At a time when many writers are pushing at the edges of the novel, trying to redefine what the word means and what it is, David Wong sort of does. This comes in part from the publication history of his first novel, John Dies at the End (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne), one of those weird Internet success stories you hear about. In fact, this might be one of the best yet.
John Dies at the End started out as a Web serial in 2004. The story appeared in book form for the first time in 2007, as a paperback from “Horror and Apocalyptic Book Publisher” Permuted Press, an independent publisher whose area of specialization you can pretty well guess at. John Dies at the End would have fit right in with their line.As fun a success story as that was, as it turned out, it was only going to get better. That 2009 novel did very well and was published in multiple forms. John Wong (actually senior editor and columnist at Cracked.com, Jason Pargin) came up with a sequel, the also quite successful This Book is Full of Spiders, published last fall. By then, the film version of John Dies at the End had long been completed. In fact, it was screened at Sundance last January and goes into general release next week: on January 25th. And, from everything I hear, director Don Coscarelli’s (The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) John Dies at the End has been quite faithful to the novel.
The action in John Dies at the End all centers around soy sauce, a mysterious and fairly unstable drug that alters not only the mind, it seems to have an effect on time and eventually opens a portal to a pretty hell-like place. After you take it, in the book Wong tells us, “You might be able to read minds, make time stop, cook pasta that’s exactly right every time. And you can see the shadowy things that share this world, the ones who are always present and always hidden.”
Despite the screwball-sounding premise, the novel version of John Dies at the End has some genuinely frightening moments. From everything I hear, the film version does, as well. Though reviews thus far have been mixed, this is not the sort of film that will live or die by advance notice. And despite the fact the film is currently available streaming on Amazon and iTunes, moviegoers will determine this one’s fate after January 25th.
Meanwhile, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin, have released a movie tie-in edition of the book. Nothing new there but the cover which includes illustrations of the movie’s stars including Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown.
My 2009 review of John Dies at the End is here. ◊
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.