Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw
Dark Horse Books, April 22nd, 2008
Yahtzee Croshaw is best known as the creator of Zero Punctuation, an irreverent video game review series that has been published at Escapist Magazine since 2007. I stopped regularly watching it many years ago but I do still see a video here and there and I have been impressed with its staying power. Croshaw has proved that the series was much more than the gimmick based solely on how long he has been doing it. The show is substantially the same as it was when he published his first few videos on YouTube well over a decade ago and still reaches a large audience.
People have a tendency to look at someone who suddenly becomes successful as it is merely luck but this is rarely the case. Zero Punctuation was in reality one of the many things he had produced that happened to find a large audience. It wasn’t just a fluke. He had already been making text adventures, comics and writing before he tried his hand at video. And the success of this series also gave him exposure enough to become a published author. His first book is the subject of this review.
I read this late last year and had shelved it with a few thoughts about it but not enough that I thought it worth writing about. It lingered on in my head though to the point where I thought I should just write something anyway. When the book was first published I still regularly watched Zero Punctuation but wasn’t sure how well his writing would translate in a novel. Having heard recently through an acquaintance that it was good, I decided it would be worth giving it a chance.
Well… with some qualifications.
Before I criticise I want to state that I am not a published author myself and have never written anything substantial. With that out of the way, it is very by-the-numbers sort of adventure and exactly what I expected to be. The cover and title would give away the inspiration which of course is World of Warcraft. The story is very much a hero’s journey type adventure only the hero is a zombie and the story itself is infused with a very British and Monty Pythonesque absurdist humour. Many references will be lost on people not familiar with gaming culture but it is not so dependent on WoW that people who don’t play it will be at a loss. I certainly wasn’t and I am only somewhat familiar with the game. I would recommend it to gamers that also read books but I don’t think it would have an audience outside of that. That’s the short review but I will go on.
Shortly before I started reading it, I was reminded of Vox Day’s description of the “gamma” male which I may have written about before. A gamma in essence is a male who repels women and is constantly lying to themselves and others; though they only fool themselves. They tend to be nerds but they certainly don’t have to be and you’ll find them in every enthusiast community and workplace. I exhibit these tendencies and am saved only by my inability to lie to myself.
Judging by what I’ve read here, I tend to suspect the author is one too though he has been saved by his success. Gamma’s tend to love the “secret king” or King Arthur type story where the hero is discovered to be a special boy only nobody (except maybe his mum), realised it. This is at its worst when the protagonist has no actual skills or anything that merits him being special but somehow he is anyway.
The main character Jim, is a misanthrope killed early in the story only to be resurrected as a zombie. After repeated attempts to commit zombie suicide, he mostly resigns himself to being undead and the story carries on. There is nothing special about Jim but he is nonetheless put out in front of the events of the story despite his reluctance to be there. If you aren’t a gamma, you probably already dislike the guy.
Something else observed by Vox about gamma authors is their tendency to write in sexually aggressive female characters that are attracted to the protagonist for no particular reason. Examples of this are legion in modern fiction and all but non-existent in the real world. Apparently red hair is common for these women too. I immediately recalled this when I read the description of the novel’s love interest:
“I took a good look at Meryl for the first time. As I had earlier noted, she was a couple of years younger than me, or at least had been at the point of death. Her hair was surprisingly full and red for a corpse and was arranged into two cheerful pigtails pointing diagonally upwards from her skull.”
This description comes shortly before she roughly re-inserts one of his limbs and you can read into that what you will. Meryl is of course interested in Jim and very forward about it. Though the difficulties raised by them both being undead and their bodies slowly falling apart do somewhat mitigate this.
So despite Jim only being skilled in sarcasm, cynicism and complaining – he is attractive to females and the hero of the story. The author would probably say this was intentional and that he wasn’t meant to be read as a Gary Sue but it is hard not to think this anyway with what I know about the author. One has to be careful about comparing one’s public persona to what they’d be like sitting across from you at a table but I see no reason to doubt my suspicions. I would be willing to bet that the only people that find Jim endearing or relatable would be themselves gamma males.
I do have another minor criticism with regard to the author’s understanding of religion. There is an annoying and zealously religious priest called Thaddeus who stands as both a third-wheel and a convenient foil for Jim. He does these roles adequately but does not come across as realistic character. This character demonstrates the author’s utterly incoherent understanding of religion. He is a strange cross between a fire and brimstone Calvinist preacher and a medieval priest. I am guessing Croshaw is either a lapsed Anglican or that his father or grandfather was. Whatever be the case, he knows many religious words but nothing about religion and this comes across through this character. With a little bit of homework, the character could have come across as more realistic while still being irritating and dogmatic as needed for the story.
I did think the novel ultimately ended well and the idea of NPCs in a game world being conscious is a fun one. It is commendable as a first novel but as I said, it won’t be one that has staying power outside its inspiration.