Written by: David Wong
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Permuted Press
STOP. You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands. NO, don't put it down. It's too late. They're watching you. My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.
The important thing is this: The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension. John and I never had the chance to say no. You still do. I'm sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind: None of this was my fault.
“Are you one of those priests who can shoot lasers out of their eyes? Because that would be really helpful right now.”
How does something garner a cult following? I have loved my share of little cult gems (Eraserhead, Rocky Horror, Hammer Horror Films, etc) and larger followings such as anything Joss Whedon, Doctor Who, Twin Peaks, etc. Of course cult following occurs is a little more now that it is okay to express all of that pent up fangirl/boy geekness and express your appreciation to a far larger audience (thank you interwebs and cons). It still always surprises me how quickly a phenomenon can happen though. What is it about that particular book, story, song, movie, etc that people just grab a hold of?
I heard about John Dies At the End several years ago when a friend had managed to get a copy of the story (Which was just a bound home printer sort of version). He had received it from someone else. Later that year I got him a first edition. He was ecstatic. Now 7 years later I am finally reading it myself though I have to admire how the book became so popular. David Wong (pen name for Jason Pargin who is an editor over at Cracked.com) started writing a web serial online in 2001. Some people read it and then a lot did. They began printing out the novel and passing it around. When it finally came out in print in 2007, an estimated 70,000 people read the free online versions before they were removed in September 2008. That is a cult following especially when David didn’t expect anyone to really read it. Now he even had a film made of it that has Paul Giamatti starring. Crazy. So what is it about exactly?
Dave and John are best friends, slackers, and saviors of the world from an evil that no one else could possibly understand. But Dave really wants someone to know his story so he meets up with a reporter named Arnie to tell his story. You see it all started at a party when Dave meets a strange Jamaican dealing a drug named Soy Sauce and a dog named Molly. What he doesn’t know is that John has already taken the drug and is now seeing things…strange things. Things that Dave cannot see. Thinking that John is just having a bad trip he tries to take him to the hospital until he gets a phone call that is completely impossible. And yet it is possible. When Dave cuts himself on a syringe that had John’s dose of Soy Sauce, he starts seeing things too. Maybe John wasn’t tripping. You see Soy Sauce can do a lot of things for you including the ability to time travel, see things from another dimension, learn really obscure info about people you’ve never met before, dimension hop, etc. But it also allows things from the other side enter into our world, through you. Nothing’s for free right?
In the events that follow John and Dave become unwilling saviors of the world, take a trip to Vegas, have a car chase with a man made of cockroaches, someone watching them through a television and lots of death.
Things I loved: I will be honest it took me forever to be in the mood for how utterly absurd this book is. You would think with the question posed at the beginning of the book about the ax being the same ax that I would be over the moon. But I wasn’t. Perhaps this is because I am reading a fairly sad book, a more grounded in normality, and a crime thriller at the same time. Perhaps they do not mix well. And then suddenly I was in the mood and I loved it. I loved it because of how it came it to be. Of the absurdity of it all. And how clearly Dave and John are both afraid of dicks and like to talk about them far too much.
It feels very episodic which makes sense as that is what it was originally. This both helps and hinders the novel overall. The pacing moves along once it gets going and though the tone again is a bit uneven (other than being sheer lunacy) it overall works for me. Dave and John are great. They are snarky, self-deprecating, completely unreliable, but hilarious. They are flawed and realistic characters with just the right amount of heroism that makes you hope they get out of all of this alive. Dave is a great narrator other than the fact that you cannot trust any words that actually come out of his mouth and the fact that he is a borderline sociopath. It’s weird, but you can kind of relate to him and hate him at the same time. He’s a coward, but a hero. Loves his best friend, but hates him at the same time. Wants normality, but continues to Soy Sauce. Overall he tries to do the right thing, whatever that means. And let’s face it we all either knew a guy like John or had a friend that you felt responsible for and no matter how many stupid things they got themselves into and how much you wanted to wring their necks, you were there for them.
I enjoyed Dave and John’s notoriety for being amazing supernatural guys (a nice little parallel to the insane cult following the episodic tales gained in such a short time), but they are a bit hapless and would rather just chill. And above all I totally dig the corner of your eye spook story. The one where your friend is convinced there is something behind you, clinging to the wall in the corner. You turn around but cannot see a damn thing, until you change your perspective slightly look at the spot from the corner of your eye. Once you see it, know it is there, you cannot un-see it. It’s the unseen horror angle that I love. The creeping horror that is around us all of the time, but we don’t notice it which is probably just fine because once we notice it, it notices us.
Things I didn’t love so much: Of course the book does have some flaws. As I said before the episodic version could have been good thing once upon a time as it would have felt like an episode in a series, but in chapter form sometimes it is easy to bring things up in one chapter (episode) only to never really talk about them again. It happens.
Where are my ladies at? You pretty much have Amy, Jennifer Lopez, Krissy, and Molly. Of the four Molly is around the most with Amy a close second whom Dave thinks might be a retard because they went to the same behavioral school, but who ultimately becomes his girlfriend. And most of the women other than Molly are your typical damsels in distress though that is how Dave likes his women. Urgh. I guess sometimes it was clearly evident that it was written by a man (not that men cannot write female writers and in saying this I am sexist in my own way I suppose), but it just reminds me of fanboy college humor at times. This isn’t always a bad thing mind you, but sometimes I was annoyed by the utter lack of ladies that I could relate to while reading this.
“And watch out for Molly. See if she does anything unusual. There’s something I don’t trust about the way she exploded and then came back from the dead like that.”
Buy or Borrow: Buy. There is a reason why this is a cult hit.
Part of: Part of a series.
Also Recommended: This Book is Full of Spiders also detailing John and Dave’s adventures. For more horror that makes you smile at the same time try anything by Chuck Wendig, or A Lee Martinez.
3.5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks