Friday, May 22, 2020

"Mogworld," by Yahtzee Croshaw--Fiction Review

Good morning! —or afternoon, or hell even evening if you’re one of those who gets your blog reading done at night, like a freak, in any case, I’m happy you’re here on this Friday. Today we’re talking about a novel by Benjamin Richard Croshaw, better known as Yahtzee Croshaw, and that novel is his first, “Mogworld,” which is a hard novel to classify. Overall, I guess it’s science fiction, but it also has a great deal of sword and sorcery fantasy in there too. Yahtzee Croshaw is better known for his work with “The Escapist” magazine, where he hosts a video game review web show called, “Zero Punctuation,” rather than as a novelist. That’s where I became a fan of his, and I’ve been watching “Zero Punctuation” as far back as 2008.   

Yahtzee Croshaw

***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***

What I love about this book:

Absolutely everything about Slippery John, who isn’t even the main character of the story—this is even though Slippery John is cataclysmically creepy. He’s a weird guy who speaks of himself perpetually in the third person, but my favorite scene in this novel is a tie for every scene Slippery John is featured. In an already funny book, I find this character to be the funniest part, and there is more to his character, but I can’t reveal everything yet until we get to the spoiler section of this review.

Yahtzee’s humor is what made me love “Zero Punctuation,” and it’s also why I love “Mogworld.” Since he is a video game reviewer, “Mogworld” is also a humorous commentary on the tropes of video games, specifically MMORPG games like “World of Warcraft.” But, even if you’re reading this novel without any video game knowledge, it still works as a sword and sorcery fantasy that takes a hard shift into science fiction.  

What I don’t love about this book:

Jim, the main character, is a thinly veiled stand-in for the author himself, Yahtzee Croshaw, just in this situation. Now I like Yahtzee, I’ve watched many of his reviews—hell I even own all of his published books—but this makes Jim the least interesting character in the story, in my opinion. Now I get that all characters, in some part, are aspects of the person or people who create them, but Jim seems to be whole cloth copy and paste of his creator in personality. 

After reading this novel—and I’ll clue you in on this with all his other novels—it’s pretty evident that Yahtzee is either incapable of, or flat out isn’t interested in writing a romantic subplot. Any hint of romantic undertones are vestigial and never really amount to anything in the story. This is a dimension of his writing I find disappointing. So while I love his books, if you ever find yourself liking two characters together know now there is no pay off—that ship will never sail.

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***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***

The quick and dirty synopsis:

At the beginning of the novel, our main character, Jim, is a student at a less than impressive school of magic—that doesn’t even warrant being called a Hogwarts knockoff. As Jim himself opines, St. Gordon’s Magical College isn’t even a castle, which is unfortunate because Jim is rudely awakened to find that the school is under attack. The headmaster tries to organize the student body in defense of the school, but they’re quickly crushed, and Jim is killed. 

A short book—I know.

Okay, so that’s not the end. Jim did die, but from his perspective, he’s soon resurrected by some unknown magic. He and a horde of other people who were untimely ripped from their final rest by a necromancer named Lord Dreadgrave, several years after Jim had died the first time, are brought back as ghastly zombies. Who, much to Dreadgrave’s surprise, are fully sentient and retain their free will. 

After a few tense moment’s Dreadgrave convinces the horde of newly awakened zombies to work for him anyway, but Jim isn’t really feeling it so shortly after arriving at Dreadgrave’s tower, he decides to opt-out by flinging himself from the highest level. But after a strange encounter with glowing angels, Jim is forced back into his body, and after several subsequent follow-ups, finds out he’s virtually immortal. After each failed attempt, another undead minion of Lord Dreadgrave, a woman named Meryl, sews Jim back up and is continuously vying for Jim’s attention. Apparently, she’s from the same kingdom as Jim and, as an uber-nationalist, is starved for any connection to her homeland, which is Jim—much to his annoyance.

Jim, however, soon finds that working for Dreadgrave at his doom fortress is a pretty easy job. All he and the other undead have to do is wait about at their leisure for an adventurer to show up and then kill them, which is pretty easy since they’re all effectively immortal and outnumber the adventurers. But unfortunately, it isn’t to last—one day Jim recognizes an adventurer and realizes that he’s killed this guy before. After talking to the fellow, a man who only speaks in the third person, named Slippery John, he reveals to Jim that he’s died at the hand of Lord Dreadgrave’s minions loads of times. Jim is at first confused, assuming that he and the other undead minions were the only immortals, but it turns out that everyone is immortal and has been for the last fifteen years after an event called the infusion. But unlike Jim and the other undead, when anyone else dies, they just wake up in a new body at the nearest church.

Shortly after, Dreadgrave’s fortress is suddenly and unexpectedly destroyed, erased by these angelic beings that show no emotion, and the necromancer is killed. Jim, Meryl, and a taciturn undead priest called Thaddeus are turned out into the wider world where they loosely follow Jim on his quest to be put to rest finally. They discover that the world has become a very odd place since they were alive because no one actually dies anymore or is born, the whole world seems to revolve around adventurers going on odd jobs for people as “quests.” In fact, an entire shadow government from the adventurer’s guild has taken over in nearly every kingdom, to protect the status quo. 

Jim and his friends, if you can call them that, are eventually put in contact with the magic resistance, via Slippery John. The magic resistance is seeking a way to end the global immortality epidemic, which aligns with Jim’s desire to die finally, but he’s also strong-armed by the adventurer’s guild to betray them. 

While this is all going on, Jim meets the creators of Mogworld and the cause of the infusion, which Jim and his friends interpret as gods, but we as the audience discover are in actuality computer programmers who created Mogworld to be a video game and accidentally created self-aware artificial intelligence. Due to a power struggle at the video game development studio, Jim and his companions are used as pawns in the game world, which is just their world to them.

Ironically, in the end, Jim manages to force a complete reset of Mogworld, which effectively deletes everyone but him. Trapped alone and unable to even move, mercifully, one of the creators does eventually grant his wish and deletes him… without telling him about his back up copy, of course.

Jim is brought back against the wishes of one version of him, but before he died the first time. Events are altered slightly so that he gets to live his life the way he chooses, and he chooses this time to not participate in the hopeless battle that got him killed at the beginning of the novel. Meryl, who was also resurrected, tells him it’s not too late for him to return and be a hero. He responds to her that he’d rather be a protagonist.   


For a debut novel, Mogworld is a lot of fun. Yahtzee’s signature cynical humor is on point from start to finish. Though it’s primarily a comedic story, it does have a surprisingly deeper side and explores themes of free will and artificial life. 

The whole concept is that Jim’s world, Mogworld, is a procedurally generated video game world. This is all part of a video game that spawned self-aware artificial intelligence(s) that aren’t aware that their world is someone else’s video game. It becomes surprisingly tragic in its implications, the longer you think about the prospect. 

For the inhabitants of Mogworld, all of their history, every person, thing, choice, or consequence, was generated for someone else’s entertainment. Even their very lives, including their free will, is someone’s game to be played with and then ultimately discarded on a whim. This is aptly shown by the fate of those infected with “The Syndrome” as the inhabitants of Mogworld term it—these are people who are taken over by human players from the “real” world, which irrevocably robs that person of their free will forever. Even when the “player” logs out of the game, the character they were piloting about doesn’t return to their senses, they just stand around, mindlessly flexing and posing until the human player returns—like in a video game. Worse, inevitably, the human player will never return, and one day this character, who was a sentient being at one point, will forever be consigned to being in effect a living statue that can’t die. 

One of my favorite little twists is with Slippery John. The whole novel he’s presented as being a creepy, incompetent, idiot who can’t do anything right. However, even Jim realizes at the end that Slippery John always seems to be about when necessary. He’s always there to push Jim and his friends in a particular direction. It’s heavily implied by the end of the story that Slippery John is a shrewd genius who realized that only the strongest, prettiest, coolest of adventurers seem to get “The Syndrome.” So he’s cultivated his entire visage of idiocy and incompetence to avoid being “selected” by one of the human players of Mogworld. His involvement with the magic resistance shows that Slippery John is just as keen to find an end to the infusion, too, and how he’s been going about that goal is by hiding in plain sight, playing the fool.  

Parting thoughts:

I’ve been a fan of Yahtzee since I was in college, and I’m a massive admirer of his work ethic. For years, he’s been putting out a video review, every Wednesday, like clockwork. On top of that, his quality never seems to flag. Every episode of “Zero Punctuation” has garnered at least a chuckle from me. Certainly—like all content creators—his popularity has waxed and waned more than once, but his drive to keep producing is nothing short of inspiring to me. Hell, I just write this blog, and some times I find it challenging to work up the motivation to get it done each week. The idea of recording and editing a weekly web show, and doing it for over a decade, sounds exhausting. Plus, he finds time to write novels and do other projects.

Sometimes he gets flak for having an “annoying” voice, but if you’ve listened to my podcast with Steve—which I do hope to get back to when the current crisis ends—you know I gotta stick with my own on this point. I’d highly recommend you look up his show, you can find it on youtube, and all of the audiobook versions of his books are read by him, which I know I’m biased, but I feel are the best way to experience them. My argument is that when he reads them, he can use all of his comedic timing he’s perfected over the years, and it makes the experience that much funnier. 

Also, as a bonus to this review, I would highly suggest you visit the escapist, specifically his latest show that came out on 5/20/2020. It perfectly syncs up with this review of his book that takes place in a world eerily similar to “World of Warcraft,” and in it, he makes a point that our world, currently, is eerily similar to a particular event that took place in “World of Warcraft,” here.     

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