The American Book of the Dead (a novel) by Henry Baum

Guys, guys, guys, I recently discovered this thing called Scribd. It’s basically Netflix for books. You pay a monthly subscription fee and then you can access – so they claim – pretty much all the books ever. I’ve signed up on a free trial basis just to check out how many books they actually have. They do have a load of books, though not always the most recent or most exciting ones. I think at the moment they only have an agreement with one major publisher? But the service is still fairly new, so I’m hoping that in the future they’ll continue to add to their current collection, which is, in all fairness, impressive.

Browsing through, I found this book called The American Book of the Dead by Henry Baum.  Cover looked interesting, title was intriguing, and I needed something to read, and so I read it.

I’ve never heard of Henry Baum before, and the book was published in 2009 on Smashwords, so it seemed more or less self-published. I’m sometimes wary of self-published books because holy shit, people REALLY REALLY need editors. Even if you’re an amazing writer, you still need someone to tell you that the shark-headed space octopus in chapter three lacked true character development and that the plot twist in chapter twenty-seven was already done, and better, by someone else. This does not mean that I think all self-published books are crap; quite the opposite. I’m a huge fan of Hugh Howey and other self-published writers who’ve become very successful – the fact that they’ve managed to do well without a publisher to advertise, distribute, and give brand recognition is an impressive testament to their skills.

I do think, however, that self-publishing makes it easy for the bar to be set so low it’s not really a bar at all, and that people whose prose should never see the light of day can chuck their Mary Sue’s and their typos and their plotless vomit around willy-nilly on Amazon and Smashwords. And SOMETIMES I GET FOOLED OK.

SO. Anyways. Rant over. *Mutters to self.* I tried to head into The American Book of the Dead with a relatively open mind, and my selfless open mindedness was rewarded.  It is, in fact, a Pretty Good Book.  It’s vaguely apocalyptic sci-fi, in the best drug-addled tradition of Philip K. Dick (though not him, because he’s dead. Don’t do drugs, kids.)

The beginning starts off a bit slow, and it feels very much like My First Novel for the first few chapters, in the way that it’s clunky like a cold engine coming to life. Once we get into the meat of the plot, however, things warm up. The writing is actually very clever, very smooth like a fine glass of whisky.  The end of the world happens. Time travel, or enhanced consciousness, or hallucinations? happen. Aliens? Totally. Government conspiracies? Check.  Ambiguous ending? Check.

It’s a very entertaining read, and at 323 pages on Scribd (probably shorter in paperback) it’s a fairly quick one as well. The plot, despite having quote a few different elements, isn’t very complex. Baum’s prose moves along at a quick, easy-to-follow pace and this would make a great airport/beach read. I’ve TOLD you all before I don’t do synopses, but here’s one in a nutshell: struggling writer finds he is dreaming true things about the future; POTUS stages world apocalypse to become the second coming of Christ; apocalypse happens, writer collects dream-friends together; crazy shit, crazy shit, plot twist, the end.

There were definitely places where the plot stretched thin and dubious and the pace of the story could have used some adjustment. But no book is perfect, and its strengths outweigh its flaws here. I like this book despite its weaknesses because – and I know this is a strange thing to say about a book about the apocalypse – the writer seemed like he was having fun.  The story is a bit mental, but it’s fun, you know? It’s not overly deep and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes apocalyptic books, government conspiracies, and anyone who enjoys Philip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut. If you hate these things, then clearly you won’t enjoy The American Book of the Dead, so don’t waste your time. You’ve been warned!


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