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: Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams

October 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

If I were to ask you what Catholicism, theoretical cosmology and licking asses have in common, there’s a possibility that the jokes would write themselves, and yet many would remain confused, wracking their brains and softly punching their genitals in consternation, trying to find the elusive connective material between the three. When a solution began to present itself, I would introduce mutant bees that sting with the power of a hundred aphrodisiacs, and then, just to put the cherry on top of the metaphorical anus of meaning, and to continue to defy the agile tongue of understanding, I would tell you that you can’t transubstantiate into a living pig without some complications. Then, I would tickle you until you peed your pants. The look on your face at that exact moment would be the same look you would have during your reading of Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams. Like me, you also wouldn’t be able to put the book down until you had completely devoured this smart, hilarious, and completely bizarre story.

Writing with a wit and wisdom that defies the seemingly crass subject matter, Adams brilliantly executes one of the best satirical novellas I’ve seen in a long time. The universe is filled with planets that cater to very specific sexual acts, all run by a bureaucratic Catholic Church from their headquarters on the sun. There are legends of an old era, an existence that wasn’t ruled by the church and not every waking moment was dedicated to sexual fetishism and debauchery (outside of Lent, of course). Nobody knows what happened to make things the way they are, and Adams deftly works this central idea into an epic mystery that underlies the entirety of the book. His prose sings with a combination of perfectly crafted comedy and dire science fiction, with a great witty edge that cuts to the heart of religion, sex, class and any number of other subjects central to the status quo. This is a manuscript that doesn’t mind wondering aloud “Does love exist? What is the nature of existence?” while throwing a poop joke and a load of raunchy sex acts at the reader without batting an eye.

The characters are fun, and easy to identify with, especially the titular hero, Jack. When Jack, the only person on the planet, left to clean up the mess during Lent, finds that he is not alone, things begin to go absolutely insane. Nimue, the unnaturally speedy and strange woman from the water, Jack’s boss Bishop Eichmann, who appears from the ground as a pile of holy debris and Virgil, a dangerous man working for a mysterious behind-the-scenes power structure add so much colorful character to the cast, it’s almost criminal. The shifting alliances and over-the-top comedy of these characters propel the action of this book, and somehow Adams is able to keep everything consistent and driven, despite the madness. There are some obvious parallels here as well between Janitor of Planet Anilingus and other works. Like Dante’s Virgil of the Inferno, Jack’s Virgil leads him through a sort of hell. Toward the end of the book, tropes from the Alien films and other sci-fi classics are turned inside out and exploded. There are plenty of the usual bizarro genre gross-out moments (such as the symptoms from what might or might not be an STD) but they’re written so hilariously that the reader can’t wait to see what’s next, scatologically speaking. I can not say enough about how much fun I had reading this book, and would suggest that anyone who wants to laugh until they poop themselves pick this up post-haste.

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Review: Her Fingers by Tamara Romero

October 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

According to ancient Yimlan tradition, you need to say your three names at the beginning of an encounter with someone who has saved, or is going to, save your life. With this simple piece of imagined folklore as its base, Tamara Romero weaves an intricate and fragile tale that mixes witches and technology, druidism and drug addiction, bionics and magic in Her Fingers. The book is peppered throughout with little aphorisms like this, bits and pieces of legend from the world of the story. Romero uses the three-names idea to brilliantly set up some wonderfully revealing twists and strangle beautiful storytelling.

Chapters alternate between two protagonists: Volatile, a mysterious man hiding in an isolated cabin in the woods with his robotic doll Shades, and Misadora, a young witch who finds herself drug-addled, persecuted by the government, and trying to understand the nature of her scared ring and the tree-bound women who call to her in her lucid moments. As the story progresses, identities are fleshed out and surprises abound, both for the individual characters and for their relationships to one another. This is something that Romero does magnificently, writing relationships that feel vibrant and ever-shifting, dreamlike and engaging.

The lovingly crafted relationships are the most engaging thing about Her Fingers. The plot is enjoyable, and follows a well-crafted arc with few diversions from the main storyline, however it is those moments where we see characters interact that truly shine. Without ruining anything, there is a moment toward the end of the book in which we get to see a flashback through the eyes of Misadora where we are witness to the moment she lost a very important ring. We are led along without knowing the origin of this loss for most of the book, and then suddenly everything is revealed. It’s not the reveal of the “how” though, so much as the “whom.” We are shown wanton cruelty, beautiful kindness and everything in between in these simple interactions, and what’s better, this all becomes yet another setup for more puzzled solved only a few pages later. Her Fingers is a very short book, but there is a ton of magic packed between the pages.

Her Fingers was written in Spanish, initially, and translated by the author for its publication in English. Some of the sentences seem to hold odd word choices or construction, possibly due to the translation process. That said, however, the poesy of the language and the specificity with which Romero chose each word rings with a melody that is unlike most other debut books. The concepts are spelled out with carefully chosen language that just sings. Consider the way the prostitution of witches is described, an ugly concept made beautiful by prose: “And many a man would pay extra to lay with a witch, watching her colored hair become wild, since at night a witch has not only a naked body, but a naked condition. In those chambers converged heaven and hell, ecstasy and darkness.” A magical, tragic and personal tale of the strange and wonderful worth picking up for anyone who likes their genre tropes mixed, blended, and served with a side of mist and fog.

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Review: House Hunter by S. T. Cartledge

September 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Imagine a world in which a shadowy agency funded by the government pulls strings behind the scenes to create a state of perpetual war and devastation in the name of progress. No no, wait, I don’t mean OUR world, I mean the fascinating and violent world of S. T. Cartledge’s House Hunter. Okay, well there might be some allegory at work here, it’s true, but at least we don’t have enormous buildings wandering around our skeletal cities pounding the hell out of each other with lightning cannons. We save lightning cannons for conflicts in the middle-east.

House Hunter is set in a society where buildings are semi-sentient and capable of much more than simply providing shelter and places for birds to crash into. Using a cerebrum, which is a sacred object imbued with special properties that allow a user to control the structure, houses can engage in combat, protect their users, and transform into a variety of animals, flying machines, weapons and creatures from our mythic lore. House hunters are those who wrangle the most ornery of houses and train them to be peaceful and helpful, something like wildlife conservationists with an added mixer of daring adventurer and the occasional splash of cock-fighting aficionado.

Cartledge introduces us to Imogen, a house hunter who quickly ends up going from a normal life (as normal as house hunting gets, anyway) to being on the run from a syndicate of influential people interested in consolidating their power using the might of the fabled Jabberhouse. Her only ally, a mysterious figure named Ellis who hides a past that leads to some great twists later in the book. From there, Cartledge spins a tale of adventure that takes the characters through ancient jungles, dark labyrinths and mysterious monasteries to try and stop the Association. This is a fun book, the story riddled with battles between bizarre monsters and exciting transfigurations. It’s obvious Cartledge is a fan of cartoon violence and giant monster flicks, as the series of battles in House Hunter hearkens back to battle scenes from the classic Godzilla films, with the addition of smaller figures (such as his human characters) swinging around and shooting lightning cannons, setting traps, and generally adding to the chaos.

The plot is lightning fast and lots of fun. Cartledge wisely sticks mostly to one through-line and though he occasionally riffs on things with slight detours, every chapter serves the central arc and drives toward the conclusion. It’s difficult to diverge from the main story in a book this short and keep things moving in the right direction, so we’re treated to a very tight and direct plot, which works well. The prose itself belies the author’s youth, and reads far better than a typical first novel. It’s obvious Cartledge has a love of language and storytelling, and that voice comes through in House Hunter. There is also a distinctive noir feel to the style of the book, with the gritty feel of urban environments utilized as characterization instead of setting, which is interesting.

I wish that there had been more room for House Hunter to really explore the world that we get glimpses of in the book. There are all sorts of amazing creatures and concepts on the periphery as we read through the book, everything from minotaurs and sprites to the weird insectile facial features and mutations of the citizenry. In that vein, House Hunter walks a line between the world of the familiar in a sort of magical-realism way and all out full-on bizarro. Because of the book being novella length, it always feels like there’s more just outside the reader’s line of sight. Perhaps we’ll see more of this world in future books, as there seems to be a great deal more to see. Intriguing, fascinating and strange, House Hunter is definitely worth picking up, especially for adventure fans and people who want the grime of noir jammed into their weird action stories. I’m also a huge fan of epilogues that cast the story they follow in a new light, or recontextualize pieces and parts of the narrative – something the author uses here to great effect. A great debut from Cartledge, who is sure to rise in the bizarro scene like a flaming house about to cold-cock a skyscraper. 

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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: Avoiding Mortimer by J. W. Wargo

June 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I finished J. W. Wargo’s delightful debut Avoiding Mortimer a few days ago, but I’ve been avoiding writing this review. I could have sat down immediately after finishing it, in one sitting, but I wasn’t sure I’d be impartial, having just traversed Wargo’s world, and maybe I’d be projecting. The next day, I almost wrote it, but then I worried that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find the words, and then I’d get mad at myself, and maybe even become suicidal or something, because I’d feel like a failure as a reviewer. So I decided to continue avoiding the task before me, and yet, Avoiding Mortimer stayed bouncing around in my brain. Relentlessly. I realized: I was doing the same thing Mortimer tried to do. I was avoiding life. So I sat down and let my experience pour out here on the page, and do I feel better? You bet. You will too when you crack the spine and dive into the pages of Avoiding Mortimer.

Poor Mortimer. Growing up in a household where his entire family was terrified of everything (until they decide to go undead to try to avoid death, at least) obviously had quite an impact on him. As an “adult,” he tries his best to avoid everything: doing things, feeling things, talking to people, being outside, living, dying. What’s that? You can’t avoid dying? Mortimer does. Sort of. And this kind of avoidance of everything not only provides wonderful comical and philosophical fodder for Wargo to explore, but also makes for a perfect bizarro premise due to its impossibility. How can one avoid everything when everything is something, even nothing?

I admit, I have a certain fondness for afterlife comedy, especially when its weird. Avoiding Mortimer joins such stories as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens and Gina Ranalli’s Suicide Girls in the Afterlife on the list of unique and fascinating treatments of what happens to us after we die. Being a bizarro book, of course there are strange flourishes here and there. Supporting characters such as a sentient wig made of dreadlocks and a soul-sucking blob of half-digested ants add to the chaos while giving Mortimer other beings to interact with – despite his avoidance issues. Even God makes an appearance, although he’s certainly not what you might expect. Or maybe he is, if like myself, you’re a fan of existentialist and absurdist lit. The combination of these elements is where Avoiding Mortimer truly thrives. Wargo has a talent for layering strange, wild and funny storytelling over top of a psychologically exploratory and philosophically deep treatise on how he sees the universe. Those readers who follow his blogs and online writing will be familiar with Wargo’s fascination with the id, the ego and the super-ego, all of which are utilized to their utmost both as concepts and as quasi-characters. All of these elements together are entertaining and incredibly explosive. Don’t avoid picking this one up, as its a rare combination of thoughtful and silly that will appeal to any and all fans of weird fiction.

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Cultural Engagement and the Bizarro Movement

June 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm (Uncategorized)

I’d forgotten about this! Something I wrote for Bizarro Central a couple years back, now shared here on the home blog.

Bizarro Central

by Michael A Rose

I remember the first time I held a person in contempt.

It was a friend of mine, actually. We’d grown up together as neighbors, played in the dirt, graduated to video games and bike rides, and had remained friends until our adolescence began to reveal our differences. I was turning into someone who listened to music, read books, found weird events enticing and was constantly craving new things. He was turning into someone who would grow up to come home, turn on the TV, and not really care what channel it landed on. More importantly, he would think whatever was on was original and fresh enough, even though he would never use that word to describe it.

This upset me. I wasn’t trying to be pretentious, or dictate that he be interested in my music, my authors, my art; it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in…

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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.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Kitten-G-Arthur-Brown/dp/1621050653/ref=la_B00ADV5PV0_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370141612&sr=1-1

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February 27, 2012 at 8:59 am (Uncategorized)

bizarrojones

Some folks dabble in multiple areas of interest. The risk, of course, is spreading oneself too thin. But that’s not a problem for Michael Allen Rose, author, actor, and musician. I had a chance to converse with him recently about his many artistic endeavors and past successes, including the recent publication of his first book, Party Wolves in my Skull.

1. First and foremost, can you tell us a little about your book?

Of course! Party Wolves in My Skull is about Norman Spooter, who awakens one morning to find that his eyeballs have fallen in love and are leaving him. They tear themselves out of his skull, steal his car, and take off for parts unknown. He doesn’t know what to do, so he does what most of us would – he goes back to bed, hoping it’ll all resolve itself. Unfortunately, a pack of wolves moves in overnight…

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