Mark A. Rayner – ‘Alpha Max: An Existential Romp through an Absurd Multiverse’

A sci-fi romp centered on the multiverse concept and told with a healthy dose of quirky, adult humor?

Yes please!

Let’s take a closer look at the latest offering from author Mark A Rayner! But first…

The Details

Alpha Max: An Existential Romp through an Absurd Multiverse is written by Mark A Rayner and is self published under the MonkeyJoy Press Imprint.

I picked up and read the edition released for Amazon Kindle November of 2021, however the original ebook version was released prior to that date. I’m not sure if the latest Kindle version has been revised at all from the original ebook version, however, so I can’t speak to whether there are different variations of the story itself between the two editions.

The Summary

Photo courtesy of markarayner.com

Normally I share the description found on Goodreads, however the Kindle Edition I read has no description on Goodreads, so instead I’ll share the (lengthy) description directly from the website of author Mark A Rayner himself:

“Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers he’s the only human being who can prevent the end of the world, and not just on his planet! In the multiverse, infinite Earths will be destroyed.

Personally, Max thinks the multiverse is in big trouble, because he can’t even keep his toenails clipped on the regular, let alone stop the apocalypse. His only “allies” are a race of manic pixie aliens and dozens of other versions of himself; and let’s face it, both groups are annoying as heck!

From award-winning author Mark A. Rayner, Alpha Max is a silly and serious spoof of the science fiction and superhero movie trope of multiple realities. Fans of the humorous science fiction of Douglas Adams and the black humor and satire of Kurt Vonnegut will love this dark comedy that will make you think as well as laugh.

The Good

When I saw this book the description seemed like something that I MIGHT enjoy. I’m a big sci-fi fan, love comic books, and the concept of a “multi-verse” is always a fun thought experiment, so I figured why not.

Within the first few pages I was hooked as even that early on, the humor slapped me in the face and had me chuckling to myself like a 15 year old boy laughing at dirty jokes he shouldn’t be hearing.

I mean, take a look at the FIRST description of the alien spaceship that we get:

The ship had looked – initially – like the shimmery cosmic scrotum of an old man. Two large spheres contained in one wrinkled package.

Rayner, Mark A.. Alpha Max: An Existential Romp through an Absurd Multiverse (p. 5). Monkeyjoy Press. Kindle Edition.

That happens almost immediately in the FIRST chapter. At that point, the odds that this book would be at least an entertaining ride increased dramatically.

In fairness, I was a little leery of jumping into this book initially. I had peeked at some reviews from people that didn’t seem to enjoy it because in their eyes it got too “science-ey” for them to follow.

If you are a fan of science fiction, I’m sure at some point you’ve come across one of those books… the ones that insist on dropping scientific details(whether they are real facts or fictional details created for the sake of the story) at such a heavy pace that the story starts to read more like a text-book than a fun sci-fi story.

So seeing those reviews, I was a little skeptical of Alpha Max going into it.

That first chapter put ALL of those concerns at ease and from page one until the final page I enjoyed a super fun romp through Mark Rayner’s multiverse.

I don’t want to say much about the story itself as it could easily lead to unintended spoilers. But I WILL say this.

First, the writing is the perfect blend of smart sci-fi, emotional drama that tugs at the heart strings a bit, and witty humor that is at times slap-stick dick and fart joke fun and at times a subtle one liner that makes you think for a second before it sinks in.

Second, while there WERE some moments that I would go back and re-read or just pause to think about them before moving on so I could make sure I understood what was happening as the layers of the multiverse expanded, Rayner does a beautiful job of making sure he’s explaining enough to scratch the nerdy, multiverse loving, sci-fi itch while not getting TOO bogged down in details that ultimately don’t make a difference to the story.

And lastly, the pacing of this story flows SO well. There was never a moment that felt dull or drawn out. There are strategically placed chapters that give a more introspective look at things, yet serve as a perfect place to take a breath and really connect with the character of Max before things get ramped up once again.

Did I mention the fun humor? I get it, some may find the humor crude, low-class, or low-brow… but you know how you balance a heady science fiction concept that can EASILY slip into the world of “Say what now?”….. with a good laugh that helps to remind you not to take any of it TOO seriously.

Without that, a passage like this:

And then he spotted it. The greater trap. The idea that he was a consciousness. It was absurd. There was nothing in this non-here. There could be no thought if there was no energy or matter. So therefore, there could be no consciousness.

Rayner, Mark A.. Alpha Max: An Existential Romp through an Absurd Multiverse (p. 175). Monkeyjoy Press. Kindle Edition.

Would just give you headache after headache until you became numb to the story and gave up on it.

The Not So Good

Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say here.

Yes, I’ll concede that some of the humor is a bit crude, but to be honest… I loved it.

Yes, I’m sure there are those hard-core science fiction fans that will look at a book like this and dive DEEP into the world of picking apart the “science” to see if it all checks out. I couldn’t tell you if it does or not, and I’m pretty nerdy, but I just didn’t read this story looking for Spock-level, “logical” explanations.

As such, I didn’t notice too much in the way of things that I didn’t like about this book. If anything I’d say that the ending(don’t worry, no spoilers here) is a little bit too “nice and tidy, wrapped up with a bow on it” for my tastes.

Not to say I didn’t like it, just that it felt a bit too easy. Thinking on it some more, I guess that is one thing present through the whole story. There’s always a “reset” button, or a convenient element of the sci-fi storytelling devices that keeps the story going.

Given that, I can see how some readers may find a lack of any real danger or high stakes threats for our hero Max. Though, to me, I didn’t mind it too much and while there IS a lack of a feeling of real threat for Max, the story is so much fun it just cruised along.

The Bottom Line

You’ll see a lot of comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut Jr with the satirical look at things, the humor in science fiction from the likes of Douglas Adams, and many others. It’s well deserved.

However, the truth is that Mark A Rayner has a voice uniquely his own that is equal parts mind bending, science fiction drama and action as well as South Park style humor that hits in just the right spots.

Maybe it was because I had just been down a pretty heavy stretch of reading a lot of dark fiction, horror, post apocalyptic stories that were all a bit heavy in tone and mood, but Alpha Max was such a fun ride. Full of twists and turns, possibilities, and even though there is a TON of humor spread throughout the book it is STILL full of some classic science fiction writing that does what it’s supposed to do… make you stop and think about the possibilities of the world Mark A Rayner has created for us.

I often read a story and find myself thinking about how cool it would be to see it as a film or series on Netflix or what-not. With Alpha Max I didn’t think about that once… instead I kept imagining how PERFECT this world and adventure would be for some sort of Action/RPG style video game.

Of course it would need to be a “Rated M – Mature” game NOT for kids at all, but still, I think it’d be fun.

At the end of the day we get to explore the many sides of human consciousness, all the possibilities of what might be were a multiverse possible, and we get to do it all through the lens of a witty and sarcastic lead character that never takes himself too seriously and isn’t shy about bringing the funny.

I gave Alpha Max: An Existential Romp through an Absurd Multiverse a 4 out of 5 stars.

Highly recommended read for all fans of science fiction, humor, and a story that makes you think deeply about it’s concepts while enjoying a good laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

***

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