Friday, December 15, 2006

The Oblivion Society – An apocalyptic comedy novel by Marcus Alexander Hart (Lulu)

There are a lot of comedy novels (and novelists) out there, but there seems to be a dearth of comedy novels that are also genre novels. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of high-profile authors with the wherewithal to venture into that territory without hesitation. The reason might have something to do with the fact that writing that kind of novel requires an in-depth knowledge and absolute love of the genre, as well as an ability not to flinch when poking fun at those same genre elements.

Marcus Alexander Hart has all of that, in spades. The Oblivion Society is not strictly a laugh-a-minute kind of novel, but it does demonstrate a sly understanding of geek culture, which is just as funny. Basically, if you like Christopher Moore, you will like this novel.

The basic storyline is sound: a handful of twenty-something nobodies with retail jobs and no real ambition to speak of are the only survivors from their small Florida town when an accidental nuclear holocaust sweeps through. Despite the fact that they are losers with poor social skills who can barely tolerate each other, they are forced to acknowledge that there is strength in numbers and put aside their differences just to survive. The result is a character-driven road trip that takes them on a series of adventures.

If that sounds pat, that’s because the road trip is really secondary to the character interaction. Take this conversation between two of the main characters early on in the novel:

“Do you think that Obi-Wan Kenobi changed his name to Ben Kenobi just out of convenience?” Bobby asked.

“Convenience?” Erik replied.

“Yeah, like can you picture him on the phone trying to order a new droid from QVC or something? He’d be all ‘Send that to Obi-Wan Kenobi. No, I’m sorry, not Joey Kenobi, Obi. Obi-Wan Kenobi. No! Not Juan Kenobi! Do I sound Colombian to you? Look, just send it to Ben, okay? Ben Kenobi.’”

That conversation could have happened in any of a thousand living rooms between any of a thousand sci fi geeks drinking beer and waiting for something interesting to happen. The fact that these two are going to shortly find themselves struggling to survive makes it all the more entertaining. More importantly, it sets up these characters as the kind of people who stand around, trying to figure things out. These are not steely-eyed men of action. These are geeks, with an abundance of useless knowledge who find themselves in an increasingly bad situation.

As the novel progresses, you find yourself caring about these characters, wanting to know what happens next. From what I remember from Freshman composition, that's the way these things are supposed to work.

This is the kind of novel that could easily find a cult following, if the author was canny enough to market it properly. Given the fact that he had hot girls wearing skimpy Oblivion Society t-shirts at 2005’s San Diego Comic-con, I’d say that he had a pretty good start.