Something Completely Different: Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw

Mogworld cover In a world full to bursting with would-be heroes, Jim couldn’t be less interested in saving the day. His fireballs fizzle. He’s awfully grumpy. Plus, he’s been dead for about sixty years. When a renegade necromancer wrenches him from eternal slumber and into a world gone terribly, bizarrely wrong, all Jim wants is to find a way to die properly, once and for all.

On his side, he’s got a few shambling corpses, an inept thief, and a powerful death wish. But he’s up against tough odds: angry mobs of adventurers, a body falling apart at the seams – and a team of programmers racing a deadline to hammer out the last few bugs in their AI.
Long time no see! Sorry, guys, between a computer crash for one of us and the other starting school, we’ve been a little preoccupied. But we’re back – or at least one of us is – continuing her trend of steadfastly ignoring the pile of paranormal romance galleys sitting on her e-reader to indulge in something completely different.

Full disclosure: I love Zero Punctuation. So when I heard its creator had written a book set in an MMORPG starring a reluctant undead hero, I was psyched. I ordered it a month or so ago, and since then I’ve read it twice, each time with exactly the same level of eager anticipation.

Mogworld is funny. Not just funny, but laugh-out-loud hilarious on more occasions than I can list. If you’re a fan of Zero Punctuation, this should come as no surprise and the nature of that humor should be pretty obvious. For those who aren’t, I’ll put it like this: Yahtzee has a classically British sense of humor – very dry, very deadpan, with irony and sarcasm in spades. It’s the best kind of humor – the kind that’s actually funny, not tedious. Very frequently I felt as though I was reading transcripts of lost Holy Grail scenes. Specifically, scenes like this:


In short, unexpected and amusingly subversive. From a zombie horde that demands musical theater in return for their service, a village that enjoys being pillaged, and an evil black magic-wielding overlord who treasures his model train set, the jokes in Mogworld almost always arise from an unexpected twist on a familiar situation. SCORE.

It should be obvious by now, but humor has me wrapped around its metaphorical finger. I’ll forgive murder from a book that actually makes me laugh, and as I said earlier, Mogworld made me laugh a lot, so let’s not kid ourselves: I’ll be recommending this no matter what. That being said, Mogworld wasn’t a flawless book, and I’m not going to deny that. It’s probably not for everyone, which is why I wish Kay had time to go over this one too, because this is the exact sort of situation in which a dual-perspective would be beneficial.

Unfortunately, she’s got school so you guys are stuck with me 🙁

I suppose the primary question here is the crossover appeal – in other words, is Mogworld a book non-gamers could enjoy? I think so, but I’m also a gamer. I’ve played Warcraft, and admittedly, that familiarity did help. Being set in an MMO, Mogworld comes with a certain amount of in-jokes and parody, but as far as I’m concerned, that only adds another layer to jokes and content that can stand on their own.

The real, potentially polarizing issue here, I think, is the sharp edge to Croshaw’s humor and characterization. The key difference here between, say, Yahtzee’s humor and that in the clip above is the tone. Where Python has a sillier feel, Croshaw’s jokes are biting and mean-spirited. I didn’t mind – much – but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Similarly, the characters, while entertaining, are almost universally unlikable, and Croshaw doesn’t go out of his way to change that.

His protagonist, Jim, along with being a rather blatant author avatar, is unabashedly cowardly, self-serving, and disdainful of the people around him. But to be fair – and in keeping with the mean-spirited tone – he’s almost entirely surrounded by idiots. His associates, fellow undead minions Meryl and Thaddeus, are a relentlessly cheerful, empty-headed nationalist and a delusional, self-righteous zealot, respectively. Every other significant character he encounters runs the gamut from pompous jackass to sociopathically, murderously insane, to just plain stupid.

While you can understand – and be amused by – Jim’s attitude and suicidal mission, it’s very, very difficult to actually care or empathize with him, and the same goes for most of the other characters. They all have a specific trope to embody and while Croshaw does an outstanding job of getting comedy out of these tropes, nearly everyone remains steadfastly one-dimensional until the very, very end of the book.

The exception to this rule has to be the programmers though, who, in their brief appearances (in bits of emails and instant message conversations), easily establish themselves as the most relatable characters. Their exchanges are some of the funniest in the book, as they deal with workplace drama and sentient AI and that guy around the office who doesn’t know how to do a damn thing and yet somehow manages to stay employed. Don’t you hate that guy? Also, fangirl moment here: I loved the Silent Hill references in their names.

At any rate, they were probably my favorite characters, aside from Slippery John, a rogue who always refers to himself in the third person. He’s the best thing in the book, whose every line of dialogue sent me into hysterics. For example, this reunion between Jim and Slipper John in a small church:

We need to talk,” I said.

“Ha ha!” he cried, smiling derangedly as I held him against the wall. “You fell for Slippery John’s cunning trap, undead slime! You have wantonly stepped on to hallowed ground, and are now utterly powerless!”

A pause. “No, I’m not.”

“No, you’re not. Slippery John was banking on a bit of an outside chance, there.”
Plotwise, though, Mogworld is a bit of a mess. It may be my short attention span, but by the time I got halfway through I forgot exactly why, how, and what steps were taken to get the characters there. Mostly why. The road is…winding, to put it simply – it reads like a series of random encounters and side quests, which work in the MMO context, but less so in a literary one.

The whole premise of the book lends itself to this strange combination gaping plot hole/running gag that can be funny or frustrating, depending on the kind of a mood you’re in. The idea is that Jim has no desire to be the hero, and his only wish is to die, yet, being the protagonist, it’s necessary that he both survive long enough for the story to play out, and keep up with the overarching plot. This leads to more than a few lucky (or the opposite) instances of Jim literally running into the bad guys, or conveniently placed allies, or just instinctively running away from the death he so desires (which he later berates himself for). It’s not a lack of resolve – you know he really does want to kill himself and genuinely has no interest in being the hero – but you have to grin a little at the ways in which Croshaw allows Jim to survive and forces him to participate so that we, you know, have a book to read.

He doesn’t spare Jim any harm, though, and I liked that. By the time the resolution comes around, Jim’s lost several body parts, is stuck using octopus eyes, has “died” several times, and generally looks disgusting. Most of the other, non-undead characters meet him with variations of the line “OH GOD YOUR EYES HURRAAARRGLAB!”

The writing is pretty decent; the dialogue is impeccable. Croshaw has background in dialogue writing for games and it shows; he even manages to give a sense of timing to the conversations and Jim’s comebacks, something crucial to good humorous exchanges. He does lean a bit heavily on similes, using them to (almost desperately) squish in amusing observations, like he’s not allowed to relate anything without some sort of humorous slant. Calm down, dude, you can go two or three sentences without making us laugh.

Other reviews have criticized Mogworld for running out of steam as the book wears on, and while I can understand, and to a degree, agree with this complaint, I also have to say that I was never once bored. The plot may drag a bit now and then, but the humor doesn’t, and by the times things turned serious, I was involved enough in the world and plotline to just enjoy the ride.

They’ve also complained about the medieval/fantasy setting conflicting with some of Jim’s jokes referencing more modern things like staplers and office workers. For that, I refer them to the rule of funny and say, “Shut the hell up.”

I also understand the complaints about the cover summary giving too much away – the ones that say that it takes some of the piss out of the plot, and again, I agree, but I can also see why he did it. I mean, that twist was a large part of the reason I read Mogworld in the first place, plus it covers Croshaw a bit more re: Matrix comparisons.

As far as the rather controversial ending goes, without being too spoilery, I absolutely was not expecting Croshaw to play things as seriously as he did, but it didn’t bother me. I mentioned earlier that it took a long time to actually care for the characters, but you know what? When it mattered, I did. I cared enough that I found the ending extremely depressing, yet (because I’m a masochist and misery junkie and lover of tragedy), very satisfying.

Thank God for that epilogue, though.

All in all, Mogworld is on the top of our DO READ list. It’s funny, it’s unique, and did I mention funny? Because that’s a huge selling point. But it’s also unexpectedly…weighty, in the most satisfying way possible, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. READ THIS NOW GUYS. We need more Yahtzee books.

four stars

 

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