Published: January 23, 2019
Publisher: Patrick Canning
Genre(s): Humor, Fantasy
Length: 9 hrs and 17 mins
Cryptofauna is an entertaining book that runs on pure momentum. The sheer volume of absurdity paired with the author’s constant digressions and convoluted wordplay keeps things humming along while the mysterious nature of the game at the center of the book keeps you hooked until the end.
Reading this felt like strapping myself to a narrative rocket with no time to stop and think about the whys and hows of it all. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think it could get a bit exhausting if the book was too much longer.
Cryptofauna is about a suicidal janitor named Jim, stopped from killing himself and recruited into the titular game by a mysterious older gentleman named Ozymandias (Oz for short) who lives in the mental institution slash retirement home where Jim works.
Oz doesn’t explain much to Jim before setting him off on a series of three tasks – his initiation as an “operator” in Cryptofauna. Jim meets a lot of colorful characters and ends up in a series of bizarre or distressing situations that always feel playfully absurd even when they are also deadly serious, and the book carries us along his journey.
Cryptofauna the game is never explained in much detail. We get the broad strokes, i.e. that it involves sets of operators battling each other over the course of their artificially extended lives to either improve or undermine the state of the world. The actual details of what that means in practice are vague, probably because it’s funnier that way. I have mixed feelings about this if only because the whole thing feels a bit hand-wavy; the silliness and humor are clearly the point, so the rules don’t matter.
Also, the book spends most of its length focused on Jim completing the seemingly random tasks that serve as his initiation. His assigned rival doesn’t play by the rules, so we don’t get to spend much time with Jim as a practicing operator. Jim’s tasks sort of make sense in a macro way while also feeling arbitrary for the sake of comedy.
There is a scene late in the book where Jim and his allies destroy a sinister boarding school, but instead of dramatizing the action, Canning summarizes it in a few non-specific sentences and explains that it was a battle for the ages. Again, this is presumably meant to be a joke, but it felt more like a placeholder.
I did enjoy this book, and I’d probably be up for reading another by Canning, but I think I would enjoy it more if it balanced humor with a slightly more grounded narrative.
Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the author.