Monday, March 25, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Reviews of Goosebumps #17: WHY I'M AFRAID OF BEES

Readers, I’m not entirely sure what to tell you about this book. I feel like we’ve left normalcy so far behind that the concept of normal has lost all usefulness or meaning when talking about this series. To compensate, I’m drinking the appropriately-paired Imperial IPA with Wild Honey from 3 Sheeps Brewing, which is just about strong enough to make reading this book tolerable. Not by much, but if you have to subject yourself to something like this, best to bring some help. Some liquid help. So booze in hand, let’s get to it!

Gary is just the worst. He’s basically one of those kids who only complains and thinks that he’s the most unfortunate little boy in the whole goddamn world. He likes to read comic books, play video games, and has a personal computer in the age when online gaming chat rooms were still a thing. And he’s scared of everything. Especially bees (before you ask no, he’s not allergic). Which sort of sucks when your creepy next door neighbor is a beekeeper. In some ways this setup reminds me of YOU CAN’T SCARE ME! (in more ways than just that they both have apostrophes in their names). Like in that story, Gary is basically set up to be this pathetic lump that maybe we’re supposed to sympathize with? He’s shy, clumsy, and just needs a bit of confidence, really. He’s a bit like the 50 Shades main character except instead of meeting a rich dom to initiate him into the world of bad kink his body gets stolen by a kid named Dirk and he becomes part bee. But let’s back up.

As I said, Gary is the worst, and the situation is made worse because everyone knows it. He’s a bit of a bad joke, and every time he tries to do something that will pull him out of his social purgatory, he ends up falling further. No one likes him, not his creepy neighbor, nor the trio of bullies who beat him up, not the popular girls who laugh at him, not everyone who picks him last for baseball, not his mom, and not his little sister (and quick aside: LITTLE SISTER! This is a Goosebumps first and it’s a shame because while all the little brothers in the series have been annoying shits, this sister just wants to do her own thing, chill with her awesome cat Claus, and generally have nothing to do with Gary. Good call, sis!). Every day adds insult to injury, and Gary descends further into despair and desperation when he sees an ad in the paper for literal body swapping. Like, yeah, let that sink in. It’s framed as a vacation but really it doesn’t cost anything and it’s sketch as fuck and it seems to me to just be a way to get some free incredibly dangerous experimentation done on the cheap. And it reels Gary in hook, line, and sinker.

On most ways this is a completely standard Act One as far as Goosebumps is concerned. Gary is more and more desperate to get out of his body, which he blames for everything. In a rare moment of there needing to be consent to initiate things, he has to wait for someone to be interested in his body before he can swap. But it doesn’t take too long and Gary is thrilled to find out that he gets to bee, er, I mean, gets to be...Dirk Davis! I mean, with a name like that, he’s got be pretty awesome, right? Gary will have it made in the shade with lemonade. All he needs to do is undergo this completely harmless procedure and oh fuck he’s a bee now.

That’s right, this book jumps right into Act Two not with increasingly maybe-speculative elements and creepiness, but a head first dive right into Weird. Gary is a bee now, and immediately must fly for his life because everyone wants him dead. If this was a clever commentary on the state of bees, constantly maligned and the victims of overuse of pesticides, I would be impressed. Because the moment people see him they try to fucking kill him. Even Dirk, now enjoying himself in Gary’s body.

FYI there is this wonderfully twisted moment in the book as Gary tries frantically to reach his body, where he has to contend with bee bullies and escaping a hive and dealing with his creepy neighbor. Eventually he gets back to the company that switched him, and does indeed convince the woman in charge that he’s been trapped in a bee’s body. The bee, meanwhile, is in Dirk’s body and no one seems to care much. Anyway, Gary manages to get the person in charge on his side only to find out that Dirk has decided to straight up steal his body. Which Gary might not have minded, except that being a bee sucks and he’ll probably die soon anyway because bees don’t exactly live that long. But apparently there’s no way to kick someone out of the body they’ve taken, so...the woman just sort of leaves Gary there for the weekend while she tries to think of something (read: hopes he dies locked in an empty office for a few days). Anyway, he escapes and returns once more to his former body intent on convincing Dirk to get out of his body. Only, how to communicate with Dirk when Gary’s bee-voice is so tiny? turns out that Dirk could hear him fine the entire time because that’s how body-swapping works.

You see, Dirk just doesn’t give a fuck. He likes Gary’s body, and has managed to make Gary into a popular skateboarding, bully defeating, Cool Person. He doesn’t want to go back, and apparently in pursuit of that is completely okay with not only letting Gary die but actively trying to murder him while pretending that he can’t hear Gary’s cries for mercy. That’s real cold, Dirk. Luckily for Gary, he’s got a plan of his own. Scare Dirk out of his body by leading an entire hive of bees into his bedroom. Dirk is a bit too badass for that, though, and still resists, entering into combat with the cloud of bees and Gary. Gary, in a final moment of insolent resolve, stings his own body. And dies. Because he’s a bee.

Now, if Goosebumps had just embraced this dark humor and let Gary die and just shifted to Dirk living his best life, I would have liked this book a lot more. Because, seriously, a series that refuses to reward these kinda asshole dudes for being mopey sadsacks and basically hating everyone is a series I can get behind. That’s what I loved so much about YOU CAN’T SCARE ME! That it refused to give the main dude exactly what he wanted. And I feel that this book is a large step back from that. Like, a conscious step backward. Because instead of dying for doing exactly what he wasn’t supposed to—instead of being punished for fucking lashing out with violence—Gary is rewarded for stinging Dirk. Somehow, dying or stinging or some combination of that shunted Gary back into his living body, and Dirk back into Dirk’s human body. The bee, a complete innocent in this who just wanted to eat flowers, dies. Injustice has been served. Gary literally lashed out in frustration and got what he wanted while causing the death of a living, questionably sentient being. Yay?

And not only is Gary alive, but he’s some sort of part-bee person who is now good at skateboarding and is still Cool and gets everything that he wants. And readers, just no. I hate it. It makes no sense and is just wrong. I can only wrap my drunken head around it one way, which means it’s CONSPIRACY TIME!

So this company, Person-to-Person Vacations. Totally made by evil magic mad scientists. A front for them to develop their evil magic mad science. I mean, what else do you consider a machine that can switch people between bodies? It’s certainly not just science. And at first blush this technology seems to have all sorts of applications, but really it’s just a tool for murder. Remember PIANO LESSONS CAN BE MURDER? Well, I’m thinking this is part of that same larger secret organizations. Here we have a group that is definitely interested in seriously shady business and it all is pretty much geared toward covert assassinations and messing with world politics. Want to get rid of someone? Swap into their body and get them killed. Then warp back to your own body while they have to deal with the whole dying biz. Only here they found out that the tech works even weirder than they thought. Think of the espionage possible for someone who can literally be a fly on the wall. Imagine it! All they have to do is fly in somewhere, gather intelligence, and die. All the info will be retained PLUS they get super fly powers. Sounds like a win-win to me. Which is why I imagine Gary and Dirk are allowed to live, because they must be studied for lingering effects.

Either way this is a seriously messed up book and I mean just flies in the face of the normal structure and pacing of the series. A bit like THE GIRL WHO CRIED MONSTER, the speculative part is not hidden away, and it becomes more about Gary trying to reverse what’s happened. Which, okay, but weird. Anyway, let’s try to tackle this thing with handy ratings!

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 1/5 (you know, a story about body swapping could have been so much more interesting in this regard, but the whole bee thing just made this a Not that the idea couldn’t be refined, but overall I just really didn’t like anyone in the story except the sister and her cat Claus and I suppose one could write a side story about what they get up to but meh, this one falls flat in this category for me)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 2/5 (I mean, there’s a certain novelty to this one, and the action moves quick and stays intense. Gary is constantly almost dying and it’s actually pretty funny to read as long as you hate Gary. The ending just completely falls apart for me, though, even with the twist of Gary is part bee now and eats a flower. Many flowers are edible. Big whoop. Anyway, it’s just not very good, though I will admit that it’s better than some of the others. Not the worst = 2 for me)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 3/5 (this wasn’t the worst as far as Goosebumps books goes, and it was unusual enough that it stands out from most of the rest of these earlier books as interesting. It embraces the fuck out of its weirdness and just runs with it, which is kind of charming. The character work is painful and I really don’t think the twist lives up to what could have been. But by and large it hits all the right notes for the series and is a pretty-bad-but-about-average installment. And I imagine that it took a weird amount of research into bees to write, most of which never actually ended up in the book itself. And that’s funny to think about)

There you are! Thanks for joining me on this boozy adventure! Stop back in next month for more liver-punishing horror!


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