The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp

❧ Title: The Last Days of Jack Sparks
❧ Author: Jason Arnopp
❧ Publisher: Orbit
❧ Publication date: 3rd March 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦

Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days. In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances. To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone. It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy. Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours

jack sparks❝In A Nutshell❞

✎ Jack Sparks is an asshole who is also a former journalist, who started writing books. Jack Sparks On The Supernatural is the book we’re reading, with (more or less insightful/biased/self-serving asshattery) frequent annotations by his brother, Alistar Sparks, and the occasional piece of additional material from additional sources. Since Jack always wrote his books as he was researching them, that’s why we have a more-or-less finished version of Jack Sparks On The Supernatural.

✎ Jack Sparks does not believe in the supernatural–and he’s about to prove that it’s all one big lie. That’s what this book is: Jack Sparks globetrotting to wave a big flag for Science and tell the world what’s what. Or, at least that’s what he thinks he’s going to do. Instead, Jack finds himself in the middle of the twisted game of a dark entity that wants to teach him a lesson, after Jack inflicts the greatest insult of all during an exorcism: he laughs.

✎ We read through a detailed account of the truth of what happened to Jack Sparks, and the book is literally written as the book Jack himself would have/did written/write. It works really well. Additionally, the audiobook is very effective because of this, especially with the first-person recounting of events.

✎ Diverse 🚫 (unfortunately not: the suggestion of a bi/lesbian character as a throwaway line half used for (I’m assuming??) comedic purposes, however ambiguous, doesn’t count; additionally, seeking out a medium in Hong Kong, who is then white with an Asian sidekick, isn’t really fab)

❝What I loved, aka Jack Sparks is an asshole❞

✎ This is a fact straight off the bat. But the thing is, he’s an entertaining asshole and he writes a pretty good book. But more than that, he’s the kind of asshole that was made and not born. I won’t go in to too much detail, since some of it is vaguely spoilery for later on in the book, but the fact remains: Jack’s a little bit complicated. He covers it all up beneath layers of self-confidence and bravado (fake it until you make it, that was the Jack Sparks’ motto) until there’s not much left of whoever he was before. And since the drugs… Well, he’s probably more of an asshole than he’s ever been before. I picked this book up after attending a panel at NineWorlds Geekfest 2016 and liked the sound of the book, and also thought Jason Arnopp was pretty entertaining and did a good job of selling Jack Sparks to me–and the convention panel sales pitch (so to speak) did not disappoint.

✎ This book feels like it’s written by a guy who is saying, “Hey, guys (to the reader), we know there’s a bit more to the supernatural than just black or white, right? Get a load of this guy–get a load of Jack Sparks. What an idiot. Guy’s a fool right? Let me show you how much of a fool.” The Last Days of Jack Sparks is the “found footage” equivalent of a book, with Jack having written the whole story down, even through (or especially, through) the really, really unbelievable parts of what happens to him, in his, aforementioned, last days. If you buy into to supernatural (I do: bite me) or if you’re even just an intermediate in horror, you’ll recognise all the mistakes Jack makes, even before he makes them, and you’ll see the freaky bits coming a mile away. There’s a sense of foreboding when following Jack around on the writing of his latest (and last) book and it goes deeper than just us knowing that he’s going to shuffle off this mortal coil; it’s almost as though we, the reader, are experiencing something a little bit meta, already knowing how things are going to go, whilst simultaneously wondering how we’re going to get there.

✎ But there’s more to this book than just an asshole amateur ghost-hunter trying to prove that ghosts, in fact, don’t exist. Jack has a lot of issues, and so many of them lead him to this place, right here, pissing off the big evil guy himself and ending up dead. His brother, Alistair, is a first-rate jackass (don’t be fooled by his calm, rational and sometimes over-saccharine footnotes–the guy’s a jerk) and Jack’s childhood was an elongated episode of Dad Left Because Of You and You Don’t Matter. Up grows Jack, issues in tow like a subscription to Vogue and with a desperation to make everything further in his life about him, him, him–about Jack, Jack, Jack. In a sad way, he gets exactly what he wants.

✎ Don’t get me wrong–Jack is an asshole. He’s that me, me, me kind of guy who is casually sexist and assumes he deserves all the space in a room–in a building. Why not the world? He is entirely a product of being ignored as a child and damn, if he ever lets that happen again: Jack Sparks is what he is and he thinks he’s happy with that. And perhaps he is, until Jack Sparks On Drugs and everything started to unravel. And maybe he could have even kept himself together, if not for what came next–if he’d not run away from everything and hidden himself down some dark rabbit hole under the pretence of writing another book.

✎ By the time he gets to even thinking of Jack Sparks On The Supernatual, the deal is already done and Jack is bound for complete failure. It’s almost as if it was inevitable, really. Maybe it was.

❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Not a lick of diversity. Boo.

✎ White medium in Hong Kong with a Chinese sidekick dealing with a haunting. The other way around would have been more authentic and inclusive. Chinese combat sorcerer and a white sidekick, or, better still, two Chinese ladies to kick some ghost ass.

✎ Awkward dialogue scene between two female characters, with one obviously having asked the other if she’d be interesting in sexy time (jet lag makes her horny) and the other girl being a little confused by the question before saying she hasn’t and sounding perplexed by the question. It honestly felt a bit weird and so either should have been cut altogether, or handled in not so ham-fisted fashion. Since it only lasts literally two or three lines it did not need to be there.

❝If you liked this…❞
… you might like: the upcoming Jack Sparks movie? (Cop-out rec because I don’t read much horror and have no idea what else to suggest!)

Some Fine Day, by Kat Ross

Title: Some Fine Day
Author:  Kat Ross
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: July 1st 2014
Rating: 

SomeFineDay-144dpiSome Fine Day, by Kat Ross is what everyone is buzzing about, calling cli-fi. Okay, I get why, only… isn’t it really just regular sci-fi/spec-fic but with a rather specific element of—at least the notion of it—a post-apocalyptic setting. So there have been no meteors, no ridiculous zombies and no aliens who’ve decided the grass is greener on Earth… Instead, we have incredibly monstrous hypercanes caused invariably by the long-term effects of global warming and climate change. It still leaves us with the world as we’ve known it for centuries, essentially uninhabitable, save for a few “survivors” and their new harsh way of life. Underground, it’s a different story, but still—the space for life underground is limited and since one definition of “apocalypse” is thus:  an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s what the hypercanes caused. The world humanity exists in now is post-apocalyptic. Technically, there’s an on-going apocalypse, since the ‘canes are still there and ain’t going anywhere.

This does sort of make the book a little unique—and perhaps somewhat limiting in the scope of just what can really happen, and in what kind of time-frame. If the book’s resolution was suddenly happy with the world being righted and on the path to glory… No. That wouldn’t work, now, would it? Therefore, I entered this book with a certain expectation—or lack thereof—regarding how much would and could happen.

Before I go deeper, I want to say why I both do and don’t have an issue with “cli-fi”. Firstly: it labels the issue at hand, which so many of the Real Adults are dismissing as bullshit; the fact that this could really happen. The whole climate change denial gig… it’s not for me. And I see that labeling a book with such a term as cli-fi, especially a YA book, really screams, “hey, kids, do try this at home!” The “this” being dismissing the corporate self-serving denial crapola that tells us everything is fine and dandy and that the world had one ice age already and so clearly shit happens. Dismissal is good. But second, this book is spec-fic and by labelling it as something buzzy that tries its hand at the en vogue… Well, I feel that we’re doing Some Fine Day a disservice by trying to take it away from being what it is, like ousting something as a “spokesbook”, I guess. It’s a spec-fic book that handles climate change.

But, since people will ultimately sit up and go, “cli-fi, huh?” and start thinking about all the terrifying details and potential accuracies with which Ross’ offering is woven, maybe it’s not so bad. At the same time, it has the same elements as a YA disguised dystopia—the strict military regime, the handling of the Transition, the morality (lack thereof) issues regarding science and experimentation—and doesn’t really involve the hypercanes other than that they are a part of the world as it stands. They are the disease that killed the human race, they are the zombies that (for some weak and pale reason [I hate zombies]) chewed up the human race, they are the thing that makes the world into what it is. They are, in essence, the setting.

Which is fine, because other than to have a story focused around some supernaturally gifted or scientifically enhanced person who becomes a stormchaser in hopes of finding some hidden secret to how the ‘canes move, or some way to live in spite of them… Well. A book about massive hurricanes in themselves wouldn’t really be very interesting.

Neither was I hoping for a completely fascist and overbearing way of life below the surface—because I just. Sigh. It’s hard to say why this kind of theme annoys me, but it just does. So I harboured a few fears when entering into Some Fine Day—but honestly, massive hurricanes of doom and the lies concealed by them interested me. In the end, though, the setup didn’t annoy me, because it is a well-thought story with interesting and engaging characters who pull you into the narrative. Jansin is enjoyable to keep company with. She is sensible and smart and kicks ass. But she is also open to change and open to truth, which makes her role in this overbearing military world below the surface far less difficult to bear. Yes there are obstacles and yes there are failures, but there is no one decision that Jansin makes that casts her as anything other than calm, collected and totally in control of her own self, in spite of never having had any control whatsoever.

I had a few issues with plausibility in regards to the little textbook-like snippets at the beginning of each chapter, labelling only two choices for wealthier teens, and three for poorer ones. Jansin had the choice of military or science. Her poorer counterparts, factories, mines or…something else. But, as I declared aloud when my brother read this to me, “what about plumbers?” And what about bakers and cleaners and maids and the professional athletes mentioned in the sporting event that slows down their progress during a getaway?

It just made aspects of the world ring a little hollow.

But it’s not as though the book rang hollow, so it’s not something I’m going to harp on about.

Instead, I’m going to say how brilliant and imaginative and exciting the rest of the book was. I desperately wanted to read about a hypercane, to see Jansin need to run from one. I wanted the excitement. There was something very visceral about the constant threat, about the sudden upturning of Jansin’s regimented life. Coupled with her engaging narrative and sensible, self-preserving attitude, I found her likeable and definitely enjoyable. In a world where hurricanes ravage the surface and all human life is thought extinct, except for the Toads, and life below is very strict and unauthorised access to the surface is forbidden (oh, handy that, isn’t it?), you know that there has to be something more going on. And of course, there is.

And Janisn is going to find out everything.

What I really liked was the fact that Jansin suffered from pure wrong-time wrong-place syndrome, to the most extreme degree. She was not chosen or taken or even kidnapped because of who she is, but rather because of a where and a perceived “what”. A case of completely mistaken identity. It made for an un-staged setup for something that had as much chance of happening to Jansin as it did to the son or daughter of any other military bigwig blagging a holiday to the surface through power and means.

It made everything so much more believable—especially everything that follows. Sure enough, Jansin happened upon the surface humans (because even from the synopsis, it’s obvious they are there), but only she had the drive, determination and the kick-assness to be able to do what comes next.

And we get a less dominant male counterpart, which I loved, very much. My favourite dynamic is where the girl is in charge and the guy is the gentle one; the healer, the doctor, the priest, the whatever, whilst the girl kicks ass and takes names (very grumpy about his subsequent haircut, however—feel the need to start an imaginary petition for boys with nice hair in books. Plus, the scientists didn’t cut the girls’ hair so…yah. Hair-ist. Blah).

Some Fine Day is a great book, definitely exciting and engaging heavily with the unknown future that very well might be staring us in the face. It’s pretty scary and that’s partly what makes it so good. Maybe this sort of book should be given as required reading for oil executives and teenagers alike, just to act as the same sort of gentle reminder as Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm. There’s a lot to be said about a book brave enough to stare one of many possible futures in the face, really look at it, write about it, and then put it out there, blazing and neon, for the rest of the world to see. Ultimately Some Fine Day invites us to imagine a frightening consequence whilst simultaneously offering a very introspective view on ourselves and our unfortunately fluid humanity. A surprisingly deep and poignant book that is brave, bold and nevertheless exciting in spite of its essentially bleak world view.

Read it—and then vote Green when the ballot next comes through.