The Land of Laughs

Going into this book, I had no idea what to expect. I selected it on the basis of several strong recommendations and a rather whimsical cover depicting an anthropomorphic kite and a six armed creature eating ice cream on a front porch while some malevolent-looking fellow glares out at them from inside the house. Going on the aforementioned, I anticipated some weird and wonderful Alice in Wonderland-like narrative, a gentle Young Adult adventure I could digest like buttered popcorn – light, pleasing, yet ultimately inconsequential.

How wrong I was. Imagine discovering that popcorn is actually caramel coated. And then discovering that nestled alongside each kernel is the tiniest of habanero peppers. And THEN, once you’ve almost finished eating, discovering the fist your neighbor has slipped in through the bottom of the popcorn bag that suddenly spring up and cold cocks you in the face. It’s sort of like that. Except with talking bull terriers.

English teacher Thomas Abbey leads a fairly banal existence, living in the shadow of his famous father, a legend of the silver screen. Then, one day, he decides to change things up. Inspired by the books he loved so much as a kid, he sets out to write the definitive biography of famed children’s author Marshall France. His publisher warns him that the going may be tough, however, given that the last guy to visit France’s hometown received a less than cordial welcome from the townsfolk in general and the late author’s niece, Anna France, in particular. Undaunted, Thomas journeys to the modest community of Galen, Missouri accompanied by his lover, research assistant, and marionette collector Saxony Gardner, an equally avid France fan.

Once there, they meet with Anna who, contrary to expectations, proves surprisingly friendly and immediately warms to the idea of a biography based on the life and career of her father. Thomas begins work on the book and, eventually, romance blossoms between him and Anna.

But as he struggles to juggle research, writing, and two relationships, Thomas begins to suspect that something is a little off about the community. Something is up…but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it’s the way many of the townsfolk are anxiously following his progress. Or the downright bizarre reactions to the accidental death of a local boy. Or the fact that he just caught his landlady’s bull terrier talking to himself…

What starts off as a quiet and comical little story takes a turn into Twilight Zone-terrain, then winds its way into a weird magical Wonderland before careening headlong into dark and twisted territory. And yet throughout the wild ride, The Land of Laughs proves incredibly engaging, one of those rare books that draws you in and keeps you reading – and reading – and reading – until you realize it‘s ticking past two a.m. and you have to wake up early for work tomorrow. It boasts unique, well-defined characters and some terrific dialogue, in a shifting narrative that undermines any hope of second-guesses.

At the heart of the story is this notion of an innate ability to control one’s environment. When we first meet Thomas he is a victim of circumstance, a man with little if any control over a life buffeted and bundled by elements seemingly beyond his control. And then, after years of living on auto-pilot, allowing himself to be defined by who his father was, he decides enough is enough and opts to take charge of his life. Despite his publisher’s attempt to warn him off, he forges ahead with the planned biography, developing a relationship with, curiously enough, a woman who collects puppets. In time, he forms a relationship with another woman who, in her own way, collects puppets as well – Thomas, as he eventually discovers, being her latest strung-along acquisition. But in discovering the town’s secret – that its inhabitants are the manifestations of a late, great author – Thomas discovers a power existing within himself. It’s a power he uses to save the town – and, at book’s end, himself. 

Lots to love and lots to discuss. I’ve weighed in with my initial thoughts and would love to hear what everyone else thought. Let’s see those comments – and questions for author Jonathan Carroll.

A Memorial Day dedication to all of the men and women serving in our armed forces.

Mailbag:

Sandra writes: “I was watching “Bounty,” and I noticed several campaign posters on the walls of the high school recommending Peter DeLuise and Damian Kindler for class officers. Were you running for Homecoming King?”

Answer: I was running for President of the Dungeons and Dragons Club. I lost to Carl Binder, a.k.a. elf druid Morgo,  wielding his magic cudgel.

Cat4444 writes: “So which one of the pups posted this Tweet? The post doesn’t say.

stargateeggstinction

They’re really learning to type well. Are you tutoring them or are they just naturals?”

Answer: No, it’s all them. And, ooooooh, look closer. There are a couple of words in there you missed.

Dana writes: “Since when has Teyla become Kanaan’s wife?”

Answer: Didn’t you watch the very special wedding episode? Sheppard gives the bride away. No? Hmmm. Maybe that scene didn’t make the final cut. Okay, in that case, I guess it’s not canon and, at the end of the day, Teyla has yet to make an honest man of Kanaan. Maybe in the movie…a big Teyla-Kanaan/McKay-Keller Weddding! Who’s with me?!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!

SciFan writes: “When did Kanaan and Teyla get married?”

Answer: As stated above, they’re not married (yet?). She was holding off in the hopes that something better would come along. Like, say, someone capable of holding down a steady job.

E writes: “Have Brad and Carl shared any updates on SG-1 movie?”

Answer: Not a one. And that’s just as well. I want to be surprised like everyone else when the movie finally comes out.

Trish writes: “I may or may not have entered your dogs into the Mr. Twitterverse competition. Depending on how you feel about it, that is.”

Answer: The dogs thank you. Also, Lulu chews your shoe into a gummy mass.

AnneTeldy writes: “Can you tell us which role he was offered in which episode so we GV-fans can try to imagine him in it?”

Answer: Nope, sorry. I don’t think that would be fair to the actor we did cast.

AnneTeldy also writes: “Mr. M, you said you got my letter and added “I’m on it”. Status update, please? Soon?”

Answer: Soon.

Michelle writes: “ So will there be romance at all in the movie? You don’t have to say between whom. We’ll all make ridiculous assumptions and outrageous demands anyway. Eg, please no McKeller! hee hee”

Answer: Well, now that you mention it, some romance, yes.

Agent_xsley writes: “My question is, has Weir’s story been completed or will we ever see that character again in the movies?”

Answer: Weir’s story ended in Ghost in the Machine. The character will not be appearing in the movie.

DasNdanger writes: “So, are the masked Wraith warriors capable of independent thought, or are they totally under the mind control of the more advanced Wraith? And are they completely sentient, or is that debatable?”

Answer: It’s debatable (insofar as we never actually sat down and decided one way or another) but given the way the conversations in the room went, it’s safe to say that the warriors are on the dimmer end of the wraith intellectual spectrum. They are controlled by verbal command and occasional mental prodding.

Major D. Davis writes: “Are we cool or are you in any way irritated or mad at me?”

Answer: No, no. We’re cool. Especially me. Need proof? I wear sunglasses indoors!

Drldeboer writes: “I’m sad to say it’s also a personal memorial day, my mom passed this weekend after a long illness with bone cancer.”

Answer: Condolences, Donna. Hope you draw some comfort from knowing you’re in the thoughts of many of this blog’s regulars.

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sheryl
sheryl

Well i think i posted too late today, so here goes again– Hi deni , nice to hear from you, hi trish, joe we have our own Florida fan club, want to join? @anne teldy, nice to see you post, feel better!! Sheryl

Gilder
Gilder

@Drldeboer: My sympathy and empathy. Went through that passage three years ago.

Joe, you may pass my contact info to Donna if she’d like.

Major D. Davis
Major D. Davis

More books.. Ughh. I will never be able to keep up. Oh and did i ever tell you your sense of humor is awesome. Oh and can us fans have some more pics of guns and characters and uniforms off set. Those rocked. Also don’t you find it funny Sci fi( oh pardon my language….. Syfy) asks you to be the no1 source of info for sgu and then they don’t let you post pics. Wow!?! Oh and can you post some more doggy pics please

Thanks so much,
Major D. Davis

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

Romance in the SGA movie??! Wot? Todd and Sheppard finally getting a room? wink

Anyhoo…thanks much for the Wraithy answer. So…if these masked soldiers aren’t the brightest chevrons on the stargate, could they be an acceptable alternative food source, since Wraith have been known to feed on their own kind anyway?? And with being so long-lived, wouldn’t a soldier supply a Wraith with an abundance of life-force, perhaps allowing them to go for longer periods of time between feeds?

Have a good evening, sir. smile

das

dovil
dovil

Maybe in the movie…a big Teyla-Kanaan/McKay-Keller Weddding! Who’s with me?!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!

Do it! Doooo eeeeet! I would be in hysterics, of laughter that is, I’m not generally prone to hair pulling and clothe rendering.

If the movie doesn’t end up them all getting married (don’t forget Ronon/Amelia, John/Sockpuppet on Right Hand), while Hive ships blow up in the distance showering them with fireworks, I’ll be bitterly disappointed. Caldwell can preceed over the ceremony, Radek can be the caterer, and Lorne can trundle up the aisle bearing the rings. Then the Replicators can beam down and lead the drunken robot dancing at the reception.

Who but someone with a heart of stone could not love this?!

Arctic Goddess

To Drldeboer:

You will never get over your feelings. You will learn to live with them. It’s not a bad thing, since it is a way to remember someone you loved very much. My condolences.

To Joe:

Watching Vegas again (on Superchannel) Sheppard had some 6’s and a 7 in his hand, I believe, with more of the same on the table. I know very little about poker. Was that a good hand or not?

Patricia

Bailey
Bailey

You say there will be a little romance, but will there also be friendship? A bit of bonding between colleagues here and there? That’s what I’d love to see. smile

Luis
Luis

Mr. M I see you are still baby sitting Brie…does he harrass the other dogs???I saw the pic on twitter he is a handsom one….

cat4444
cat4444

attentionhog

Seems little Miss Lulu is getting jealous.

Also, can we expect more spoilers from the pups on the SGA movie?

And who did post “stargateeggstinction”? You never said. Or do you not know?

My condolences to Drldeboer. Cancer is long past the time it needed to be eradicated. Hopefully it will be soon so no one else has to go through this kind of loss.

cat4444
cat4444

Arctic Goddess: He had a full house. It’s a good hand. My guess is the Wraith gave him the whammy to make him toss in his cards . . . OR . . . he simply figured “eh” and threw the hand.

Thornyrose
Thornyrose

To Drldeboer: my deepest sympathies. No matter how prepared we think we are to the loss of a loved one, the pain is no less. Onto the book review. Mr. M. you have a different cover than my edition of Land of Laughs. I was treated to a grinning bull terrier with a creepy kite attached staring at me. Not exactly creepy, but…disquieting. The first person narrative in not my favorite literary convention, but it works effectively here. Through Thomas Abbey’s eyes, we are introduced to the wonderful creations of Marshall France. Given his less than idyllic childhood, Thomas’ obsession with the author rings true. As the story unfolds and he sets off on his search for the history of his idol, events flow with torpid speed of a hand-pushed railcar. What we as readers don’t realize is that railcar is on a gentle slope, and its gradual increase in speed goes almost unnoticed until near the end. Thomas works his way to Galen Missouri, picking up a confederate and a lover as he does so. One of the many strengths of this book is how true the relationships feel. There is no sense of the characters rushing into improbable relationships. There is no “uberromance” with the characters finding their one true loves. The characters, especially Saxony and thomas, reveal very human flaws, foibles, and strengths as they deal with one another and the quest they are on. By midway through the book my interest was fully engaged. What was the secret of Galen, and of its most famous native son? At first the town seems nice enough, with the kinds of mildly eccentric residents that are almost stereotypically small townish. There is the unsettling incident of the child already mentioned. what is the big secret? Possibly my favorite character is Anna. The puppet master of the book, she is the one character possessing all the information that makes sense out of the increasingly bizarre things that begin to happen. Her seduction of the protagonist is pulled off startlingly well by the author, as is the awkward and conflicted reactions of Thomas. The last fifty or so pages fly on by, as masks begin to come off and final truths are revealed. It doesn’t take much to realize something aweful is going to happen, yet when it does it is still a shock. The final pages bring the whole story to a satisfying end. It stops at a logical place, but leaves me wanting more. Now that Thomas has discovered what he is capable of, will he attempt to wield that power? Will those he saved continue to be a threat, or will they be content to go on their own way? I found the analogy to the popcorn to be very apt. Except that when you’re punched, the fist that struck you leaves little barbs in your skin. There are a LOT of philisophical and religious issues embedded in this tale. From free will to what is a man… Read more »

Rose
Rose

@drldeboer

You have my deepest sympathies. I just lost my mother last month and I know what you’re going through. Take care.

Rose

PoorOldEdgarDerby
PoorOldEdgarDerby

@Drldeboer I’m sorry for your loss.

drldeboer
drldeboer

@Joe and Everyone, Thanks so very much for your condolences. My mom was also a huge sci-fi fan, and was the one who got me hooked as a kid. I’m glad to be here in the company of so many people who love it as much as she did, and I do.

I hadn’t a chance to read this months books but I do have Elric in hand for that discussion and am hugely looking fwd to Mr Moorcock’s Q&A. I’m quite intimidated by what I might ask him, I’ve been such an enormous admirer of his work and tastes its hard to think of something… simple.

@Anne Teldy thinking of ya, feel better
DD (Donna)

Nadine
Nadine

Hey Joe,

Not sure if I missed it, but have you seen Star Trek yet? If so, did you like it? If not, any plans to see it?

Also, with your dogs on TwitPic, I decided to put up some pictures of our little one:

http://twitpic.com/5z5g3

Ganymede
Ganymede

” Maybe in the movie…a big Teyla-Kanaan/McKay-Keller Weddding! Who’s with me?!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!”

ONLY if Kavanaugh wears some Pegasus “traditional” outfit in PINK while being in charge of The Guest Book AND later catches the Bouquet!! OH, *AND*, while “plastered” Ronon & Todd play several rounds of “Hangman” IN said Guest Book!

Better yet, nix the whole wedding thing, but have a scene with Teyla and Keller leaving “Girls’ Chick Flick Night” discussing the pros and cons of “RUNAWAY BRIDE”… just as Shep and McKay pass them in a corridor… [closeup on Rodney’s neurons-sparking-deer-in-the-headlights expression and John’s single-raised brow/evil plans to one up Kanaan look…]

SebiMeyer

Since we haven’t seen much of SGU in terms of footage other than the trailers, this question may be way off base. Anyway:

You have repeteadly hinted at the fact that SGU has a more “real” vibe to it, particularly in the way it is shot. Since the SGA and SG1 movies will go into production well after most, if not all, of SGU’s 1st season is shot this begs the question if SGU will cause any stylistical changes on the other StarGate projects down the line. Short version of that question: Will the SGA and SG1 movie look like the SG we know, or more like the SGU we will come to love?

Also:
How is the writing staff liking the more character based approach? Personally I’d venture the guess that it is “easier” to have stories inspire other stories based on character developments rather than having to come up with a “alien X is totally going to kick our ass untill we turn it around last minute” stories of the week. Am I right in assuming that this kind of fatigue was reason why the writers (yourself included) wanted to shake it up up a bit?

riley

My condolences to drldeboer – I’m so sorry for your loss.

Dovil, I’d like to add a hearty ‘hell, yes!’ to your suggestions – although I’d like to add in a request for a little Woolsey/Todd slowdance. And Ronon can catch the bouquet, setting up the next film for the fantabulous Ronon/Amelia wedding. Whaddya think, Joe? Maybe Chuck could be the wedding planner? I bet that boy knows his colour schemes.

joshua
joshua

Hey Joe. Can I recommend a book for your BOTMclub. It’s not SF but it is supposed to be very good. And i have to read it for english so i would like your opinion on it; it is called Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan.(If you could ever find the time in your ever so tight schedule.)

joshua
joshua

I read the all of the first law series; and the old man’s war book. you owe me, atleast a suggestion. Good books btw; really enjoyed reading them

Shiningwit
Shiningwit

@Drldeboer: My heartfelt condolences. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers

otros ojos
otros ojos

@Drldeboer: I’d like to add my condolences to those of everyone else who has extended them. I sincerely hope that you and your family and close friends will be able to comfort each other and work through your loss as well as can be.

@Anne Teldy: I’ve thought of you often, and realize it’s been a long time since I said how much I hope you get better and even fully overcome your health issues — and for you to be aided by inner strength in getting through each day.

@dovil: Your whole post put a huge smile on my face. I’m still laughing. grin You’re one of the funniest people I’ve ever encountered (“gifted humorist” sounds so stilted, but it’s true) on the ‘net or anywhere else. — That scenario you’ve given, oh man, that is hysterical!!! “John/Sockpuppet” had me wiping tears from my eyes.

@Joe: “Teyla has yet to make an honest man of Kanaan.” That was inspired. Thanks for the switch and the resulting grin. – I wish I could watch a vid of all the writer-producers spoofing the material, since I know I’d be laughing so hard I’d be crying (even though hubs finds that a bit disturbing) and for at least a week would probably wake myself up from laughing in my dreams. Truly.

Your review of Carroll’s book intrigues me, so I’ll look forward to reading everyone’s comments and, I hope, reading the book myself at some point.

antisocialbutterflie
antisocialbutterflie

Comments on The Land of Laughs

I definitely have mixed feelings about this one. I equate it to the feeling I had after finishing A Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not sure if I like it or not. It is one of those books that takes awhile to settle in your head, especially the ending. There were definitely parts that I liked a lot, parts that where unsettling and parts that I found wanting.

My favorite part of the book was the way the author introduced us to Marshall France. The slow building introduction of the character was interesting. I think it was the parallel development of the plot and the characters that caught me. The bits of biographical data we were shown drove the story for me much more than the actions of the main characters.

On that vein, I didn’t really connect to any of the main characters in this book Thomas was whiny, Saxony was wishy-washy, Anna was kinda skanky. I wanted to like them. I really tried, but like the whole book I couldn’t settle into the characters enough to envelop their point of view. I liked Nails a lot, but that is probably because I am a giant sucker for talking animals.

You know what I wanted but never got. I wanted little bits of Marshall’s books maybe as a C plot. They sounded pretty cool and I might have fleshed out the plot a bit more. Added a bit more depth to the overall story, letting us see the town’s characters in the same light as France saw them.

I can’t say that the ending surprised me much. It seemed to me that the man to re-create Marshall France must also have the power of creation. I like the fact that he recreated his super famous absentee father. It’s kind of apropos that the man who essentially stole his hope of having his own life would inevitably save it. I wondered for awhile why Thomas did not just un-write the entire town of Galen instead of running away to Europe to be hunted down. I eventually concluded that he needed Saxony to affect France’s world. They were two halves to that creative whole, but his father existed separately from Saxony therefore he could recreate his father without her help.

Like I said, I’m pretty sure that I really like this book, but I think I need a little more time to decide.

Questions for Jonathan Carroll:

1)Why did Thomas not destroy the people of Galen after they killed Saxony? Did he need Saxony to affect France’s creation?

2)Did you know the contents of Marshall France’s books as you were writing the story or were they just some nebulous idea of children’s novels?

Thank you for an interesting story and answering our questions.

Ava
Ava

@Drldeboer: I’m very sorry to hear that. sad My condolences.

Joe,

“Maybe in the movie…a big Teyla-Kanaan/McKay-Keller Weddding! Who’s with me?!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!”

Could that be?! Okay, I think I’ve figured out the *real* plot of the Stargate Extinction now.

— On the Earth the massive wedding – Teyla and Kanaan, McKay and Keller, Ronon and Amelia, Radek and Lorne (it *can* be in California after all) . . mhm, who else … Sheppard and heated up Elizabeth the Replicator , Woolsey and his Work … Chuck as the best man ..

In the meantime, Todd runs away from his prison and hooks up with the furious Band of Shippers. They steal the Daedalus and when colonel Caldwell on Earth says “speak now or forever keep ur silence …” Todd (hurt by Shep’s betrayal) and his bunch of shippers throw a ZPM powered bomb on Earth.
*boom*
Earth no more.
Final shot on heartbroken Todd, sitting in the captain’s chair on Daedalus, fiddling with one Shep’s wrist band he stolen from him. “Solitary Man” playing in the background.

*after the credits*

The Shippers have a ‘what-have-we-done’ moment and start to write a new shipper fanfic immediately.

The Milky Way explodes right away.

*End*

Close? Not close?

AndreaFWhite
AndreaFWhite

Please Joe, no McKeller romance and promise me you will do something with Kanaan like… kill him. Sorry, but the character has no chemistry with Teyla. Ok, if you can’t do that can you turn him back to a bug.