Sunday, September 6, 2020

You Are Dead (Sign Here Please)

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

Nathan Haynes has a remarkable attitude about living in Dead Donkey, Nevada. This is partly due to a brain lesion resulting from an accident in childhood, which makes it hard for him to remember much farther back than a week ago – which can be a plus, when you live in a garbage dump where the top economic drivers are arson, mugging and violently protesting against Pluto being downgraded from a planet. Another drawback of Nathan's brain injury is that he has no sense of self-preservation, so he keeps being friendly and compliant, serving coffee and cake and whatnot, when a serial killer drops by to murder him. This happens repeatedly because, as I may have forgotten to mention, Nathan is also allergic to signing forms, and the afterlife (it turns out) is nothing if not a giant bureaucracy. So, because he refuses to sign a liability waiver upon arrival, he keeps getting sent back by increasingly frustrated bureaucrats, who turn to devious methods to obtain his signature.

During his repeated returns to life (each time, in a new body – making disposal of the old ones a growing problem), Nathan gets caught up in the conflict between the local university's departments of neurology and psychology. He experiences the sole, long delayed, tragically terminated flight of the world's worst airline. He makes friends with a guy who lives outside the laws of nature, and enemies of some of the folks whose i-dotting and t-crossing labors apparently keep those laws humming along. He also furnishes us an opportunity to guffaw at some truly hilarious jokes, many of them at the expense of the intellectual world's sacred cows.

It's a truly funny book, albeit with a dark outlook and stated assumptions about which sciences are based on fact and which on waffle that indicate either that the author is pulling our leg(s) or that I would probably disagree with him about most things. But his sense of humor is on point, and he apparently has the ability to sustain a gag about the nature of life, the universe and everything for not one but six books without (judging by the first book) running out of gas. Some of that just comes down to sharp writing, like the following sample from the beginning of (I think) Chapter 6:
Nathan resurrected with a faint scrunching noise, like the sound of an autistic woodchuck chucking a log particularly hard into the knee of an unwary passerby.
That's not just goofy, it's lyrically goofy, with a way of recruiting all the mind's senses into the fun. It's goofy in a way that makes you chuckle on a different level each time you re-read it, unto the third or fourth time at least. It's a kind of goofiness that puts you in a mood to forgive the ultra-violent sociopathy that pervades the adventure. Maybe you'll be a slightly worse person after reading this book. But being one such worse person at this point, I think the laughs are worth it.

This is the first installment of a six-book series that I bought as a "boxed set" on Kindle. The second title in the series is You Are a Ghost (Sign Here Please). Stanek is also the author of 16 "Felix Green" books (Death by Nostalgia, etc.), the "Dragon Rage" trilogy, two "Tomorrow's Mysteries," three volumes of "Super Quick Mysteries," two "Take Us To Your Trump" books, two "Unverified" books, and more than a dozen other books, including such titles as Spellthieves, Flat Space and Josh Fights a Philosopher.

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