted sword called ‘Killbastard’. This is compounded with time-bending anachronisms, social commotion, coffin confusion and anarchy in the afterlife. And rabbits. Lots of rabbits. It’s a mega-hit with mega-wit and I loved it.
Nutshelled, it’s Monty Pythonesque.