Jam - Yahtzee Croshaw Yahtzee Croshaw is known to videogamers as that Australian guy who makes online video reviews for games using animated stick figures (a bit like those on warning signs) on a yellow background, that feature the odd bit of cursing, images of penises, and give you the idea that they're probably made mainly for a young male audience. [Zero Punctuation wikipedia page, ZP's own Wiki, and video Archive]However! Here and there Croshaw drops in the odd reference to Columbo (eons ago I watched a lot of that show) and various literature, and he has a way with wit and ranting that reminds me of a young version of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Only with lots of penis and videogame references. It's very much "an online thing" (meaning not always funny, and if funny, not funny to everyone) and every time I think I've found an episode to pass along and say "ok here, here's why I think this is funny" there's always at least 10 seconds that's tasteless enough that I think "no, no, leave it to the teen boys and move along, your friends are just going to think you've played too many videogames and lapsed into the realm of fart jokes, etc." And yet I keep watching his stuff. Maybe it's a gamer thing. Or maybe my sense of humor is just becoming more warped. Let's not answer that, shall we?Anyway, the guy has some wit about him, and I've wanted to read his books for a while. This is his second - I missed out on getting the first (Mogworld) when it first came out and for some reason it's not in ebook form yet. This time I got in on the purchasing part early enough, gave up on the whole cloud thing and got a paper copy of Jam. [EDIT, as of today, March 1, 2013, Amazon US now has ebooks of both of Croshaw's books. In case you were wondering.]The short version (I always promise that and fail) - jam arrives unexpectedly in Australia (Brisbane, I think), and eats everything organic. One minute Travis is talking to his roommate Frank as Frank is sliding down the banister of the stairs - they're both leaving their building and talking as they descend.P. 8 "...So I was just in time to see him get eaten by the jam.He was looking back at me to shout encouragement, so he didn't notice it until he was on top of it, flopping bodily onto the three feet of wobbling red that flooded the bottom of the stairwell. "Urrgh," I heard him say, in the disgusted tone of one falling victim to a messy practical joke. This quickly became "argh" when he realized the jam wasn't letting him go, and that in turn became "AAAAARGH" when he saw his legs, immersed in the semitransparent goo, stripped of their flesh over the course of a second.The rest of him summoned a burst of effort from somewhere and his torso strained at the ropy red strands that wrapped him like festive ribbons. He reached his last remaining arm out towards me, and his terrified eyes met mine. Then the jam shot out several more tentacles that fastened around his wrist, eyes, and mouth, and he was yanked back with a desperate gurgle.His wristwatch, iPod, and fillings slowly floated to the surface, with a motion that seemed reminiscent of a satisfied belch.I very, very slowly turned around and went back up the stairs.And thus we meet the killer jam. It's strawberry, or so are told by characters describing the scents wafting from the masses of the stuff that cover the town.The start is all about strangers bumping into each other, forming a group who become the adventurers who we will follow on their journey. Yes, I think you can detect some nod to film and videogame type plots here.One thing I liked right away is that there are some ideas tossed about concerning what you would immediately wonder - "why jam? where did it come from?" - and then you don't get immediate answers. Which you would expect, since most everyone else is dead. This reminded me of the 1990 film Tremors, where a small town his held hostage by giant worms from underground, and the characters are always pestering a (geology/seismology) graduate student for a scientific assessment of what the monsters are, and she of course has no answers. And is (rightfully) annoyed that everyone keeps asking her, because of course no one (still living) has seen the things before, and why does everyone assume that she is The Scientist Who Knows All The Answers?! So I really hoped that similarly the whole Cause of the Jam would be teased and that perhaps we might never learn the answer. We actually do learn the answer, and it sort of works. That wasn't really much of spoiler was it. Sorry. That was probably obnoxious, huh. Anyway the cause was amusing, but not a dramatic reveal exactly, and you don't learn everything, especially all of the How, which I appreciated. It's never good to have everything explained about a monster, it makes things dull. So now that I've read Jam and am sitting back and pondering it, I'm trying to figure out exactly how to gauge my liking of it. This is sort of difficult because it's a type of literature I read with a certain set of expectations. After the first few chapters I realized I was in an action-adventure plot with a group who were on a quest that - no matter what people said they were trying to achieve - was really about survival and whether everyone would 1) make it to Place X (an always changing location) and 2) live to see another day and then3) live long enough to learn whether the jam had only eaten all of Australia or had spread worldwide and the entire planet/human civilization was threatened. So it's a sort of Adventure Apocalypse. Apoca-Adventure. Your brain can easily play along and give you a mental film of the whole thing as you read. (If you have a brain that works with you that way on these sorts of books. Mine adores anything B Movie-ish.)So knowing that, I don't expect "a sweeping saga in which we all learn about ourselves through the hero's journey" or a realization that "this is all a metaphor, and has Deep Meanings" or feel any need to strike a pose and compare anyone to a character in Paradise Lost. There are jabs at consumer culture, slackers, apathetic hipsters, reality television, journalism, the military, Americans, conspiracy theory, videogame programmers, cube farms, zombies, etc. I enjoy such mocking, and I also enjoyed that there wasn't a belabored Big Point that was being made - or at least not one that the story tried to beat over your head in a smarmy After School Special way. If there's anything like that it's more of a nudge and a wink and then a "moving on now, because the villain is strawberry jam." The characters often seem unfeeling, but more than once Travis - our Everyman slacker dude, will comment that hey, people are dead and no one is acting as if it's a problem or a big deal or caring and what is up with that? (Which is just what the reader might be thinking while reading that.) The other characters act as if Travis's the odd one to make a big deal of this and they turn away. It's a very self aware story. At one point two characters discuss which of them would be the main character if everything that had happened was made into a film. Travis is hurt to discover he isn't even on the list of potential main characters.I didn't have any emotional investment in any of the people, but I was interested to see if they survived. And if they didn't survive, how they'd be killed off. I hated a few of them mildly, and was pleased by more than one death. It's the kind of book where you mentally note a person and think "boy I hope that one gets killed soon, I'm not going to enjoy a lot more of him faffing about." (I was going to use "Person X" in that sentence, only there is actually a character named X, so it'd just confuse things.)So the 3 stars mean that I like it, but I will probably not reread it multiple times, quote lines to myself and laugh, but try not to do this in public because it does make people wonder if you're a bit odd. ...I also gave The Great Gatsby 3 stars, so I should give a few more specifics. To me the star levels are all about how much I liked the book and primarily whether I want to reread it someday. So this book I liked, it helped me through a long plane ride, and prior to that an airport terminal where there were jackhammers being used at 6am. The attack of the jam and the weirdness both amused and provided needed distraction. I kept wondering "yes, but now that he's gotten them to Place X, where next? They're surrounded by carnivorous jam..." Not sure if I will reread though, thus only the three. I consider a three yo be quite good though.I'm sure you could go all lit major and dig up more hidden meanings and themes, but that wasn't what I came to this party for. I could see myself getting drunk and coming up with a game with other Jam readers where we try to map out Brisbane using only this book - no cheating and looking anything up on Google, and we can only use cocktail napkins and whatever items have come with our beverages to create our topographic map. (This is the sort of bar game where you have to leave a large tip for whoever has to clean up the results.)As a video game reviewer Croshaw has made multiple jokes about using cover ("chest high walls") - and I noted that yes, taking cover jokes were indeed available to those who were ready to notice them. I'm sure there were even more in-jokes that I missed.Also props for the use of a Goliath Birdeater. One of the reasons I was reading the book was for the Australian setting, and for me it wouldn't be a proper Aussie setting without a deadly snake or spider or box jelly or some such freakish critter scampering around. It didn't have to be insanely poisonous(though I note that Australia has those by the ton) - though I was ready for something of that sort to drop in somewhere, but yeah, jam ate everything organic, so... Anyway I was satisfied with the Freakishly Large Spider and its continuing saga.Short version: in the action-adventure-survival-ish genre I only expect to be amused and entertained. I was.