Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When It's A Jar - Tom Holt

   2013; 353 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fantasy; Contemporary Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The title comes from an old childhood play on words - When is a door not a door?  Answer : When it is a jar ("ajar").  But there are several alternative answers given in When It’s A Jar.  When it’s a beer.  When it’s a paradigm.  Maybe even when it’s a doughnut.    And the book also poses the inverse conundrum.  When is a jar not a jar?

    Maurice Katz doesn’t care about those kinds of riddles.  Instead, he wants to know who those three weird women were on the subway, and why they were prophesying about his life.  Also, why there’s a dragon in his bedroom.  Well okay, technically it's a hydra, but still.  And last but not least, who (and where) is Theo Bernstein?

   He’ll eventually get answers to some of those questions, but not all of them.  Along the way, he’ll gain a lot of experience hopping around in Multiverses.

What’s To Like...
    Multiverses have become quite the popular topic lately in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres (see Stephen Baxter’s and Terry Pratchett’s treatment of it here),  so it was fun to see what Tom Holt’s approach would be, given that his books are always steeped in absurd zaniness.  When It’s A Jar did not disappoint.  It may not be scientifically sound (for that, Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, reviewed here} is highly recommended), but it certainly is an entertaining read.

    The format is decidedly formulaic – naïve young man takes an entry-level position in a secretive company and weird things ensue.  Holt has used this template at least a half dozen times, particularly in his J.W. Wells quasi-series.  In lesser hands this would get old and boring, but Holt’s witty writing keeps things from getting stale.  Here, for example, Maurice is cleverly doped with truth serum before his job interview.  The result had me laughing out loud.

    The writing is “English”, not “American”, and it’s always a treat to learn new words and phrases from across the pond.  There are some nice bits of mythology blended in with the multiverses.  The Constant Object is something only Tom Holt could dream up, yet it’s eminently plausible.  Then there’s the Inverse Pyramid Hierarchy System, which will make you think Dilbert has infiltrated the storyline.

    There are no chapters, but the narrative is broken into variously sized sections by means of a spiffy little icon.  As with any Tom Holt book, you (and Maurice) spend about ¾ of the book wondering where all this madness is going.  But it all coalesces into an ending that is reasonably logical, at least by Holtian standards.  Indeed, I thought the storyline was more coherent than usual for a Holt offering.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Oik (n.) : an uncouth or obnoxious person, usually from a lower social class.  (A Britishism)
Others : Scutiform (adj.); Jemmy (v.); Tranche (n., which is pronounced differently in the UK vs. the USA) )

    “Do please take a seat.”
    The chair was, of course, pure goblin.  Typical in that it was crafted from the leg-bones and tanned hide of some long-dead adversary who’d won the silver medal in a power struggle with the king.  Goblins made most of their office furniture out of other goblins; when you joined a major goblin corporation, it wasn’t just for life, it was for ever.  (pg. 238)

    She sighed.  “If we apply multiverse theory, a door in the mainstream universe can be a door in one post-bifurcation branch universe and a jar in another, and still be the same door.”  She paused, wrinkled her nose and added, “Or jar.  Whatever.  You see that, don’t you?  You don’t, do you?”
   “All right,” she said.  “It’s magic.  Better?”
    “Much.  Thank you.”  (pg. 266)

 “The thing about luck is, it’s not a wheelbarrow, you really don’t want to go pushing it.”  (pg. 68)
    When It’s A Jar is a standalone novel, but it’s also a sequel to Tom Holt’s previous book, Doughnut.  They were both published in 2013 (in March and December); and WIAJ is sometimes subtitled “YouSpace 2”.  ANAICT, Doughnut focuses more with Theo Bernstein’s disappearance, and introduces the concept of the titular (and self-levitating) doughnut.

    I haven’t read Doughnut, and I didn’t feel as though I was missing much.  Being confused while reading a Tom Holt book is the norm, and is part of the attraction.  Still, the standard caveat applies – you get more out of a series if you read it in order.  My local library has a copy of Doughnut, and I will probably go get it in the next couple months.

    8 Stars.  Highly recommended.  The writing and wit are fantastic.  Oh yeah, Gunningagap (sic) makes a cameo appearance.  After a lifetime of reading and never encountering it (at least to the best of my recollection), that’s twice in less than a month that it’s crossed my literary path.  The other time was here.

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