Tuesday, March 4, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #4: David J Zelman

David J Zelman, writing under the nom-de-plume "Mohammed al-Muhammad & Youssef Fakish", sends up homophobia regarding gays in the military with the breezy and raunchy Al-Qaeda's Super Secret Weapon (Northwest Press). It lampoons a statement made by senator John McCain regarding the effect that having gays in the military might have on morale, discipline, etc. At just sixty pages, the premise is really better suited for a short story rather than a novella. Zelman stretches it out with a bunch of sex scenes in the same way that a sex comedy might pad its running time with extended sex scenes, drawing a fine line between "sex comedy" and "funny porn". Or perhaps more accurately, "porn with funny stuff in between sex scenes." Zelman's line is light and crisp, and publisher Zan Christensen's coloring adds a lot to the book's overall appeal. Still, it's the dryness of the narrative and Zelman's sense of comic timing that finds the book at its most successful. He has a way of heightening and then exploding stereotypes of all kinds in a hilarious fashion, and using the spy/terrorism setting to do so made it all the more effective.

The story is told from the point of view of Mahmoud, a sleeper agent sent to America in order to join its military and destabilize it as part of a wider operation where every agent would declare their gayness simultaneously to distract and confound the soldiers. Zelman sends up gay culture as much as he does military culture here, noting that after he meets a guy in a bar named Steve, he quickly moved in with him, "like a lesbian". As part of his training, he is tortured by an officer to drills him on the finer points of gay culture, like what drugs shouldn't be mixed with alcohol, pop music and what gay men and lesbians have in common. He learns about the perils of threesomes and broken hearts. Then the plan is put into motion in the funniest scene in the book, when revealing his gayness first causes a lot of discussion about who would be a top or a bottom if they were gay, then a wrestling match, and then a soldier despairing of all the gayness around him. With the military destabilized, Pakistan and India take the opportunity to nuke each other, and World War III in general breaks out. The book gets more ridiculous as it proceeds, and while the satire is as subtle as a sledgehammer, its general good nature and overall silliness makes it a fun read. That said, the satire was muted by the padding from the sex scenes, and the sex scenes muted by all the silliness. A shorter, more focused version of this book might have had a crisper comedic punch.

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