Friday, September 18, 2020

You Are a Ghost (Sign Here Please)

You Are a Ghost (Sign Here Please)
by Andrew Stanek
Recommended Ages: 14+

Through six deaths in about as many days, Nathan Haynes has been waging a one-man battle against the afterlife bureaucracy. But now the senior manager in charge of getting Nathan to stay dead thinks he may have found a way. Denied a replacement body, Nathan returns to the world of the living as a ghost. He can't really do much to protect himself against apparatchiki's efforts to ensnare him in an eternity of non-corporeality. Luckily, he has friends, kind of. One of them is an eccentric dude named Travis, who lives outside the laws of nature because he refuses to believe in them; another is an afterlife bureaucrat named Brian, who actually hates Nathan but wants to use him as an instrument of revenge on his own higher-ups.

Together, this quirky trio continues to explore the bizarre, violent community of Dead Donkey, Nevada, where a university economics prof is as close as you can get (and close enough, apparently) to a worker of magic, where "particularly cynical atheists" are in hot competition with the Cult of Dave for the fastest growing local religion, where dogs and waterfowl have amazing abilities and where one guy is such a loser (surprisingly, we're not talking about Nathan here) that he enables our hero to win a cosmic game of chance. Also, we meet another serial killer, take another doomed flight on Dead Donkey Airlines, and experience yet another death by a combination of stroke, badger attack and falling bathtub – all by way of exploring deeper philosophical questions about the stupidity of life.

It's not exactly fertile ground for feel-good material, and at times the worldview of the author becomes a bit irritating. Nevertheless, I remain one of those people who laugh at his jokes – which I'm sure makes me a bad person, but there it is. While there's a certain cyclic repetitiveness to the plot so far (especially taking into account the previous book in the series), it builds on that foundation by focusing its ridicule on different fields of endeavor and aspects of life in a universe that has perhaps never been depicted as so absurd and pointless. Stanek's religious views are no doubt obnoxious, but they can't be more obnoxious than the cultists of Dave or the atheists who, once again, prove willing to go to ironically transcendental ends to advance their cause. And then there's Nathan himself, whose brain damage explains but doesn't excuse his apparent unwillingness, bordering on inability, to escape from Dead Donkey even if his life depends on it.

This is the second installment in a Kindle "boxed set" of the six-book "You Are Dead" series, or maybe it's the "Sign Here Please" series. The first book was You Are Dead (Sign Here Please) and the other titles following this book all include the same first two words and the same paranthetical remark, varying only by such words as Doomed, Undead, On Fire and Concluded. What the author says in an afterword to this book is apparently true, judging by reviews that I spotted on Amazon: Everyone who reads these books either thinks they're funny or conceives a violent hatred of them and their author. Nevertheless he has also published several other books, including works of mystery, fantasy, sci fi and humor. Other titles of his that interest me at the moment include Murder on Wheels – one of 16 books featuring "kleptomaniac detective" Felix Green; Unverified – a comedy of social media manners; and Andrew's Anarchy – a novel about using time travel as a tax shelter.

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