I was scrolling through Reedsy hoping for a fun satire to read and lo and behold I came across How to Save a Planet by Stephen Quatro which was classified by genre as a comedy. Based on the visual and written context clues on the front cover and the very opening of the book, that’s what I was expecting; unfortunately, what I got was something that quickly devolved into poorly executed juvenile humor, and, at the end as it all turns out, the whole point to the book that our Main Character (MC) points out is that we’re supposed to have gone on a giant philosophical journey – which SPOILER ALERT (but not really because I’ll warn you when there are actual plot spoilers ahead) just doesn’t happen.
By the end of the book we’re told that the overarching theme of the book should be to discuss the “key to life”; I say “should be” here because it is not successfully done. I’m all for showcasing the chaos that is life. I’m all for having chaos featured in a book, and I understand that life is inherently chaotic. I’m currently playing a chaotic neutral wild magic sorcerer in Dungeons and Dragons and am thoroughly enjoying it. But to do something chaotic in a book and do it well, there needs to be some method to the madness to make it make some sense – otherwise I’m just sitting over here questioning, “Why am I continuing to read this confusing book? To which the answer is, “I don’t know, third base!” (that’s a reference to Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First)
If I had to sum this book up in a few words, I would say that we’re following the story told in first person by the MC. Because of the way the “social commentary” (and I’m using quotes here to show that I’m using the term rather loosely) starts to cover nuanced topics and misses the mark EVERY. SINGLE. TIME, the MC comes off as a guy suffering from self-proclaimed-nice-guy-syndrome with repressed misogyny (particularly through objectification of women, slut shaming, and bullying) who has a temper and physically takes it out on people. Imagine a bootlegged version of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster mixed with repressed misogyny, juvenile humor, 1960s Star Trek (specifically episode 66 Wink of an Eye), a poor rehashing of Shakespeare and Henry David Thoreau, and a privileged cis white man who is trying to be woke. That’s what my experience of this book is. That’s my synopsis.
This book has been through a copy and a line editor. I have no copy edit notes and very few line editing notes. What this book didn’t have was a content editor AND IT SHOWS. Before finishing the book and attempting to organize my notes, I reached out to the author directly on Instagram to try to give him my notes before this book was released since, according to Reedsy, the book wouldn’t be released until August 30th, 2020. As it turns out, the book has already been published, and the author did not make any confirmable commitments to at least provide the trigger warnings that this book desperately needs. On one hand I’m glad the author didn’t immediately become defensive to my criticism, but I would still like to see a commitment to either 1) pull the book from shelves and implement some content edits (which based on our brief conversation isn’t going to happen) or 2) provide trigger warnings to new potential buyers before the point of sale. I’ll insert screenshots of the conversation in my blog post and also provide a transcription of those screenshots here for you to interpret [there are minute spoilers in this section that do not spoil the overall story in this section]:
Me: “I’m 68% through How I Saved a Planet. Unless something drastic changes soon, I don’t think this should go to print yet. It seems like the book has been through copy edits, but I’m not sure about the content or line editing. Would you like my feedback directly, or do you intend to publish on August 30th regardless? Either way, I intend to publish a review by August 30th as requested.”
Quatro: “Hi Victoria, is this for Reedsy? The book is actually already published, but Reedsy made me pick a publication date to get a review. The book went through copy and line editing with a third party, but not content editing (that part was self-edited).”
Me: “Ahh yes, it would be through reedsy and I’ll be cross publishing the review on goodreads and YouTube. The jokes I’m perturbed by deal with matters of domestic violence, dialogue with strong parallels of gaslighting, and a scene where drugs are not consentually taken that echo strongly of a date-rape scenario. So far I have not found instances of social commentary to go along with these particular issues, and I don’t understand why these would be included without commentary in a book classified as comedy.”
Quatro: “Do you have examples you could share? I know the drug scene you’re describing, but I’m not recalling the other issues from what you’ve described.”
Me: “I have many notes across the book with specific examples; I don’t want to send them to you in their current raw form. The violence and attempted apology that is not acceptable in my books happens when Qarl has his head slapped off and the apology is for “getting mad”. It’s fine to feel angry. It’s not fine to physically act on that anger, and the apology does not reflect this. The phrasing around “knock off the drama, Qarl” in chapter F completely belittles Qarl’s concerns and is gateway phrasing for gaslighting tactics.”
Quatro: “Ah I see. I’m afraid it’s too late as far as publication goes, but feel free to share additional notes if you want since I do value feedback, I hope you are able to find some merit in the book despite any flaws.”
Me: “Would it be possible for you to provide a trigger warning in newer copies of the book, or list them on websites where they are being distributed? I will be happy to provide you and the public with feedback since this book is already published. There are a few things that have made me chuckle, but it’s hard for me to get through because I needed those warnings before getting into it.”
Quatro: “I can look into that.”
And that is where we’ve ended our conversation. For a little more context, I have NEVER experienced being triggered by a book before, and I’m a fan of Brent Weeks and have read some Mark Lawrence (though I will never return to Lawrence’s books or buy them unless he decides to make a public apology and show that he’s made some changes on how he treats people). I don’t have a problem with watching or reading Game of Thrones (GRRM). I love hard topics being covered with dark humor like in Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. What I have discovered is that I DO have a problem with domestic abuse, non-consensual drugging, and gaslighting tactics being joked about nonchalantly without there being social commentary to go with it.
Going back to how this book is chaotic in all the wrong ways, the plot and content of the book is at best maybe an outline that still needs organized. Don’t worry, I’ll provide ample examples in a chapter by chapter breakdown. The thoughts/journal entries that are provided by MC are raw (insert Gordon Ramsey voice) – maybe half-baked if I’m being generous. There are instances where the MC tries to employ wit and humor, but because it’s half-baked these instances usually come across as bullying. I LOVE satire, dark humor, and even self deprecating humor – I use it as a coping mechanism in my own life constantly, but this book just isn’t good enough (inserts another Gordon Ramsey meme). If you’d like a fantastic combination of these for an example check out Jim Gaffigan’s “Cinnabon” routine here: https://youtu.be/fby8EIamhME
The rest of this review will provide a chapter by chapter breakdown which I’m working on writing up in about 20-30 minute blocks each day. If you want, you can catch that progress on my blog (lol you’re already here), and when I’m done with the blog post I’ll probably turn it into a video since that’s where the majority of my small following is. This is also the first time I’ve had to take long breaks between writing up a review due to my heart rate getting out of control and my watch reminding me that I haven’t moved though my heart rate is at or above 120 for over 10 minutes at a time. It’s been a very strange experience. – check back later for more updates!
For the first update in this series, check out this post: https://victoriarmendes.wordpress.com/2020/08/31/update-1-the-worst-book-ive-read-in-2020/