Book #47: Jam (2012)

jamAuthor/Narrator: Yahtzee Croshaw
Language: English
Length: 855 minutes (14 hours 15 minutes)
Finished listening on: 30 Jan 2014

I read Yahtzee Croshaw’s first book, Mogworld, a few years ago, before I started this blog, and found it entertaining and lighthearted. I also watch his video series, Zero Punctuation, every week, even though I hardly play any video games – mainly because I find him funny.

The first thing I want to note about this audiobook is that compared to his video series, the narration was a bit stilted. His usual style in the video series is very fast and peppered with bad language, so when he narrated the audiobook, I think he overenunciated, especially at the beginning before getting into it. Every t is very carefully pronounced. He’s a bit better when doing the voice of a character, but overall I think the performance was lacking and could have benefited from some more dynamism.

That aside, the story was interesting overall – the idea is that a sea of murderous strawberry jam comes out of nowhere and starts eating any organic material it comes into contact with. Because it happened at rush hour, the only people who survived were slackers, young adults, students, and overachievers who arrived at work before rush hour. The main character is one of the slackers, and together with three others from his apartment block, have to try and travel across the city to find rescue. There are also some US military personell who show up. Basically, they find themselves in somewhat of a Lord of the Flies situation, with people setting up shop in the mall or in an office block, and running wild.

The premise behind the jam is that it’s the apocalypse that nobody expected – it’s alluded several times that if it’d been zombies, people wouldn’t have been caught out so bad, as we have had so much media of various forms copying the zombie idea.

In terms of setting, it’s set in Croshaw’s adopted hometown of Brisbane, although at first when they referred to it as “our city” I thought he was going to try and hide where it was, but the way it was eventually revealed made it sound like he just gave up trying to hide it in the second chapter. Croshaw’s accent is still firmly West Midlands (although I think he tries to hide it, and he has a couple of amusing hypercorrections), which creates a weird effect in the audiobook where everyone sounds English, but use some Australian terms like the ever-confusing “thong”, or “Central Business District”.

Some of the characters in the story were more complex than I first anticipated, but at the same time some of them just fulfill one stereotype or function. The military characters are very one-dimensional, as is the character of Don, an overly cynical and utterly detestable character who has no redeeming qualities, and I believe must have been included as a cheap shot at games developers.

There’s also a lot of stupidity in the story. Nobody ever thinks to try and use radio to contact the outside world or try and find out what’s happening, for instance. Or when characters’ batteries run out, they never think to just take some more from an empty shop (especially in the section where they’re living in the mall). As another take-that at overachievers, the office building, instead of being a safe haven, is actually a corporate hellhole, with the characters there only concerned with profit and protocol even in the face of death.

Croshaw’s view of young adults is also not very nuanced, as his characters are also only concerned with their social status and standing, while simultaneously egregiously misusing the word irony as their internal motivation for everything – their “society” is heavily reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, as I mentioned already, with arbitrary executions and a religious bent to everything.

There were also a couple of moments where I did just outright disagree with the point the author was trying to make. At one point the characters mention the “friend zone” uncritically, for instance, and at another, a character insinuates that another might be gay, a moment that’s treated either as an insult or as a punchline, neither of which I can be happy with.

For all its problems, however, the story does hold together, and the writing style is addictive. Croshaw likes to use Adamsesque similes, and although sometimes he is clearly trying too hard, these are often funny. As a story of human incompetence, it’s also funny and perhaps accurate, although I’d like to think I’d have a little more sense than many of the characters. Mogworld was better, frankly, and I’d recommend this one only if you’ve already read the other.

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