Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sensationally Absurd

When I was a kid, I had this friend, we'll call him Parker, who is, without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever known. During our high school years in Advanced Math, AP Calculus, AP Physics, he's the guy our teacher would leave in charge of the class when he was going to be out. Sure, we had a sub, because we had to have a sub, but the subs were never qualified to teach any of the material, so Sellers (our teacher) would leave Parker in charge, and the sub would just sit around doing... well, whatever.

For a number of years (starting in 4th grade, when Parker first came to my school), I was his only friend, because no one else could relate to him. It was so bad that, even though Parker was one of my best friends, my mom wouldn't let him over to my house, because he gave her the creeps because he was so "weird," and I was the only person that ever went to his house, because everyone else just saw the "weird kid." The fact that our teacher left him in charge of the class didn't help him any, especially since he couldn't teach. Not being able to relate to people gets in the way, no matter how smart you are.

For a while, none of this stuff mattered to Parker. He was less concerned with friends than with what was going on in his head. Of course, there are those times, especially in high school, when that's not enough anymore and you want to be liked, and Parker wasn't any different. Around our junior year, he started going to parties and things in a campaign to become popular or, at least, well liked. The whole party thing wasn't my thing, so some distance began developing between us.

The problem was that Parker was desperate to be liked. He'd never had many friends, and he wanted to be in the middle of it all. Once people began to realize just how desperate he was... well, things didn't go well. There started to be stories about him and people laughing in Calc when he'd come in. No one liked him, but they all thought he was great at parties because he'd do anything he was told to do. Like peeing on the lawn in front of everyone. Or stripping down, putting his underwear (that he'd just been wearing) on his head, and running down the middle of the street. And... other things.

It was painful to see this stuff happening to him. It's one of those crisis moments: talk to him or not? I talked to him. I told him that none of those people were his friends and that they were laughing at him behind his back. It was the only fight we ever had, the only time I heard him yell, and the last time we ever spoke. He told me I was lying, that they were his friends, and I was just jealous of how popular he was.

I guess he clued in to what had been going on once he got away to college, because, the first time the group of us (the smartest of the smart kids at our school, that Parker had been a part of before he decided to be "popular") got together after high school was over (probably Christmas our freshman years at college), he let us know that he wanted nothing to do with us or anyone from high school ever again, and he's done his best since then to make sure that that was the case.

Reading about Slim Dyson in The Sensationally Absurd Life and Times of Slim Dyson

made me feel like I was witnessing Parker's descent again. I wanted to smack Slim in the face and tell him to quit being stupid. It was painful. And it was hard to read. Part of me kept wanting to say, "Come on, no one is this stupid! I can't expect that they want me to believe this." Then I would remember Parker and sigh and keep reading. But it wasn't easy. Like I said, painful.

There's the part of the book that's about Slim as the hapless character just wanting to be liked and always believing the best about everyone, a decision he seems to be making because he can't deal with the alternative, and there's the part of the book that is a pretty direct metaphor of the homeless writer being a homeless writer--a writer without a publisher. That part of the book, I find clever. The idea of the independently published writer as being homeless is something I can identify with. And with that the idea of being "discovered" and, then, the publisher, also, only wanting to take advantage of you. No matter how much money they throw at you, it's only because they believe they are going to make tons more.

So there are pieces if the book that I really enjoy, especially the first half or so, and, taken individually, nearly all of the chapters are entertaining. Taking individually, I would never question any of it, but, as a whole, the simplicity of Slim began to wear on me, and I just wanted him to open his eyes. For a while, I even questioned his mental capacity. Maybe there was just something wrong with him... but, no, there's enough information within the story to show that it's more willful than anything else. And, again, that stuff took me back to Parker. Of course, the fact that it resonated the way it did shows the quality of the writing, even if it wasn't enjoyable for me to read.

The only real flaw I'd say the book has is the ending. It's abrupt and out of nowhere. Like a sudden 90 degree turn when you're running at full speed. Well, and  the joint writing of the authors wasn't as flawless in  this one as it has been in some of their other works. Basically, I'm pretty sure I'd be pretty close to accurate if I made two stacks of the chapters as to which one wrote which chapters. Neither were of less quality, but they didn't always mesh in style and, occasionally, a chapter would seem to "forget" information from the chapter directly preceding it.

Oh, and, because it's me, I should talk about the editing, which, also, wasn't as good as the other books I've read by Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers. Which is not to say that it was bad, because it was still miles ahead of 99% of the independently published stuff I've read, but it wasn't quite up to the level of their previous books.

It's a good book, but I'm still ambivalent about how I feel about it (if you go look at how I rate books, you'll better understand that comment). I think it's probably more accessible to the common reader than The Missing Link, but I didn't enjoy it as much. Still, it's much better than the average offering out there and is filled with comically absurd moments. It's definitely worth checking out.


  1. Thanks again for the review, and we take a bit of a sick delight in knowing that we tortured you with entertainment. I mean, it WAS entertaining at least.

    I can't say anyone else has had this kind of reaction, but then again, no one we know who's read the book knows anyone like Parker.

    Also, I have to say, I think the key difference is that deep down, Parker was probably unhappy. There's no way someone could act like that without being secretly miserable. But Slim, well, Slim's always happy. That's what makes Slim Slim, and that's what tells the reader that it's not just an act - he is truly just that happy about everyday life.

  2. Nice of you to review this book. It is sad when someone is desperate to be liked.

  3. Those kind of people are sad. I never knew anyone who was that extreme, but you can always tell when someone is just trying to get people to like him. It comes off as either desperate or obvious it's not genuine.
    I have their book on my iPad. Now that the insanity of the Challenge is over, I'd like to get back to reading again.

  4. I might have been interested until I saw the $6.99 price tag. For a self-published book? Yeah, right. Keep dreaming, boys.

  5. I have to admit, I have a bit of a crush on Slim. He his an optimist. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body and he's not self serving. It made me want to follow his journey to the very end of the book.

    I wasn't able to tell any difference in writing styles.

  6. That's just sad about your friend Parker. I've seen people like that, young women mostly who'd do anything for a guy, and it's always heartbreaking to witness.

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  8. PT - self published doesn't equal crap. We've had a contract with Random House, and I had an agent (that I fired for being useless). We found 6.99 to be the ideal selling price for us, and we sell plenty of books that way. It's STILL cheaper than a $9.99 traditionally published e-book, anyway. Sorry to burst your little bubble. :)

  9. I have this book on my Kindle. I think you recommended it to me. Or maybe? I'm not sure how it got there. I'll get around to reading it eventually.

    I'm actually more interested in commenting on your Tuesday ISWG post, which I read, too, today, because not so very long ago I read an article by a writer who wrote a time travel book, and it was the type of article by writers that I HATE, for a variety of reasons, but anyway, what particularly jumped out at me about this one was that she went on and on and on and on...

    ...if you are going to write about your writing, think about how you write: her ARTICLE made me more determined than ever to not read her book, because she couldn't hold my attention in three paragraphs or so, so how was her BOOK going to fare?...

    ...and on about how she researched things to be historically accurate.

    To which I thought (and tweeted):

    "You know what is NOT historically accurate? TIME TRAVEL."

    So that's where I part company with you: if historical accuracy, or whatever accuracy, is important to your story, fine, okay, do that. It almost never is to me, though, in that I enjoy just thinking things up. I have the benefit of writing things like "the After," where it all is made up and it's a fictional world, of sorts, but as you know, I'm writing "Tales Of The Nine Planets," where the protagonists eventually are going to (hopefully?) get through the solar system, and I'm kind of thinking that the level of my research into the planets, etc., is going to be limited to "books I read with Mr Bunches," because my story isn't about whether Neptune is 70% nitrogen or rotates counterclockwise -- it's about the people and their adventures.

    Where you run the risk is offending people like you, who want things to be accurate. It wouldn't have bothered me to have ravens be couriers, even if I knew they were not able to do that in real life. But I have an easier time suspending disbelief when it's clearly supposed to be suspended, like in "Game of Thrones" (Or "House On The Corner," for that matter, although in that case, the realism of the setting helps set off the fantastical nature of things that are happening, so there's something to be said for that.)

    Anyway, those are my scattered thoughts on these subjects. If someone reads something by me, and goes to Google it to see if it's accurate, they will probably be disappointed if they were expecting accuracy. But if they're expecting a superawesome story... well, they'd better read one of your books. But mine are pretty good, too.

  10. Briane, those are interesting thoughts. But to clarify--which I can do because this is the kind of stuff that Andrew and I discuss all the time--I don't believe he's arguing with that IWSG post that a writer must be 100% historically or scientifically accurate all the time, or even that such accuracy would be the ideal. I think what he would argue is that writers shouldn't violate the self-determination of their characters or the laws of the world in which they are writing just because a desired violation is "cool." E.g., if you are writing a saga set in a particular moment of actual Roman history (Gladiator), then you don't violate the rules of conduct that would guide the emperor or any other rational ruler who is interested in self-preservation. Yes, it is cool for the emperor to fight on the arena floor, but it is not realistic for the character, let alone for history. And, on top of that, it wasn't necessary to the story, except insofar as Hollywood always has to have the "bad guy dies in a hail of revenge" conclusion.

    Research into the historical, scientific, or cultural accuracy of a particular story setting doesn't have to drain all life or fun from the story. I think, conversely, that operating within a set of restrictions can bring forth a lot of creative energy.

    About Game of Thrones, which Andrew consents to watch with me even though he doesn't love it; the thing that makes it watchable for both of us (as compared to a series like Falling Skies which we attempted to watch this week) is that the characters are believable and the actions they take make sense for each character (even when they are stupid). Yes, I would prefer that lots of other stuff about the world was ALSO believable, but that doesn't kill my enjoyment. It just...niggles at my enjoyment.

    Sarah aka Andrew's wife

  11. ABftS: Everyone brings their own stuff to a book which is both cool and scary. I've been told more than three times that I bring a unique perspective to things and see things other people don't see.

    Sheena: I'm not really being nice. I think, as an independent author, it's part of the job to support other independent authors. It helps everyone, including me.

    Alex: You should certainly read it, bit you should read Christmas, first. :P

    Jo: I think some of the chapters are still up on their blog. You could always check out a couple and see what you think.

    PT: Wait till they run a special?

    Elsie: There are subtle tells, but I wouldn't want to give any of those away.

    L.G.: The hardest part about it is that I understood what he was going through. I've had considerable periods in my life of being the outsider, so the desire to fit in and be "normal" is something I get.

    ABftS: The place I have an issue with e-book pricing is when the e-book is -more- than the physical book. What, exactly, is the incentive for me to buy the e-book at that point, especially when I get free shipping from Amazon?

    Briane: I probably did recommend it. I mentioned it at some point way back...

    My issue with Martin is that he makes some weird attempt to make his fantasy "realistic," and there's all this stuff about how people like it because it's gritty and "realistic." But, no, it's not at all realistic, and what I think they really mean is that they like it because it has sex in it. If you want to make a fantasy world, fine, do that, but, if you say you're making a fantasy world based on realism, then it needs to be based on realism.

    Sarah: To sum all of that up: follow your own rules. Or don't make rules.

  12. I don't believe I've ever seen The Inestimable Sarah Leon comment before.

    I get what you're saying: the realism is important, in context. Your point seems to be something like my point about the "rules" of horror and/or scifi -- that the system you set up has to make sense and work within the boundaries of whatever you're creating.

    So I concede that if the historical accuracy is an emphasis of your story, then, yes, it should be historically accurate (or if accuracy, in general, is important to your story, I suppose, as with Andrew's Shreveport location.)

    But the focus should always be on good storytelling. All the accuracy in the world isn't going to help a terrible story, whereas the inaccuracies of a story can be minor (the Ravens in GoT, for example) and maybe not bug someone, or could be major (like the Gladiator example, which I admit I didn't even catch, let alone worry about) but work for the emotion of the piece -- albeit trading off the historical accuracy for a grand finale.

    Maybe it's all a sense of perspective. I almost never watch "legal" shows, for example, like Law & Order, because it bugs me that they are presented as "accurate" when they clearly are not. I find myself saying to Sweetie (who loves them) "That would never happen! You can't have an argument with a judge and opposing counsel walking down a hallway!"

    But the show "Ed," which also had a lawyer-ly focus, I didn't mind, even though someone would be sued and the case would go to trial the next day, because the show clearly wasn't intended to be accurate.

    The time travel story I got annoyed with, though, I think was mostly annoying because the historical accuracy was presented as such a virtue that it seemed to overwhelm the story, and not take into account the fact that the most wildly INACCURATE thing was the basic premise of the story.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is you're mostly right.

  13. Briane: It's true that it is perspective. As I said, for people that don't know, none of it matters, anyway, because they don't know. When you know lots and lots of stuff, though, or very specific stuff, it can make it difficult to overlook... extravagances in the writing. I mean, when it's clear that the author didn't bother, it bothers me. If it's clear that it's that way on purpose (Monty Python), it doesn't bother me.

  14. I'm sorry about you're friend. Not wanting anything to do with the other guys I get but it's sad that he wants nothing to do with you or the rest of your group since you were his actual friends.

    The story was a good way to review the book. It sounds good, but naive characters tend to bug me. I'll have to think about whether or not to check it out.

  15. Jeanne: It was sad, but, then, I get it. It's easier to just lump everything into one big ball and deal with that way rather than sift through and figure out what to keep and what not.

  16. Parker really sounds like a sad person.

    I also went through school not really being liked, but at least I did it on my terms, not pandering to the immaturity of the so-called popular kids.

    As for the book, I haven't read it. From your description, I don't think I will either.

  17. Homeless writers - that's a great analogy. I have a feeling that's where I'll end up...because I'm insecure about my writing. That's why I'm in the IWSG...and yes I will post again now that the insanity of the first four months is over.

    I can so relate to what you said about "Parker". I had a friend like that too. We GT kids aren't always understood well...and when we try to be there for someone who doesn't want us to, it turns ugly. I'm sorry he spat upon and ground your friendship into the ground. I feel the pain of high school Andrew.
    Thanks for reading my A-Z series. It was so nice to see your smiling face there so much.

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  18. Misha: Maybe, you should check out the free chapters on their blog... if they're still there.

    Tina: That's true. I can't actually imagine what it would have been like for him if he'd gone to a normal high school. He probably would have been the kid thrown in the dumpster every day.

  19. Thank you for the review. I don't know if I can read this. I used to be a nerd in high school with no friends. Luckily, my parents were pretty awesome, so I turned out fine and never put myself in bad situations. I mostly didn't care what others thought. But still, I hated being bullied, especially when one of my teachers was doing the bullying.

  20. Sounds like an interesting story..I've never heard of it before..I am not at all up on the cool self published books to read. Right now I'm reading Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. She's a Canadian's not an ebook though...well, maybe it is, but I have an actual copy of it. Still don't have an ereader, I just don't think I'd really like it. Great review and story of your friend!

  21. Kristen: Maybe, it's just the thing you do need to read, then? There's a difference when you know you're being bullied and when you don't have a clue. That Slim didn't know is what it difficult for me, just like Parker not knowing.

    Eve: Well, check back. I'm going to have a page up soon of suggested indie books.