A mysterious accident covers Brisbane, Australia with man-eating jam, leaving the inhabitants of an apartment complex to figure out how to survive. Travis, a Brisbane slacker with very little going on, wakes up one morning to find his home city coated in a thick layer of strawberry jam. The true nature of the crises is driven home to him when he watches his roommate Frank attempt to ford the substance and get eaten. Travis unites with the remaining inhabitants of his building: his other roommate Tim, Starbucks barrista Angela, and high-strung video game administrator Don. They all have different ideas as to what to do next. Tim wants to found a new human civilization, Angela wants to make a documentary on the disaster, and Don only wants to swing by his work and retrieve a hard drive with the valuable new build of his company's latest release. As for Travis, he doesn't have any useful plans at all, except to take care of a giant, bird-eating Goliath spider named Mary he finds in one of the other apartments.
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The group eventually decides to head to the Hibatsu building, the city's largest skyscraper. As they try and make their way across the rooftops, they witness a helicopter crash. Two survivors crawl from the wreckage: female scientist X and male soldier Y. It is quickly apparent that the two newcomers know something about the source of the jam, but they refuse to talk. The group hijacks a boat from a group of pirates, although X and Y separate from the rest, planning to reunite with them at HIbatsu. Sailing to Don's workplace, they attempt to recover the hard drive, only to find it missing. The apartment dwellers are then attacked and captured by a group clothed head-to-toe in trash bags.
When our protagonist wakes up, he finds that the trash people are from a nearby mall, turned into a makeshift settlement by a group of sarcastic mall-rats who use trash bags to allow them to walk through the jam (being inorganic, the bags cannot be digested by the strawberry-flavored substance). Travis and Don escape, and reunite with Angela and Tim. They end up at the shopping center, where Don discovers that the trash people have confiscated the hard drive. The mall dwellers have created a society based around irony and cynicism, with a princess, Ravenhair, and a religious figure, Crazy Bob. The mall people have also begun implementing harsh justice, executing those they dislike. Travis and his friends find that X is also at the mall, although Y is missing in action.
The princess has a pet bird; unfortunately, Mary the spider eats birds, including the princess' pet. Afraid that this crime will be found out, Travis joins Don in a plan to steal the hard drive and escape. Their flight is interrupted by a group of the trash people, until a hidden sniper kills the oncoming guards. The sniper turns out to be Y, who has taken a position on the rooftops and is shooting the mall folks as they try to leave, isolating them from the world. In the confusion, however, Don throws the hard drive into the jam, where it drifts off. Don and Travis recover the boat and sail to Hibatsu, where they encounter another new civilization, this one consisting of the remnants of the building's office drones. When Don finds out that the Hibatsu people recovered his hard drive and are using it as a coaster, his outburst causes the settlement to reject the two, leaving them with no recourse but to return to the mall.
Back at the shopping center, Travis finds that Tim is attempting to win an election for leadership of the mall people. His plan is complicated when the truth about Mary's eating habits and the fate of the princess' bird comes out. Meanwhile, Y's purpose is revealed by X: the Hibatsu group offered him a place in their building if he kills enough of the mall dwellers. Lord Awesomo, tosses the apartment crew into the Pit, a jam-filled chamber riddled with sharp hazards, putting the group's trash bag shields at risk.
Our protagonists very carefully make their way out of the deathtrap, and witness the mall folk mustering for a war with the Hibatsu people. Their assault goes poorly, although Y dies in the struggle. The apartment crew, along with Princess Ravenhair and the survivors of the mall, are absorbed by Hibatsu, on the condition that they loot the shopping center for resources. However, the skyscraper proves an imperfect shelter, as the jam begins climbing the side of the building and smashing in through its windows. X offers to take the group to a US sea vessel, and they agree to go with.
On the USS Obi-Wan, X's name is revealed (Yolanda), as well as her mission. She is a part of a scientific group designed to analyze and prevent technological threats to the human race. The jam, which had been given to the group to study, got loose by accident (when Y leaves it on top of their car while they drive away) and destroyed the city. Thankfully, X's colleague Dr. Thorn has developed a chemical that turns the jam into harmless water. Shattered by these revelations, Angela finally gives up her dream of making a documentary exposing the truth about the jam. Tim, however, goes insane when he discovers that the jam outbreak was limited to Australia, and kills Dr. Thorn. Travis, Angela, and Don find Thorn's solution to the jam problem on a USB drive and transmit it to the world, but are menaced by a wave of the jam which threatens to overwhelm the ship.
The group scatters to the lifeboats. Tim and Travis end up on a boat together, and Tim tries to kill Travis. Instead, Travis throws his roommate into the jam. The lifeboat drifts for a time before Travis is picked up by another US vessel.
In a coda set a few weeks later, Brisbane has been recovered, thanks to Thorn's formula. Don offers Travis a job in the United States, but Travis decides to return to his home to find out what happened to Ravenhair and the others. He leaves Mary with Don.
Best part of story, including ending:
Overall, I like this book less than Croshaw's other work (the book Mogworld and his ongoing web series Zero Punctuation). The humor and situation are a bit too silly for his signature sarcastic humor to really land. The characters border on caricature, and the ending fizzles.
Best scene in story:
The scenes detailing the corporate-feudal culture that arises in the Hibatsu building are particularly funny - think The Office meets Mad Max.
Opinion about the main character:
Travis is an interesting lead. Diffident and unmotivated, he seems to drift through the story. Fans of slacker media (like the films of Kevin Smith) should find Travis' service-drone-turned-survivalist character arc interesting, but to others, Travis' aimlessness might be a detriment to their enjoyment.