Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"No One Gets the Cupcake": A Review of Jay Martel's Channel Blue

Title: Channel Blue
Author: Jay Martel
Edition: Head of Zeus, Ltd. (Paperback, 2014)
Pages: 374
How I Came By This Book: Sadly, I no longer work in a library, but I still spend inordinate amounts of time in them. This book was found on the New Fiction shelf at my town library.

About the Author: I'm an executive producer and writer for "Key & Peele," a sketch show on Comedy Central. I've created various TV shows, written screenplays, gardened for Richard Nixon, and was once arrested for confronting Jeb Bush about Florida's death penalty program. I've also written comic pieces for "The New Yorker" and "Rolling Stone." Channel Blue is my first novel. For more info on Channel Blue and my writing, please check (from GoodReads)

Synopsis: Earth used to be Galaxy Entertainment's most lucrative show. The inhabitants of the Western Galaxy--the savviest, richest demographic in the Milky Way--just couldn't get enough of the day-to-day details of the average Earthling's life.

But now Channel Blue's ratings are flagging, and its producers are planning a spectacular finale. In just three weeks, their TV show will go out with a bang. The trouble is, so will Earth.

Only one man can save our planet from total destruction. And he's hardly a hero...

Review: Perry Bunt is a has-been screenwriter teaching screenwriting at a community college. He's broke, single, and bored, with only masturbation and the sight of his lovely student, Amanda Mundo, to break the monotony of everyday life. What he doesn't know is that he's about to become the most important person in the galaxy. Channel Blue is the story of an everyman thrust into an impossible position: he's the only sane person on Earth who knows that mankind is going to destroy itself in three weeks for the personal entertainment of trillions of viewers, which makes him the only one who can stop it from happening.

Unbeknownst to the 7 billion people on this planet, we're being watched. A lot. Our whole planet is Channel Blue, a conglomeration of thousands of television stations devoted to broadcasting the daily successes and foibles of humankind. Tuning in every second of the day is the rest of the galaxy, including the Edenites, an advanced form of human that has come to see entertainment as its highest priority. They delight in watching the "Earthles" fight wars, get gravely injured, or just all-around fail at life. And all of this has been happening without our knowledged. In fact, up until Perry Bunt stumbles into the wrong room in Galaxy Entertainment in an attempt to return Amanda Mundo's jacket to her, the only Earthle who knew about Channel Blue was a homeless man named Ralph, who hangs outside a convenience store. Unfortunately, for Perry, this one error in judgment will embroil him in a battle to save the world.

With ratings dropping, Galaxy Entertainment has decided to cut its losses and let Channel Blue go. In order to go out with a bang, the producers of Channel Blue put a series of events into motion--earthquakes, violence, a foiled airplane crash--that will eventually set off a spark in the Middle East, leading to all-out nuclear annihilation. When Perry discovers that this is the case, he sets out to save the planet by showing the galactic viewers that Earth isn't beyond saving. He becomes determined to prove that Earth isn't all violence and mindless stupidity, but his fellow Earthles don't make it easy for him. Every time he tries to do something nice, it backfires on him: he gets beat up; he inadvertently starts a religion; he gets locked up in a secret government facility and waterboarded.

As he and Amanda Mundo trip through these events together, their gaffes become a number one hit TV show: Bunt to the Rescue. The more popular the show gets, the crazier life gets for Perry, as the producers at Channel Blue up the stakes in order to up their ratings. In the middle of all of this chaos, Perry discovers a deep, dark secret that changes his view of the world forever. What will happen in the end? Will the Earth be saved? And will Perry survive to complete his mission?

Channel Blue is a hilarious comedy of errors in which the errors are not just Perry's--they're also our own. Martel satirizes humanity twice--we are both the watched and the watchers. He pokes fun at religion, politics, terrorism, nationalism. He takes swing after swing at our entertainment-obsessed, violent, and self-centered society. It's such a masterful piece of satire, with layer upon layer of scathing criticism veiled with non-stop laughter. The dual-criticism technique was new to me and it was extremely refreshing. In fact, it didn't quite click in my head that Martel is portraying us as the Earthles AND the Edenites until I sat down to write this review.

The plot is a bit twisty-turny, jerking the reader in a new direction every time it seems he or she has the novel figured out. It kept me guessing straight up to the end of the book, although occasionally I felt like I had whiplash from some of the more drastic plot twists. Martel doesn't make life easy for his poor protagonist, nor does he make it clear to the reader where things are headed. I definitely did not see the book going where it did when I started reading it, which is great. It's very rare that a book surprises me like that.

The characters are caught up in a whirlwind, which means that their development is very plot driven. Perry and Amanda are obviously the two main characters and therefore are the most developed. But there are several other characters to look out for, including Nick Pythagorus, Amanda's nine-year-old boss, and Noah Overton, Perry's bewildered neighbor, who only wants to make the world a better place. There's even a special guest star. I'll give you a hint: "Thank you. Thank you very much."

I really liked this book a lot. I would definitely recommend it if you're a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or social satire in general. I'm giving Channel Blue 4 out of 5 Gabriels.


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