I was recently contacted by Jersey Devil Press, and asked if I would review one of their novels – “Exponential Apocalypse”. Having the word “apocalypse” in the title immediately grabbed my attention, so I shuffled over to Amazon and downloaded a sample for my Kindle. One fallen Norse God, one cloned ex-president, and one zombie cow later, I was hooked.
I really shouldn’t have liked this book. It’s short, it can be very choppy in places, and the plot is – well, let’s just say that it’s a bit far fetched. The thing is – it was FUNNY. I mean, laugh-out-loud-while-sitting-alone-reading-causing-my-wife-to-get-up-and-give-me-the-”look”-that-says-I’ve-earned-extra-chores-this-weekend-because-I-woke-her-up-with-my-insensitive-noise-making funny. I just don’t find that very often in a book. Sure, I’ll run across a passage here and there that makes me chuckle with my “inside voice”, but this book was consistently funny from start to finish.
“Exponential Apocalypse” tells a few stories that end up being improbably intertwined in the end. (Well, not really improbably – I assume the author included them precisely because they were intertwined. If they weren’t, the book would have just been a huge waste of time…). It follows the fallen Norse God Thor as he tries to make his way in a world where science has won and Gods are no longer worshipped or deified. It also follows the clones of Queen Victoria, Chester A. Arthur and Howard Taft as they battle zombies and, to some extent, each other. Lastly, the story follows Quetzalcoatl, a disgraced and forgotten Aztec God, as he decides to take one more shot at ruling the world. Oh yeah, I almost forgot – there’s also a telepathically gifted super-squirrel named Timmy. He’s pretty important in the end – so important, in fact, he made the book cover.
Eirik Gumeny writes with a sharp sarcasm and wit that I love. The entire book is absurd to the point of being profound. One of the reasons that it works so well is that it makes no apologies for its absurdity. It would have been easy for the author to give the reader a small wink at some point – permission to say – “This story is insane, but that’s okay – because I know it’s insane.” Instead, he plows ahead with no apologies and no pretense; no peek behind the curtain or reveal of the trick. What you get is the world of “Exponential Apocalypse” in all its glory.
While I can’t really do justice in explaining the full story here, I do want to share a few of my favorite moments from the book, to give you a flavor of the narrative and the voice that Gumeny writes with. The first is one of those moments that we have all experienced, and reminds me a bit of the dead parrot skit from Monty Python. While out one day, Queen Victoria XXX has occasion to purchase a cup of coffee and has one of those conversations that we’ve all had:
“I’d like a medium coffee please,” said a fairly intimidating Queen Victoria XXX.
“We don’t have medium,” said a fairly intimidated girl behind the counter.
“How can you not have a medium?”
“We have short, tall, grande, venti, and collegiate.”
“Well, give me the one in the middle.”
“Which one, ma’am?”
“Whatever it was you said, the one that means medium.”
“Short, tall, grande, venti, or collegiate?”
“You’re really going to make me say it?”
“If you don’t say it and I respond anyway, I get whipped. I don’t want to get whipped ma’am. The whip is three belts taped together. Three belts with nails in them.”
The second scene gives you a little of the back story as to how Queen Victoria, Chester A. Arthur, and Howard Taft came to grace these pages. After one of the many apocalypses that the world has suffered, the powers that be decided to clone famous world leaders in an attempt to pack the houses of government with qualified politicians. The plan failed miserably, and the world was left with dozens of clones of world leaders. What were they to do with these now useless clones? Have a series of televised death matches, of course.
These “debates” took a number of different forms, depending on the leader involved. The George Washingtons were each given an axe and then dropped into a cherry orchard. The Winston Chruchills had a drinking contest. Josef Stalin VI killed sixty-two other Stalins in a truly epic snowball fight.
Hoping to stoke interest in political history in the young male demographic, the Queen Victorias were forced to mud wrestle. To the Death.
Queen Victoria XXX defeated seventy-four other versions of herself that day with nothing more than her hands and wet dirt.
I love the idea of those “debates”, and the fun that you could have with them. You could have the Ted Kennedys dropped in a shark tank and left to swim for their lives. You could have the Jimmy Carters – well, the book says that they wanted competent politicians, so there wouldn’t be any Jimmy Carter clones. You could have the Al Gores sit around a table and bore each other to death. You could have all of the Bill Clintons…let’s just say that it would involve a lot of cigars and leave it at that.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Exponential Apocalypse”. I racked my brain to come up with an intelligent, insightful explanation for why it’s a great book that you should read. I could say that “It was funny, sarcastic, and very well written”, but that sounded too trite. I could talk about its “genius in deconstructing the apocalypse novel genre and using humor to explore the inherent struggle between religion and technology in the modern world”, but that sounded too pretentious. Instead, I decided to just pull another quote from the story -
The president, the philosopher, and the scientists left the other president, the queen, the god, and the girl, and walked towards the encroaching horde of liberal arts majors and drug dealers.
Any book that can pull off that sentence as one of the more sedate moments in the story is worth reading.
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