Literature: Kill Time or Die Trying

Kill time or die trying is an acerbic comedy by Neil T Stacey, based on real events at a South African university. It is the chronicle of a society called WARP (War-games And Role-Play) which harbours the geeks and lunatics on campus. It is notable as the first book to use the literary device of beginning each chapter with a facebook status from a main character. Stacey uses this ostensibly to solidify chronology and conveniently establish characterisation, but mostly it's just a neat way of including jokes.

The book follows a naive and nerdy freshman at the University of Witwatersrand. He is initially lost amongst the bureaucratic indifference of a large university, and finds a second home in the club-room of WARP. On his arrival at WARP, Jodi is (permanently) renamed to Brad by an older club-member, and initially acts as a passive observer to the antics of WARP, which turns out to be anything but a stereotypical group of timid nerds.

The book is written with an obvious fondness for the subject matter and the characters, which is to be expected considering that Stacey is himself a geek and a longtime member of WARP.

A prequel titled ‘‘The How and Why of Hating Everyone’’is in development.


This book contains examples of:

  • A Simple Plan: Several over the course of the book. Elaborate schemes are WARP's mainstay, but straightforward plans are employed when things are really serious, and they very rarely go over as planned.
    Brad: When in doubt, escalate.
  • Apathetic Teacher: Professor Proust instructs his class to read one hundred pages of any textbook for homework, and then dismisses them.
  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Averted. The Student Council is mostly impotent and ineffectual.
  • The Ace: Douw is just generally cooler and more capable than the other main characters. He's also one of few central characters to make it through university without failing at least one year. Interestingly, he's the Tag Along Kid in the prequel.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: While there's an elected executive committee that should theoretically run WARP, there's also a self-proclaimed 'Shadow Council' of older members that makes the actual decisions, including who gets put on the executive. While this group call themselves this mostly as a joke, they actually do fit the trope surprisingly well, since many people spend their entire university careers as members of WARP without ever being aware of them.
  • Based on a True Story: The author estimates the book to be around 60% factual, with the remaining 40% being composite characters, condensed events, and things that should have happened. Notable also in that author is a character in the book. A fun game for your first read is to try spot them without cheating and looking at the back material.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Allan's go-to strategy for getting lunch. On a campus with 25 000 students, there's always a catered event somewhere.
  • Berserk Button Don't mention Dylan's bald spot.
  • Big Man on Campus:
    • By the end of the book, Brad is gradually turning into this. He's president of WARP, he's gotten into good shape, he got the girl and he's one of the few WARP members to be legitimately likable to outsiders. He even brings up his academic performance quite considerably.
    • Douw is this to some degree; not only is he the coolest guy in WARP, he has some degree of mainstream popularity
  • Birthday Hater: Nathan. Then again, he also hates Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick's day.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Dylan's data-capture job in Senate House
    • Nathan's pants
    • Ari often shows up to events that Nathan was invited to. This is because Nathan gave out Ari's number instead of his own, to avoid people hassling him.
  • Buffy Speak
    Douw: Hey Brad, come with me to the uh…outside. We need to uh…go there.
  • Butt Monkey:
    • Ari, whose phone number Nathan gives out instead of his own in order to avoid people hassling him (see Running Gag below), and whose real name was used without his permission.
    • Tarryn seems to take a genuine interest in Nathan's well-being; if anything, this seems to offend and in return he treats her terribly.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Gregg responds to anything strange by saying 'Normal', in deadpan.
    • In the prequel the group have one in their collective war-cry: 'Bad idea? How bad?'.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • Dylan.
      Nathan: Dylan's only interaction with reality is gravitational in nature.
    • Douw attempts to pick up women at a bar while wearing a replica Dragon Ball Z scouter. He succeeds.
    • Nathan has elements of this as well, when his Comedic Sociopath tendencies are dormant. He occasionally hides in the (tiny) club-room fridge waiting for an opportunity to burst out and say something dramatic.
    • Melvyn
  • Comedic Sociopath: Most of the main cast are somewhere between this and Vitriolic Best Buds.
    • Nathan stands out in particular
      Nathan: "Baby skin isn't as soft as people say. That, or this rug is a fake."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters, to some extent. Nathan stands out in particular.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Ari. Despite being a minor side character who is typically only present by accident, he is possibly the most popular character
  • Funny Background Event:
    • Steve spending a whole scene assembling a triple-beam balance to count signup sheets by weighing them. Kevin counted the sheets in a few seconds while Steve was still busy.
    • After a night's heavy drinking, Douw and Brad accidentally leave Ari locked inside Brad's house while they go to the university.
    • When asked to help run the recruitment stall at orientation week, Nathan makes the excuse that he can't because his pants are glued to his chair. When Melvin walks into the club-room the next day he asks "who glued a pair of pants to this chair?"
  • Hero of Another Story: Although normally only seen in the form of Funny Background Event, Matt seems to have experiences paralleling Brad's, with Nathan acting as the Cynical Mentor, much as James does for Brad. This is often used to show that James isn't so bad after all by offering the contrast of Nathan's far harsher treatment of Matt.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • Dylan has one when the university takes away WARP's club-room. To be fair, for Dylan this verges on losing his home.
    • James has one when someone points out that he hasn't really been noticeably more successful in life than Dylan.
  • Hot-Blooded: Douw. Overly competitive, hyperactive and the originator of the groups crazier schemes.
  • In-Series Nickname: The main character, Jodi, is called Brad by everyone at WARP. The name was chosen arbitrarily when he walked into the door. Kevin's real name is rarely mentioned in the book, it's implied that it's a typical Indian name. There are also instances of characters nicknamed for characteristics, such as Indy, which is short for indecisive.
  • Limited Social Circle: And how. Most WARP members have few, if any, friends outside the club.
  • Local Hangout: The WARP clubroom is pretty much a second home for most of the main characters, some of whom even sleep there occasionally.
  • MacGuffin: Steve's lost character sheet.
  • Noodle Incident: The time James called the cops on Nathan. And the time Steve called the cops on Nathan.
  • Once a Season: Each new academic year is heralded by someone asking 'Who failed what, and how bad?'
  • One of Us: One of the more extreme examples. Aside from the fact that the book is entirely about geeks, the author, Neil T Stacey, claimed in one interview that he learnt how to write by reading TV Tropes. He also has a Phd in Chemical Engineering and has played Magic the Gathering at World Cup level. This site is also mentioned by name in the book.
  • Only Sane Man: Brad initially, but it doesn't last.
  • Running Gag:
    • Nathan gives people Ari's number instead of his own to avoid getting hassled.
    • "Wait, who's Melvyn?"
  • The Plan: Elaborate schemes are a pastime of WARP. Perhaps the most insane is a scheme to steal a girl's urine for a pregnancy test. Word of God says that in real life, this plan didn't get off the ground.
    Ari: Try everything you can think of. Take credit for whatever works.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous. Being a book about geeks, there are a litany of references to movies, games, anime, tv-shows and even this very website.
    Douw: A man's stomach knows no limits!
    Dylan: A true Necron never dies, even when he is killed!
  • Soapbox Sadie: Tarryn. As a feminist she can come across as overbearing in the context of a club full of geeks.
    Tarryn Park: 'Slut' is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say yes. 'Friendzone' is how we vilify a woman for exercising her right to say no.
    Nathan Hillary: 'Fat' is how vilify a woman for not exercising at all.
  • Snowball Lie: When a cute girl confuses WARP with the totally separate War-Games club, Brad doesn't correct her since it didn't seem to matter at the time. When it turns out that she's in another club that's right next to the actual War-Games club, Brad is driven to greater and greater lengths to cover up the lie.
  • With Friends Like These...: One of the main activities of WARP members is sniping at one another constantly.
  • Zany Scheme: Examples include a scheme to steal urine for a pregnancy test and a campaign to swing a student council election in favour of the candidate willing to give WARP a club-room. The war-cry of WARP lampshades this trope: 'Bad idea?' *dramatic pose* 'How bad?'.