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Cryptofauna audiobook cover art

The Name of the Game

3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-05-19

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the author.

Cryptofauna is an entertaining book that runs on pure momentum. The sheer volume of absurdity paired with the author’s constant digressions and convoluted wordplay keeps things humming along while the mysterious nature of the game at the center of the book keeps you hooked until the end.

Reading this felt like strapping myself to a narrative rocket with no time to stop and think about the whys and hows of it all. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it could get a bit exhausting if the book was too much longer.

Cryptofauna is about a suicidal janitor named Jim, stopped from killing himself and recruited into the titular game by a mysterious older gentleman named Ozymandias (Oz for short) who lives in the mental institution slash retirement home where Jim works.

Oz doesn’t explain much to Jim before setting him off on a series of three tasks – his initiation as an “operator” in Cryptofauna. Jim meets a lot of colorful characters and ends up in a series of bizarre or distressing situations that always feel playfully absurd even when they are also deadly serious, and the book carries us along his journey.

Cryptofauna the game is never explained in much detail. We get the broad strokes, i.e. that it involves sets of operators battling each other over the course of their artificially extended lives to either improve or undermine the state of the world. The actual details of what that means in practice are vague, probably because it’s funnier that way. I have mixed feelings about this if only because the whole thing feels a bit hand-wavy; the silliness and humor are clearly the point, so the rules don’t matter.

Also, the book spends most of its length focused on Jim completing the seemingly random tasks that serve as his initiation. His assigned rival doesn’t play by the rules, so we don’t get to spend much time with Jim as a practicing operator. Jim’s tasks sort of make sense in a macro way while also feeling arbitrary for the sake of comedy.

There is a scene late in the book where Jim and his allies destroy a sinister boarding school, but instead of dramatizing the action, Canning summarizes it in a few non-specific sentences and explains that it was a battle for the ages. Again, this is presumably meant to be a joke, but it felt more like a placeholder.

I did enjoy this book, and I’d probably be up for reading another by Canning, but I think I would enjoy it more if it balanced humor with a slightly more grounded narrative.

Wild Thing audiobook cover art

Great main character with a faulty plot

3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-12-12

Would you try another book from Josh Bazell and/or Robert Petkoff and Stephanie Wolfe ?

I think Petkoff is a perfect narrator for this character, and I'd definitely go for this combination of narrator and character again. He doesn't have much of a flair for character voices, but he has a great delivery that sells the humor. Wolfe only reads a 20-minute appendix at the end of the book, so I couldn't really judge her merits as a narrator.

Would you be willing to try another book from Josh Bazell? Why or why not?

Absolutely. I loved Bazell's first book, Beat The Reaper, and I think that some of his talent is still on display here. The problem is that the plot kind of unravels near the end of the book. The end result is a bit anti-climatic and doesn't quite hold together. It didn't turn me off on him as a writer, but it was fairly disappointing after his fantastic debut.

Was Wild Thing worth the listening time?

Yes and no. I'm glad I read it, because I love the main character and am still looking forward to the next book by Bazell, but this one doesn't quite live up to the merit of his first book. Luckily it's a reasonable length, so it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Any additional comments?

The book has several scenes that derail into rants about conservative politics and/or religion that may offend some readers. I consider myself a fairly liberal atheist/agnostic, and I still thought the scenes were a bit heavy-handed and out of place.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful