Dark Humor for Dark Times
Books for your survival
By Rob Kutner
Paperback (Running Press), $12.95
“When life gives you radioactive lemons, use a lead-shielded catapult to launch them at the foragers attacking your compound."—Rob Kutner
With the apocalyptic reference book market so saturated with speculators, it's a relief there's a tome teaching not only how to survive the end of life as we know it but how to live better than ever. Robot uprisings, zombie invasions, swarms of nuclear reactor wall-eating moths— Rob Kutner's little guide has practical, if ridiculous, insight for any catastrophe (probable or improbable) with clever ideas about making the end of times the best of times.
Like most survival guides (at least the real, honest, survive-while-lost-in-the-wildneress ones), Apocalypse How begins with food security. Kutner is confident "the diet after" will likely consist of leather, roadkill, mutated whatnots and—gasp—other people. Dotted throughout this section are enticing recipes like "Leatherguini Alfredo" and "Steve Tartare,” as well as tips on food stashing, storing and bludgeoning. From food, the guide moves blissfully into the travel section. "Relocation, Relocation, Relocation" stresses the importance of getting away from it all with ideas on post-world home makeovers and tips on finding the choicest digs for your newly nuclear family. "Dress for Distress" tackles clothing form and function, with acceptably little bias on the side of function. Kutner then moves into a lengthy chapter on social life in "How to Win Friends and Influence Mutants,” discussing marriage, children, neighbors, class structure, enemies and mutant versions of all of these societal groups. The guide closes out with quick chapters on health, recreation and wealth, ending with a few chuckles as Kutner urges the last page be used for kindling.
While Kutner's irreverent guide is entertaining, it doesn't warrant heavy study—that is, of course, unless you anticipate being prodded into a slave pen by talking gorillas. The humor and subject matter is too overt and far fetched. When every sentence is a punch line, the whole book is just punch lines. What kind of joke is that? Fans of Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide should ease right in to the book, while others may find it meh-worthy. Will this mark the apocalypse of the snarky-survival genre? Not by a long shot.
Santa vs. Satan: The Official Compendium of Imaginary Fights
By Jake Kalish
Paperback (Three Rivers Press), $13.95
We all do it. Imagine people and things beating the snot out of other people and things. Some of us act those fights out in private, making punching/bone-cracking noises in front of mirrors, tweaking scripts, choreographing. You know, What if I fought Papa Smurf or my gym teacher? stuff. Jake Kalish devoted a good part of his professorial life imagining fights. His early freelancing career, fight articles published in Playboy and Men's Fitness magazines, quickly became popular and—for some reason—important, even relevant, to readers. And for those of us too prude or proud to crack open one of those periodicals, Kalish's latest bouts in Santa vs. Satan: The Compendium of Imaginary Fights will suffice.
Divided into three sections: "Fights for Our Lives," "Fights for Our World" and "Fights Because I Said So," Santa vs. Satan pits Darwin against Adam, He-Man against she-males, pirates vs. ninjas, Han Solo vs. Indiana Jones, married gay people vs. divorced straight people, and the bouts go on. Each imaginary fight reviews the contestants' advantages and disadvantages, followed by thoughtful analysis from real-life experts and humorists. After the fighters are measured up, it moves on to the good stuff. Santa vs. Satan should come with a Surgeon General recommendation to read in a comfortable location with all life-sustaining necessities on hand—you'll want to devour every outcome in one sitting. Each page contains a hook or something so sharply left-field your comfort-level receptors may overload, resulting in the laughter of a sick fool. For example: the fight card of the Stork vs. the Grim Reaper. "The Grim Reaper, a huge favorite, is shocked when the Stork begins flinging babies at him," Kalish writes. Dark? Yes. But can you live without reading the outcome? Blame it on weak will.
While the whole thing seems like a mindless exercise for the Grand Theft Auto generation, the author explains why imaginary fights matter to society as a whole. On the Iraq conflict, Kalish suggests, "Years later, we can only imagine if Dungeon Master Cheney had been playing with dice instead of American lives." Imagining conflicts, even the ridiculous ones, can make us laugh and feed our curiosity here and there. But they may also keep us fallible creatures in line. Hopefully there will be a sequel.