Eraserhead Press trade paperback
Copyright 2005 - 293 pages
Jacket art by Lori Phillips
Book reviewed August 2005
Rating: 7/10 (Recommended)
Review by Aaron Hughes
Foop! is a bizarre romp through time, chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments, effectively blending black comedy with slapstick. Like all the best humorists, Genoa delivers comedy in ways that resonate on a deeper level than mere punch lines.
The book begins with our first-person protagonist Joe (no last name) leading a time traveling tour group to watch the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's homely appearance puts Joe in mind of an ape, in turn leading him to think of Koko, the gorilla:
Koko was the first of many gorillas taught a type of sign language while in captivity. Towards the end of her life, when her own personal zoo ran out of funding, she was released back into what was left of her natural habitat. There she tried to use sign language to chat with the wild apes.
I used to have nightmares that I was Koko, returning home to my family, trying to tell my daddy, using the elaborate hand gestures taught to me since I was a baby, how much I loved him and in return only getting back blank stares, confused offerings of bananas, and finally hot fresh feces hurled at me.
That is funny stuff, but also a terrific way to introduce Joe's persistent feelings of loneliness, even when surrounded by other people, as he typically is in his overpopulated future world. Joe is the kind of guy who can work in the same office for years without ever learning that there is a cafeteria on the eighth floor where everyone else eats lunch.
In this opening scene, one of the tourists in Joe's group decides to play hero and knock John Wilkes Booth out of commission. Mr. Burk, Joe's boss and the inventor of time travel via wormhole (incidentally, "Foop!" is the sound you hear when you step through a wormhole), insists that Joe take care of Booth's deed instead. Yet we soon learn that it is not necessary for Lincoln to be shot in order to preserve the flow of history. Nothing the group does in the past can affect the present, according to the Shaved Cat Principle - which says if you lock a cat in a room and wait ten minutes, jump back ten minutes in time and shave all the cat's hair off, then return to the present and unlock the room, you will find an unshaved and unruffled cat waiting for you. So Mr. Burk's only reason for carrying out the Lincoln assassination is to give his tourists their money's worth. This is the first inkling we get that perhaps someone should report Mr. Burk's company to the Better Business Bureau.
The Lincoln assassination in one of many destinations for wealthy tourists offered by Mr. Burk, whose company holds a monopoly on time travel. It is creepy to note that, even though Foop! was published well before Hurricane Katrina, one of the popular trips Genoa describes is to go back in time to visit New Orleans before it was largely destroyed by a hurricane.
The story begins in earnest when the neurotic Mr. Burk promotes Joe to Chief of Probes. Joe's top secret assignment (which everyone in the company soon knows about) is to figure out who is traveling through time to take photos of younger Mr.s Burk undergoing humiliations that the present Mr. Burk did not suffer. Once he is put on the job, Joe starts to be followed, none too surreptitiously, by a peculiar pair of men, one midget-sized and the other tall and cadaverous. He also, perhaps coincidentally, begins to have repeated run-ins with the flashlight-wielding followers (including the cutey from work Joe has had his eye on) of Ba Hubba Tree Bob, the leader of a peculiar new cult.
Joe attempts to use time travel to catch Mr. Burk's threateners in the act, but his half-hearted investigations soon uncover a more important problem: the Shaved Cat Principle may not be worth a used hairball, for cracks seem to be appearing in the space-time continuum.
Genoa has a lot of fun with his absurdist take on time travel, using it as an excuse to toss in everything from flying sea lions to robotic construction crews to a blind, hog-tying monkey. But equally entertaining are the scenes in the real world (or rather, a recognizable near-future world) of Joe eating pancakes with a nervous coworker or playing bingo with his obsessive elderly cotenants. Joe's confrontations with his jittery boss Mr. Burk, who will do anything to keep control of a conversation up to and including throwing his head back and screaming like an infant, are particularly funny.
Chris Genoa is American but has a Pythonesque approach to comedy that, while it may not appeal to everyone, will leave readers who appreciate oddball humor in stitches. My only complaint about Genoa's comedy is that he relies too often on scatological humor, but that is a minor nitpick. Just as the sound "Foop!" announces that you are traveling through time, the novel Foop! announces Chris Genoa as a talented new writer to watch. Kudos on his discovery to Eraserhead Press, the brainchild of Carlton Mellick III, a very talented, offbeat author in his own right.
Where Genoa falls short of the best science fiction and fantasy humorists such as Terry Pratchett, Connie Willis, and James Morrow (who has lavishly praised Genoa) is in his storytelling. The tale of Foop! is generally a little too silly to draw the reader in, and the protagonist too one-dimensional to care much about. It is amusing to watch Joe mope around the book like an abused dog - he describes treasuring his promotion to Chief of Probes "like an old stray dog treasures its first and last pat on the head before being shot" - but his character never develops, and both he and the novel stagger to a rather pointless climax.Chris Genoa is a very funny writer, but he will need to show more conviction in his own stories to become a great novelist.
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|Copyright © 2005 Aaron Hughes|