Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on John Dies @ the End.
The description of John Dies at the End by David Wong (not his real name - it’s actually Jason Pargin) sounds like it might be a promising book: two guys who can barely hold down jobs somehow, through the wonders/horrors of a drug known on the street as “Soy Sauce” because of its dark color, manage to traverse parallel dimensions, fight nasty monsters only they can see, and save the world. It’s billed as being both humorous and very scary, and I was eager to read it and see for myself if it lived up to some of its reviews and hype. I love the science fiction and the horror genres, and this book seemed to be something I’d enjoy, perhaps along the lines of Philip K. Dick’s excellent novel Ubik. For better of worse, I found it to be no Ubik, not scary (to me, anyway) at all, and that its “humor” often consisted of unfunny remarks about male genitalia.
The plot is difficult to describe, since the tale of John & Dave’s efforts to save the world involves many different locales and perspectives. The character of Dave Wong - yes, it’s the same name as the author’s pseudonym - himself uses the word “retarded” to describe some of the situations they get into as he relates their escapades to the reporter Arnie Blondestone. He even doubts his own sanity at times.
The shifting of perspectives resulting from the use of Soy Sauce results in the duo seeing the world in a much different way than everyone not on Soy Sauce sees it. They see Shadow Men, meat monsters they call “meatstrocities”, ghosts, astrally projected beings, people from another dimension inside their televisions (Dave’s, anyway), etc., etc.. John, early in the book, relates their unique perspective on decidedly odd things to how people consigned to Dante’s vision of Hell view their surroundings:
“I call it Dante’s Syndrome,” John said. I had never heard him call it any such thing.
In science fiction and horror stories I have read that I consider to be well-written and “good,” the strangeness of the story is never a reason I either like/don’t like a book. Internal consistency is more important to me, and if certain “rules” or “parameters” the author sets in one part of a novel are violated in another part without an explanation (even a fairly lame one), I am turned off by the story. How can one maintain a suspended sense of disbelief when confronted by problems of internal consistency?
“Meaning I think Dave and I gained the ability to peer into Hell. Only it turns out
Hell is right here, all through us and around us and in us like the microbes that swarm
Through your lungs and guts and veins.”
One example taken from the book is when Dave is transported by a Shadow Man into an almost empty fuel tank of the passenger jet his then-love interest, Amy, is on, headed to Utah. Dave tells Arnie that the Shadow Man was trying to tell him to stop looking into their activities. As Arnie puts it: “They were saying you need to stop interfering with whatever plans they got, because if not they’ll go back and cut Amy out of the timeline.” Yet, in the Epilogue, Dave seemingly has forgotten this, because he gets engaged to Amy.
If the Shadow Men can go back and change certain events in time so that they never occurred, then they could have prevented Dave from being born by ensuring his parents never met. They could have stopped Dave (if they decided to let him live until this point in his life) from ever having meet John; their problems would be solved, and they could carry out their plans with their leader, Korrok, and end up ruling the world. Or, they could have prevented the duo from having met with Amy, or even Dave’s dog, Molly (who used to be Amy’s and her brother’s), because both play crucial roles in defeating the plans of Korrok and the Shadow Men.
Another example is that a humanoid being Dave refers to as the “Largeman” in a dimension he and John call “Shit Narnia” tells them of the powers he and the other people there possess, which he demonstrates on a man by transforming him into an insect-headed monster. By changing a man’s shape, he can also change their brains and memories. He demonstrates he can do this, and could conceivably do the same to John, Dave, and Amy, but he doesn’t. In other words, he could easily have stopped the trio from escaping back to their own dimension.
Okay, enough kvetching. John Dies at the End is engaging, and very imaginative - I’ll definitely give it kudos for that. I wanted to read it through to the end, despite its numerous plot inconsistencies. One reason is that it is pretty interesting book; another is that I wanted to be fair in my appraisal of it, and I hoped everything would be resolved and explained by the conclusion. I also wanted to see if John really does die at the end.
Despite my criticisms, also, John Dies at the End has received quite a few positive reviews. Currently, for instance, at Amazon.com, it has five stars. I don’t personally think it should have that many, but many people apparently think differently. It was first published on the author’s website, and after receiving numerous hits, a publisher contacted Dave Wong and the rest, as they say, is history. If you like sci-fi and horror with comedy thrown in for good measure, this book might be just what you’re looking for.