is live!

February 16, 2017 at 8:04 am (Art, Bizarro, Death, Music, News, Parody, Personal, Politics, Review, Theatre, Work)

Yes friends and fans, after years of neglect by yours truly, has been completely re-designed from the ground up and is live! The lovely Sauda Namir helped bring it to the modern internet age with a slick new design that is responsive, cool and easy to update. Check out my music, writing, performance and everything in between all in one place. Let us know what you think after you click around a little while!

(The media empire of Michael Allen Rose!)

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Review: Scary People by Kyle Muntz

February 23, 2016 at 6:33 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , )

Everyone is turning into scary people. That’s the first thing you need to know. It’s hard to say exactly what else you need to know about Scary People, at least as far as the plot goes. If you ask me what it’s about, I’ll tell you that it’s about a guy hanging out with his friends, and the changes they go through over the short time we get to witness. So sure, let’s call it a bizarro coming-of-age novel, only the protagonist’s best friend Mathew keeps dying. But that’s normal, right? Sometimes your best friend chokes to death on his own vomit, or is hit by a falling anvil. He’ll be fine. Before you know it, he’s up and about, ready to fight the Lord of Darkness. And sometimes your on-again off-again crush is a fiftieth level barbarian with a violent streak for raping pirates and befriending ancient samurai. And sometimes aliens give presents to children to prepare for the day they invade to steal them all, because they’re probably pedophiles. And sometimes mobs mistake you for evil people and chase you down. But then sometimes, you just kind of hang out and drink eggnog in your friend’s basement. That’s how it goes.

Scary People is an absolute blast to read through, in case you can’t already tell from the above. There’s cartoon-like comedy and harrowing tragedy sprinkled in equal measure throughout. What separates it out from both “typical college kids hanging out” alt lit and alternately from weird and crazy “shock and awe” style bizarro is the clarity and precision with which Muntz crafts his language in this delight of a novel. Separated into short, almost poetic paragraphs and thematically relevant sections through smart use of white space, Scary People reads fast and propulsively, the prose simple but beautifully intricate in its structure. There’s a heady dose of experimentation when it comes to the style as well as form, with classic tropes twisted into shards of weirdness and fun surprises.

Muntz also shows he’s not afraid to get meta-fictional. An example: One prominent character is actually referred as the deus ex machina, however when the hand of God is needed to make things right, the classic trope of a character asking for a miracle is cleverly subverted when the quick fix is no longer available. There’s also a beautiful moment where the characters wonder if perhaps all their misfortune is because they are fictional characters in a book, but come to no conclusions. Ultimately, this is the magic of Scary People: the readers and the characters may know they are fictional, but that doesn’t make their problems any less real, or them less empathetic. When faced with a series of existential nightmares and bizarre happenings, all you can do is wish for better things and keep moving forward. Especially when the world around you is increasingly filled with scary people.

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Review – Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas

August 11, 2015 at 5:26 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , , , )

The first thing you need to know about Pax Titanus is that Veritassian shlongs are huge. Veritassians also have four arms, can only speak the truth, and tend to be pretty tough. The second thing you need to know is that the universe is vast and uncaring, and kind of filled with jerks, like intergalactic kidnappers, slutty swords, betrayers and of course the biggest jerk of all, the emperor of space. When you read Pax Titanus, you’ll see these forces come head to head, following lovable protagonist Titanus (a Veritassian) as he battles through an alien gladiatorial gauntlet to save his son from dream the machinations of the aforementioned jerks and some dream leeches. That’s that first thing indicating author Tom Lucas knows his way around storytelling. Lucas tells a warm, grounded and hilarious story of love and revenge. Even with all the insanity described above firmly in place, he somehow manages to cling to a fastidious sense of internal logic that makes reading Pax Titanus an absolute joy.

Often times in a novella, the story feels squeezed into a smaller package than it deserves due to length restrictions. This is not the case with Pax Titanus. Lucas has wisely steered clear of a lot of extraneous complexities of plot and stuck with a clear and concise story arc. We see Titanus with his family, get forced into the tournament, grow as a fighter, get a coach, accolades from the crowd, and training, all of which leads from battle to battle until the climactic fight to win it all. The simplicity of story serves the book well, and allows moments of humor and character to gleam. One moment I particularly loved was when our hero is in trouble in one of the final matches and a message comes from his wife that gives him hope. The twist? His wife is a squid, who oozes various emotional secretions. I won’t spoil the moment here, but it’s bits like these that show the range of Lucas’s sense of humor and allow the style to come through the simple story, simply told.

This book comes recommended for any sci-fi fan, video game junkie or bizarro book lover. The sheer variety of the alien races, the bizarre and captivating descriptions of their quirks, and the imaginative fights are well worth the price of admission. Are you ready to crush some skulls? Tom Lucas is, and he’s been kind enough to share a knockout sledgehammer blow with his readers.

It's time to GET BIG!

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Review: The Church of TV as God by Daniel Vlasaty

August 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm (Bizarro, Review, Uncategorized, Writing) (, , , , , )

Jeremy is turning into a TV. This isn’t a metaphor, much to his chagrin. It’s something that runs in the family. Unfortunately, his father turned into a TV and walked out of Jeremy’s life before the guy could really give his son much advice about his own impending transformation, so he spends most of his days working at the appliance graveyard and wondering about his future. Turns out, his future has been well planned out already, at least in the eyes of the cult that believes he’s their savior. And so, it is into this world that author Daniel Vlasaty takes us for a slice of poor Jeremy’s life.

Vlasaty wisely introduces his weirdness up front and then keeps the story tight and focused. It may be a strange world, but this novella rarely strays down tangential paths. The core story arc is solid. We follow Jeremy from his mundane day-to-day life to an inciting incident where the cult learns of his existence. From there we’re already most of the way to his forced coupling with the artificial TV woman, Eve, and his final, inevitable showdown with the cultists and their mysterious leader. There’s violence, humor and a few sprinklings of sex (up to and including a creepy cult leader lasciviously licking a screen over and over again). These themes are sort of the bizarro fiction triumvirate, but everything utilized here feels natural to the story without veering all over the place just for the sake of strangeness. It moves fast and smooth, and it’s a pleasure to read.

Some of the book feels rushed, which is often the case with the new bizarro author series, as the writers are subject to a strict word limit. Because of that, some of the character relationships are forced to develop really quickly. The romance between Jeremy and Eve, and his deep friendship with Benjamin the grumpy talking dog are examples of this, where our hero has very strong feelings about these characters he barely knows for the sake of the story. However, Vlasaty tells a good yarn, and he handles this problem by actually playing with the passage of time and speeding everything up within the narrative itself – a clever fix. This also leads to some explosive but efficient action writing in the places its needed, including a massive orgy of violence triggered by the birth of the “savior.” Of course, you’re going to have to read it to find out what I mean by that, which you should. Daniel Vlasaty’s The Church of TV As God is a fun and crazy debut novella, and fans of bizarro fiction would do well to tune in.

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Review: The Cheat Code For God Mode by Andy de Fonseca

April 30, 2014 at 10:11 am (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Cheat Code For God Mode is what Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One SHOULD have been, but wasn’t. Whereas Cline’s book was content to play on our sense of nostalgia and use fond memories to cover up lazy writing, de Fonseca invokes the same rich tapestry of pop cultural memories by creating its own unique mythology. The tropes and references in Cheat Code are just far enough removed from our reality to be sharply satirical. Andy could have gone the lazy route and dropped in the ostriches from Joust but instead we get a delightful 8-bit chicken named Mort. It’s touches like this that make the book sing.

At the same time, The Cheat Code For God Mode is also what The Matrix COULD have been, if that trilogy had a sense of humor about itself and didn’t end up disappearing up its own butt as it hobbled along. Instead of Keanu spouting neologisms about the internet, we get an interesting science-minded protagonist, her hilarious best friend, and an amazing barking chicken. We get roaming herds of LOLcats. We get All Your Base memes and turtle bacon. We get originality and a razor sharp ear for witty dialogue.

The story goes like this: Victor and Margy find an old video game system with a scribbled on disc that controls their universe. Needless to say, figuring this out is half the problem, as they cut a Grand Theft Auto style swath of destruction through their town. They need to travel to the old internet to find answers, and there they meet Tyson, a gunslinger type who has his own mysterious connections to the game. Of course there are also shadowy, dangerous people looking for the game and the people who are wielding it. From there on out, the story is anything but typical, however. Through clever use of this basic premise, de Fonseca ends up exploring the idea of who and what her protagonists are in the world and the very nature of reality.

There is one section of the book that gets a bit heady, when de Fonseca turns to some real talk about the singularity, quantum mechanics and many worlds theory. She keeps the densest parts of the topic brief, however, and is in and out leaving behind just enough information to set up further action in the narrative. It could have been difficult or off-putting, but thanks to some skillful and well-paced storytelling, it’s a lot like Neil deGrasse Tyson is sitting on the couch playing video games with you while you’re both stoned. It’s through this clever writing that the story really comes to life.

This book is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, and as such is subject to a word limit, but the pacing is perfect and the story never feels rushed or like it’s out of the author’s control. There are moments of hilarity, laughing out loud on the bus stuff, especially when Victor and Margy get into their fugues of scrappy wordplay. There are also moments of genuine emotion. I have never felt so strongly the fate of an 8-bit chicken. Trust me when I say you don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming culture, the internet, or quantum physics to enjoy this. It’s a delightful tale well told, which makes it perfect for any reader who wants to think, laugh and maybe even learn something about invincibility.

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Review: Gutmouth by Gabino Iglesias

July 26, 2013 at 6:14 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

I’m a sucker for dystopian stories, tales of a future where science, love, and humanity have failed us and we have created a horrible, twisted world. In books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, civilization has lost its empathy in addition to its capacity for pleasure, outside of government mandated diversions. In the cyberpunk worlds of Dick, advances in technology have turned our cities into crime-ridden, soulless nightmares of hedonistic anarchy. These stories have a common thread in that the societal circumstances are so well drawn and detailed in their implications that they practically become a character in themselves. Gutmouth, the first novel by Gabino Iglesias, sees the author taking the idea of futurism and dystopia to a noir-soaked and terrifying conclusion. In doing so, the book becomes a disturbing window into a sexually twisted, morally corrupt universe with many dark stories to tell.

Iglesias chooses to focus on the story of the titular Gutmouth, a hard-living hunter, tasked with tracking down criminals for MegaCorp, the corporation that rules society from the top down. These mostly aren’t your typical crimes like rape and murder, but instead such infractions as “growing your own food” and “not paying enough tribute to the corporation.” Like the dystopian stories mentioned previously, the world itself becomes a character here, expertly detailed and fully fleshed out and dripping with fluids. The punishments for crimes in Gutmouth go far beyond anything rational. We see men and women stripped of their skin, whipped and beaten, mutilated and sexually destroyed. The twist is, not all of this is punishment. Some people undergo horrific procedures almost exactly like the penal system dishes and actually pay for it at a “Genital Mutilation and Erotic Maiming Center.” See, there’s this drug called Algolagnix, which turns pain into pleasure at the level of the nerves themselves. Add to that the salamander DNA treatment that allows people to grow back limbs, and it’s perfectly normal to have a fetish that involves your genitalia being sawed in half. Remember kids, always go to a professional.

Gutmouth has enough to deal with between his job and trying to avoid getting on the wrong side of the law. He has a toothy, disgusting, British-inflected mouth living in his gut. Things really go off the rails for him when the mouth in his stomach ends up having sex with his girlfriend, a three-breasted hooker with a heart of gold. The classic trope of the girlfriend cheating with the best friends takes a twisted turn when the “friend” is living inside the protagonist’s torso. Can he bring himself happy revenge through murder? And will that help him with his mouth problem? Iglesias deftly weaves these plot points and characters into a sick and funny noir for his readers. It’s evident that Iglesias is a horror aficionado in addition to a new bizarro author, as the language and concepts he utilizes to describe this crazy world of sex and gore is truly stomach churning. I mean that in the best possible way, this one is a must for fans of off-kilter horror, especially if they enjoy sci-fi twists and fetishistic sex craziness.

The book itself, like all new bizarro author series books, is fairly short, but Iglesias uses his space with the efficiency and deft handling of a veteran. The book is a completely mad ride, tells a simple story with great descriptive effects, and overall is the perfect way to spend an evening in the company of some truly disgusting and awesome characters.

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Review: The Kyoto Man by D. Harlan Wilson

July 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

A man transforms into a city, decimating the landscape and endless miles of life around him. It is a chronic condition, one he cannot control. Is it a metaphor for a super virus, ceaselessly spreading across an area and wiping it clean of higher life forms? Should we instead turn toward personal narrative? Perhaps the transformations stand in for some crutch like alcoholism or drug addiction turning a man into a monster bent on the destruction of his loved ones? Or is it just some guy helplessly metamorphosing into an ancient Japanese city to which he has never been, never seen, never studied? A mystery of apocalyptic proportions that even he cannot solve for himself? Such interpretations do not come easily or clearly with D. Harlan Wilson’s The Kyoto Man, a fun-house mirror shattering novel that switches form and function as fast and often as its protagonist. Understanding is slippery, and Wilson, who once declared  that plot was his mortal enemy, doesn’t make it simple for his readers, but half the fun is the ride, and the author’s absolute mastery of form and experimentation with the schizophrenic way in which the story is told make this book well worth the price of admission.

The novel opens after “The Stick Figure War,” a conflict which has left, in its wake, a series of timecrashes and zoneshifts. Our protagonist trips about through time and space without rhyme or reason, and in doing so loses whatever tenuous grasp on identity he once might have had along with the comforting solidity of reality. He encounters (and occasionally murders) various versions of the terrifying Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, a martial arts obsessed psychotherapist and various lovers, all of whom become victims of his metropolitan transformations. With each change, reality seems to slip a bit further down the hole, darkness growing omnipresent and meaning ruthlessly carved away. In one sense, it’s hard to say what The Kyoto Man is about, but in another, what isn’t it about? Pop culture, science fiction, kung-fu, personal responsibility, entropy, autobiography and more all woven together into a pastiche that bores its way into the reader’s brain like a power drill.

With each transformation, the nameless (or multiply named, depending on your point of view) protagonist careens back and forth between storytelling styles. Jumping from the relatively expected “criterion prose” to other voices within prosaic storytelling is a given, but then, the The Kyoto Man goes off the rails. The thousands of transformation tales take the shapes of everything from stage play scripts to sitcom episodes, prose explosions intentionally aping Cormac McCarthy to old world broadsheets. Even a wanted poster makes its way through the telling, not to mention various others that would best be left for the reader to discover. Perhaps Wilson is sitting behind his desk, reading reviews like this one, smashing his words onto the page and chuckling with secret knowledge that he’s setting traps for reviewers, playing with readers’ minds and creating chaos for no reason other than its being fun… well, the fun of reading The Kyoto Man often lies in the surprising and anarchic turns that his words take, so whether dripping with meaning or devoid of reason, The Kyoto Man is a must read for any reader who appreciates a heady trip through the surreal. The aftermath is simply picking your brain up off the floor.

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Review: Kitten by Gary Arthur Brown

June 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

Kitten is a book about a kitten who is not a kitten. It’s also a book about a kitten who is a kitten. Both of those are Willoughby. Well, sort of. There’s also a woman dressed as a kitten, but she’s a whore, so let’s not worry about her right now. The point is, in this story that is not just one story, but a bunch of stories wrapped up in something that looks like one story, Gary Arthur Brown will play with your mind and sensibilities until you lose track of what reality dictates and throw yourself head first into his surreal meta-narrative. Trust me, you will enjoy the ride.

Brown deftly avoids the danger so common in this kind of book: confusion, by allowing the branching story to separate and naturally come back together. The two overarching main components of the story seem far removed, but slowly, inevitably, Brown brings the twisting, turning branches together and wraps everything up nicely in the end, revealing in a sparse few paragraphs how everything unites. Sure, you’ll still be asked to bring your own logic (or refuse it at the door) but the structure is there, and Brown invites readers of the weird to follow the map he’s provided to find it. Readers interested in alternate realities and pan-dimensional weirdness will definitely love it, but even those who aren’t will find the metaphysics understated enough to never bog down the story.

The characters are fun and well rounded, especially considering the short length of the book (as it’s part of the New Bizarro Author Series, there is a general limit on the length of the story). Brown is able to provide quite a variety, from Tamanney the fish-handed quasi-Scottish pirate fellow to the motherly Amaand. Amaand is particularly interesting, for even though we follow the “kitten” and the boy who owns him (Trevor) throughout the book, Amaand is arguably the protagonist. She certainly undergoes changes in her arc, and the action definitely revolves around her decisions. So is she the main character? Or just another mirror in the hall that Brown has created for his readers?

As strange as the book is (a hallmark of Bizarro – readers would expect no less) it follows an internal logic. Things happen for reasons, cause and effect exists, and things never become so off-the-rails that it feels like Brown has lost track of his narrative. This is a solid, fun and strange debut from an exciting young writer that should not be missed, especially by fans of the absurd and surreal.

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Review: The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians

December 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , )

I first discovered Andersen Prunty a few years ago at a convention where I picked up a copy of his novel Zerostrata. I was blown away by his prose style, his handling of the material, but most of all by his sublime understanding of dream logic. I became an immediate fan.

In this wonderful collection, The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians, Prunty’s surreal narratives weave in and out of logic without ever feeling forced. That’s the gift Prunty provides us: His dream logic doesn’t ever feel random or weird just for the sake of spontaneity. No matter what happens, it feels deliberate, carefully constructed, and beautifully expressed.

The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians features Prunty’s musings on “the twenty-three most painful things in life” including such diverse topics as “relationships,” “fate” and “pants.” Once I started reading, I devoured these stories. There wasn’t a single story among the bunch that I felt didn’t belong here, though I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites without spoiling any of the surprises:

The titular story leads the charge, and is a wonderful exercise in world building. It takes the author mere sentences to lay out a whole sociopathic society for us, the detail dripping from the wheel wells of the drivers who run down pedestrians. Great characters, a fun story and a wondrous dystopian vision.

The Balloon Man’s Secret is easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in the past year. Poignant, amusing and written in a stylized way that establishes a time and place that seem familiar yet uniquely distinct. The character of the balloon man, and the people he meets, are absolutely wonderful, and the story wraps up so perfectly.

Prunty hands out an excellent dose of body horror in Teething, as short and pointed as it is unsettling. The ending, once again, was piercing and perfect.

But these are only the smallest handful of the goodies that await in this collection. Andersen Prunty’s shortest stories have a fascinating way of showing us the finer points of a character with great brevity. The Ohio Grass Monster,  for example, reveals the inner workings of a troubled boy by simply showing us how he relates to his hobbies and his friends. What bubbles under the surface, Prunty leaves us to decide. Similarly, in stories like The Champion of Needham Avenue and Where I Go To Die, the prose is simple and alluring, even though the situations themselves are dreamlike and bizarre. The stories leave the reader with a sense of understanding and familiarity even though the place and people are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This is how Prunty’s dream logic operates, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. (I should also mention that The Champion of Needham Avenue might have the best opening line of any story, ever).

I highly recommend this stunning collection to anyone interested in short stories, especially those who enjoy lucid dreaming. The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians is like a lucid dream in which just after you’ve gotten control, everything changes and shifts, and you don’t trust the characters standing next to you even if they look like someone you know. They might just be something painful in disguise.

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Review: Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

December 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm (Bizarro, Review, Uncategorized, Writing)

I have a thing for experimental forms. From Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, nothing gets me more excited about a book than when I see strangely placed columns, random font changes and blacked out sections that contribute to the overall thematic power and weirdness of a literary work. I like to think my love of meta-fiction and the trappings thereof were fostered in my youth with the Choose Your Own Adventure Series. Those books allowed the reader to choose directions and actions at certain points of action within the narrative, which led the protagonist (ostensibly, the reader) toward either victory, or (much more frequently) their untimely demise.

In her debut novel Haunt, author Laura Lee Bahr explores the form of Choose Your Own Adventures but like Samuel Beckett cutting sound or lighting or actors from his plays, Bahr subverts the form by removing the element of choice. What do you do, as the hero of the story, when those vital choices are wrenched away from you and you’re forced to live each of the possibilities in a schizophrenic pastiche of probability?

There are three characters of note in Haunt, all of whom are given plenty of time to shine. Simon is the dashing (sometimes) insane (sometimes) journalist who may or may not be involved in the mysterious death of me (Sarah) the ghost haunting your (Richard’s) apartment. There’s also a couch (which is yours, but did you bring it inside? Or did you leave out in the cold? Or did you do both? Or neither?) What’s under the cushions? Who is that singing? And what happened to Sarah to make her dead? This is a rare novel that brings up far more questions than it answers, but Bahr uses tricky plotting and exciting prose style to pull you along through the mystery without question. Haunt is not a book you’re allowed to read at your own speed. It controls the action, it controls the urgency, and it controls your mind. I loved the experience of paranoia creeping in as I read this late at night (culminating in a chapter that consists of only one single line, which I will not do you the disservice of ruining here. Suffice it to say, you’ll know it when you come to it).

Haunt is sexy and playful while still fitting nicely into the land of the supernatural campfire tale. It’s evident that Bahr has a strong background in film and theatre from reading her prose, as the dialogue is tight and the character studies are extremely well drawn. The best part about that is that once these characters have been established, Bahr pulls the rug out from under the reader and traps us inside a puzzle without a solution. I believe that everyone who reads this will come away with slightly different ideas about what really happened in that apartment, and whether they did the right thing (even though they may or may not have been able to change anything at all). A strong debut and a great, fun, eerie read by a fantastic young author. Highly recommended!

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