Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ex Libris: David Wong's John Dies at the End

What is horror? Is it the vision of a new monster? Is it something sneaking up behind you? Or is it blood and guts strewn all over the floor? Obviously, this question has been answered quite a few times already but I get the feeling that David Wong, author of John Dies at the End and pseudonym for Cracked.com's editor-in-chief Jason Pargin, is trying to answer this question for today's Internet generation.

Why the Internet generation? Not surprisingly, it was the Internet that made this book popular. John Dies at the End first started as a continuing story that Pargin wrote online, which gained a multitude of fans. It was later picked up by small publisher Permuted Press before going mainstream as a hardcover (and with additional material) via Thomas Dunne and even an upcoming movie.

Given its online audience, the story is shaped by its online expectations: episodic chapters that go for the jugular with short, sharp, shocks of horror laced with scathing slacker humor. This horror story mirrors the Internet cradle it was born in, i.e. our real world unaware of another world that's just a thin slice of reality away. The narrative itself also shows its Internet influence with its meta-fictional approach, the protagonist (also named David Wong) talking directly first to the reader and then to a skeptical reporter trying to determine whether he's just being fed a line or a revelation in the ultimate of headcase conspiracies.

To sum up the story, the protagonists David and his friend John discover a new type of drug, dubbed "soy sauce", that turns the brain into a fuel-injected engine and enables its users to create home-made bombs, slow down time, and solve mathematical equations on the fly. Unfortunately, the drug-- which is nearly alive-- also allows the users to perceive the things we don't allow see: the monsters that inhabit the interstices of our reality. Likewise, the drug eventually turns its users into a dimensional portal for these monsters from their homeworld and into our own, killing the users (or subsuming them) in the process. Lastly, the drug is so powerful that once you partake of it, the effects never really go away.  

Despite its episodic nature, David Wong (the author) does try to fill in the mythology of his tale that shows influences that are either Lovecraftian in nature or plain and simple paranoidal nutjobbery. These range from the shadowy beings that haunt the characters to the omnipotent horror (with a mentality and sense of humor of a 5-year old) named Korrok waiting in the next dimension to take over ours.

Likewise, I also have to remark that though David and John are the primary protagonists of the tale, it felt like John was more of an internet cypher for David, a foil who gets him into trouble rather than a solid character of his own (the Internet personified, hmmm?).

So, going back to our original question, we ask: does today's horror work? Only if you grew up with a sense of humor more attuned to lols from 9Gag or 4chan. In this case, David Wong's (the author) sense of horror is similar to Internet humor in the same way that Internet humor is like a quick upper cut to the chin before anyone notices. Now this isn't a bad thing altogether but it does get to be droll at times it happens over and over again. At the most, John Dies at the End promises to be an entertaining read, something to read before the movie comes out. (Rating: 3 paws out of 4.)


Ryan said...

What do you say to someone who asks if it should be ''in' instead of 'at' --"John Dies in the End" --both correct?

banzai cat said...

yeah, both more or less ring true.