Early on in the film Shaun of the Dead, there’s a hilarious scene where a hungover Shaun stumbles into the local convenience store to grab a soda.
The repeated sight gags are all the signs of the ongoing zombie apocalypse that the character doesn’t recognize. There are smears of blood on freezers, citizens fleeing in terror, and dead bodies.
Simon Pegg’s Shaun is so wrapped up in his own world that he scarcely notices any of the goings-on.
Frank J. Fleming’s Sidequest is a bit like that, in that the protagonist, Terrance Denby, is for the most part oblivious to the strangeness of the world around him. He’s focused on his job as a computer programmer, and his highest aspiration in life is to score a copy of the latest multiplayer online game. Staff meetings consist of sacrificing virgins to faceless tentacle monsters, his boss is a real monster, and there’s a volcano on the edge of town. Something seems amiss, but Terrance can’t quite put his finger on it.
Can you bring chips to the sacrifice?
One day during his commute to work Terrance decides on a lark to see where an unmarked drive leads – the road not taken, literally taken. He emerges into what is quite-obviously a fantasy straight out of Tolkien or Terry Brooks. A few moments later, winged fairies present him with a sword and welcome him to a new reality.
The caul removed from his eyes, Terrance begins to see the strangeness in the world around him. Eventually he’s moved to do something about it. But what can a bespectacled computer geek do about vampires menacing female clubgoers, spider beasts hunting children, or his girlfriend’s strange occupation?
“I’m a Sister of Torment,” she explains. “We’re a group of women who serve the Darkness.”
Despite all this, Shannon is a loveable, perky geek girl. She just wears black plate mail and shows up to dates stained with blood. We won’t discuss her behavior during Mario Kart, though …
Can Terrance keep the girl and save the world? And for Pete’s sake, will he ever find a copy of Legendary Quest? You’ll have to read and find out!
Sidequest in a nutshell
If I had to make an elevator pitch for Sidequest, I’d call it The Matrix meets Lord of the Rings. There’s more than a dash of humor, and parts of the book are laugh out loud funny. This is understandable, given Fleming’s background writing humor columns. In spite of the humor, there’s a lot of heart, too, and some melancholy introspection at the end.
My only quibble is a minor one. Terrance is oblivious to what’s going on at the beginning of the book, but as things progress he becomes more proactive instead of reactive. The transition feels like it takes too long, and at times it seems like amazing things are happening and his reaction amounts to, “Huh. That’s interesting.” But the resolution and payoff are more than worth the wait, here. All in all, I loved the book and look forward to any follow-ups!