It’s the 1950s and Sam E. Lakeside is an up-and-coming stand-up comedian who has just been given the opportunity of his life – to perform on the Steve Allen show. But before he makes it to stardom, he has a run-in with some shape-shifting, green-gas-shooting aliens, who, along with their leader, are trying to rob the Earth of its oil. Helping the aliens with their mission would shoot Sam into the nationwide limelight, but trying to save the planet would jeopardise his career and his big break. It’s a tough choice to make… If you’re a comedian and the world’s in your hands, it’s no laughing matter.
At first I was a little unsure about if I should go for this book or not. It’s described as ‘a humorously dark sci-fi adventure’, which my regular readers will know is not normally the type of thing I would go for! Sci-fi is not something I know a lot about, so I umm’d and aah’d a lot beforehand; I wanted to make sure I could be objective. That is my job, so as I’ve been trying to broaden my range, I threw myself in at the deep end…
Sam E. Lakeside is a funny guy put in a very difficult position. Having recently read and reviewed the autobiography of a comedian and how he rose to fame, I have an understanding of how difficult it can be to reach the top, so I sort of felt for Sam as he struggled to get his big break. He is always cracking jokes, but I think he is probably quite an insecure character behind his showmanship, what with his difficult childhood and confused love life. This made him very endearing, as there was so much more to him than just being a funny-man. Talking of his jokes, in my opinion they were mostly quite cheesy, but on the whole they managed to make me smile. Nothing laugh out loud funny, but they were pretty good. I can only imagine the author had a whole load of fun with a joke book while writing! Either that, or he’s thought up all these jokes himself and should make a go of it as a comedian! It was easy to see Sam's dilemma, but sometimes I thought it should have just been a straight-forward decision – surely the safety of the whole world is of paramount importance?! I know it’s all a bit tongue in cheek, but this aspect of his character lessened my opinion of Sam a little bit.
It was for this reason that I probably gelled with Cricket (Sam's friend and sidekick) a bit more – she was by far my favourite character. She couldn’t understand Sam’s indecision, but was too scared and caring to let him go it alone with the aliens. She was forced to spend time with (anything more we are only left to assume) the aliens’ leader – who is also a human – so my heart went out to her as it bordered on blackmail or abuse. I especially liked the way she managed to stay so calm under such difficult and stressful circumstances. She has a love interest, but this was a minor storyline and served to make the characters seem more real, rather than being the main focus of the plot.
I found the aliens in this book really funny actually – they can change their form to look like anyone in the world…as long as they’ve appeared on TV! This proves for some very famous, surprising and humorous appearances, including Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole, and others. The aliens can’t speak English properly (apart from swear words – typical!) so have to be taught, otherwise they come out with some rather amusing phrases. In their natural form I expect them to be pretty scary, but the green stuff that they shoot out their index fingers at threatening or annoying humans is a nice, cool touch.
The story as a whole was very light hearted and humorous, and included all sorts of hidden jokes and quips. There was just the odd reference which was very sharp and witty, and clever if you notice them. I only noticed a few, but given my slightly limited knowledge of the context, I’m sure there are many more you can pick up on!
Lowy has a very easy to read writing style, which made for a smooth, quick, enjoyable and easy read. There were a few flashbacks from Sam, but they weren’t confusing or out of place at all. Throughout the whole book it was always clear what was going on, who was good and who was bad, and so on. I can only assure you that due to the writing style, reading ‘Die Laughing’ was a pleasure.
The plot had a good mixture of tension and calm, as it was fast paced and exciting at times, but slower paced at others. However, I didn’t find it boring or dragging at all, as the story was still interesting and funny, and the aforementioned writing style kept the pace moving. In any case, I didn’t particularly mind having slower parts, as it meant it felt extra exciting when all the action came!
The ending of a book is very important to me, as it’s the final impact that the book makes on me which is what I’m left with afterwards. I usually like books to go out with a bang – not literally! What I mean is that I like books to keep me hooked right until the end, and if they have some sort of twist or unexpected event, all the better. Well, the ending of ‘Die Laughing’ didn’t set my world on fire, but it wasn’t what I expected either. It wasn’t a shocking twist ending, but I was suitably impressed! Read it, then you’ll see…Betcha didn’t see that coming!
As I hope I’ve made clear, this is a very fun story, but I have a feeling that it also has some very serious and important messages held within. Sort of like Avatar, only not as hard-hitting. I say this because obviously oil plays a major factor in the plot, as the humans and aliens are basically vying for power and oil in equal measures. Therefore, I think that the book takes a very hard look at what will happen to our planet if we continue to fight like animals over this precious resource. However, it’s not done in a very obvious way; the message is delivered in a softer, more subtle way through the fun and humorous plot. I don’t know if this was the author’s intention or not, but this is a clear and important message which I picked up from reading the book.
I would say, though, that to appreciate ‘Die Laughing’ fully, you should really be some sort of sci-fi aficionado, or at least have seen some of the more popular and famous sci-fi films. It might also help if you have at least a little knowledge of American celebs in the 50s. I fall at most of these hurdles, yet still enjoyed and understood the story, but I think if I’d had more of a working knowledge of these things I would have been able to appreciate it more fully. This links back to my decision to read this book – it isn’t anything like my usual sort of thing, but I have certainly broadened my horizons! If this does sound like something you read a lot of, I’m sure you’ll get more out of it than I did; if, like me, this is a treat or an unusual read, look at it as just that, and don’t worry if some of it goes over your head. Not that it’s too specialised or highbrow, just that you may not be used to the topics covered.
Overall, ‘Die Laughing’ was like nothing I’ve ever read before! I thought the characters were great as they fit well within the story, and I really enjoyed the flowing writing style. The political messages were important, and even if you take nothing else away from reading this, you may be convinced to spare a thought for what might happen if we continue to fight for oil. However, I didn’t have a good background knowledge of the context or of famous sci-fi films, so I don’t think I enjoyed this book as much as I could have: this let it down for me, although it is my own fault of course! I’d recommend it only if you have more sci-fi experience than I do – either way, it’s certainly a fun read which is something different from anything you will have already read!
Many thanks to Mr. Lowy for providing a copy for me to review :)
Summary: A good, fun sci-fi story – just not for me.