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Was ist das?
Robert T. Jeschonek is a seasoned magazine writer, blogger, serial and short feature writer in as many media as you can count. This, however, is his first novel, and in my opinion, for whatever it's worth, it's a dandy first outing. I say "for whatever it's worth" because it's a first for me too; my first peek into the world of Young Adult Urban Fantasy, the genre shelf where this novel hangs its hat.
If you're new to this genre yourself, you're in for quite a ride. Its spirit is indeed hi-tech urbanized, gothy, punky, imbued with its appropriate quotient of teen angst and chronic misgiving, full of youthful high spirits and hijinx, but not frivolously so; the serious side of life is maintained and respected. Withal, it kind of takes me back, in a way. However, more important is its foray into the conventions of a genre that is still novel enough to be experimental; a world where much of even familiar reality is not quite, or at least reliably, familiar. In our mundane universe, even hippie kids don't often have names like Idea Deity or Eunice Truant, the lead characters here, or the equally strange monikers/avatars which apply to them in other parallel universes they simultaneously inhabit and must deal with, in the course of the convoluted plotting unfolding in these pages, to get where they're bound.
These other parallel universes, of which there would appear to be at least two, or maybe even three or four, in play, are the first clue that what Eunice and Idea are bound on is a quest, in the classic story-telling sense, however non-standard and non-classic the terms of their quest may be. A quest for love? At least partly. A quest for self-identity and self-worth, the meaning of life and such? Most definitely. Entertainingly, as well as edifyingly, so? Absolutely, as long as you don't harbor a deep personal need for reality to always hold still and always be what it seems. The alternate realities through which this plot wends its way are close neighbors, are indeed parallel and, most importantly, convergent, meaning that the climax of their story lurks in what happens when they finally all come together.
In practical terms, the Post-Modern conventions of what is happening here seem to resonate with the worlds of String Theory, Heisenberg Uncertainty, Timeline anomalies, etc., but no matter, because Jeschonek never bothers your head or disfigures his narrative with any of that. Sufficient to his purposes are the vagaries of the Internet, with its strange meme-powers to make virtual realities spring into life around us by cybernetic spontaneous generation. Idea's first problem is who and what he is, and for how long, a riddle occasioned by a cosmological glitch and more serious even than he realizes, and his fateful encounter with the uncannily wise and resourceful Eunice in his peril-fraught flight from it, a hookup by no means as accidental as he, at least, first imagines. His second big problem is the internet-viral explosion out of nowhere of the Next Big Thing, the rock band Youphoria and its mushrooming, increasingly problematical fan base, hooked on a universally downloaded single, "Corpuscle Porpoise." Problematical for Idea, at least, since Youphoria was never anything but an internet spoof website that Idea himself created, with no band members, music, lyrics, nada, that ever existed outside his own imagination. And yet now, here they are, all over the internet, having already played at least one legendary secret gig in Hotknee, Nebraska.
From there on it all gets even more complicated as we go on to meet the all too real band members themselves and other equally important players in their own alternate universes, including Lord Fireskull and Johnny Without in the world of "Fireskull's Revenant," an oddball fantasy novel, itself a spoof, that ends up being the indispensable survival manual for the fatal convergence of the parallel universes in play. There is no way to relate any of the strange twists in this narrative without having to explain so much along the way as to turn a review into a spoiler, so never mind; this is good writing by a yarn spinner who obviously knows his stuff.
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Robert T. Jeschonek, My Favorite Band Does Not Exist (Clarion Books, 2011)
Finally, someone wrote the ultimate hipster book!
No, no, I kid. My Favorite Band Does Not Exist is way, way better than anything that would use the phrase “I only liked them before they signed to a major label.” It's a fantasy novel of the most ridiculous stripe, playing out simultaneously in our world, an alternate version of our world, and the pages of a mystical fantasy novel beloved of the protagonists of both of the other storylines that begins eerily echoing the real-world events. In other words, there's a whole lot going on here. Because of this, it's possible Jeschonek may have missed his target demographic, judging by the decidedly mixed reviews the book has gotten (it's a rarity on Amazon, a book with an almost-perfect bell curve in the Customer Reviews box). I am not entirely sure, however, that this is a bad thing.
Plot: Idea Deity (you see where we're going here?), the protagonist of the real-world storyline, is sixteen years old, socially awkward, and has just met the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. Until she turns around. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but Eunice Truant, the young lady in question, has a second face tattooed on the back of her head. (This becomes very important later.) Idea is on the run from his parents, as well as a pair of trenchcoated guys they've hired to track him down. Eunice helps him outwit them, and while they're on the run, Idea reveals to her that he believes someone else, more shadowy and more powerful, is also after him, and that that person was somehow involved with the creation of the novel Fireskull's Revenant—and that he predicted Idea's death, which will happen in Chapter Sixty-Four. Idea is also the perpetrator of the Internet's greatest hoax, Youforia, a band that doesn't actually exist... except in the alternate-universe portion of the storyline, where Reacher Mirage, the frontman for Youforia, is trying to figure out who the hell keeps leaking news of the band's supposedly-secret gigs on the Internet, and why the characters in his favorite book, Fireskull's Revenant, remind him so much of his eternally-bickering bandmates.
Here's the problem as I see it, judging by the reviews I've read: My Favorite Band Does Not Exist is not a book for beginners, in the same way Akira is not anime for beginners (though it always seems to be presented that way). I think you'll get a lot more out of this book if you've got a solid grounding in high fantasy of the swords-and-sorcery stripe, as well as some form of science fiction that hits the same buttons this does (time travel stuff would work as well as alternate-universe stuff, methinks). Jeschonek is not going to dumb down his themes, nor will he take pauses to explain things, and while this is a very good thing for the novel's readability factor, I've read more than a few reviews that imply the book is off-putting for this reason. Your mileage may vary; mine certainly did. But then, I am also pretty well outside the age range to which the book is marketed to (I have a daughter in said age range), and have a great deal more reading experience under my belt to draw on and reference. So, I have to heavily qualify my recommendation for this book. Which is unfortunate, because I flat-out loved it and would prefer to give it the highest of regards. However, its seeming vertical-market-ness demands a bit of reserve. (But still, for the love of Fireskull, read this. Now.) ****