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: 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: 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: 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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