Sunday, May 15, 2011

All good things must come to an end

I have come back here after quite a while of inactivity to discuss a couple of things. First and foremost is that I think I'm going to stop posting to my blogger pages. Primarily, I've just been keeping up with STC Literature, while, and letting my music blog, notes on a sidechain, and my flash fiction blog, splinters, fall by the wayside. And now, just shy of 100 blog posts on my writing blog, I'm getting things ready to swap over to a bright, new, better maintained, more appealing, more professional-esque blog. If you're wondering why I'm letting go of this blog, when it still functions perfectly fine, those are my reasons. Nothing else.

Part of this reasoning was that I had to create an entirely new web presence for my writing and new technologies class at uni, but part of it was that I felt like this blog wasn't reaching its desired audience. That's not to say there's anything wrong with the people that have been reading this blog. On the contrary, they are great people with lots of talent.

I started my new blog/s quite a while ago, and the reason why I haven't made this post earlier was partly due to my working on that/uni work and such, and partly due to the fact that it's currently being assessed, which means I can't change anything to it until I get my marks back. Which should be some time over the next week or so.

So, here's the blog that's replacing this one:
Its main purpose will be to talk about writing, and reviews and occasionally about what's going on with my writing. I'll probably copy across some reviews and things from here at some point. Basically, that blog will be a lot more open to discussion, as opposed to this one, which was only really a combination of writing, talking about my own writing, and talking about books. I'm still talking about books, and talking about my own writing occasionally, but also talking about writing in general, things that are going on, writing techniques and such, stuff that expands on to other ideas and such. And I'm keeping the creative writing in self-contained blogs linked from there, and what's not self contained I'll be pushing for publication. So there's still a section set aside where people can see my writing on display.
And these places are:
And on top of that, I will be contributing to the new bizarro central site:
And still on top of that, I am currently working on a choose-your-own-adventure blog for my writing and new technologies unit, which, if all goes to plan, will be up in a few week's time.

Yes, I've been doing a lot since I haven't been blogging on here so much. And while I haven't been able to use my new writing blog over the past couple of weeks, I'm pretty deadset on taking that one on as my main writing blog once I get my grades back and I can use it again.

Now, the other thing I wanted to talk about here today. What is likely to be the last topic of interest on this blog before I stop. Things that just don't end. You know that feeling when something is just so brilliant you wish it would never end? That won't last. I think the phrase is "flogging a dead horse". I gather that refers to a racehorse that's had a wonderful track record and instead of letting it retire as a beloved national treasure, they keep racing it past its prime and its standard slips and they keep racing it and it just keeps getting worse and worse and the jockey "flogs" it to get everything out of it and keeps trying, long after the horse can race no more, and thus, "flogging the dead horse". It happens all the time with tv shows. A show is popular, it keeps getting renewed for another season and another season, and the ratings start to drop and they try to pick them back up and they're left with the decision to keep trying or give it the axe. It's a lot better to quit on your own terms, rather than rush an ending that was never intended to be.

At least it's not so bad with sitcoms, which are cyclical in nature. Not too much changes from season to season, so it doesn't really matter which order you watch the episodes in, you still find it entertaining and you still find it making sense. But the thing is, then you end up with oh so much of the beloved sitcom on your hands, so much of what captured you into the show in the first place, and then you can't tell what's what and you feel like it's all overdone, the dead horse is well and truly flogged.

A tv series, or even a book series, since I like to talk about literature (I'm getting to that part!) has a much different narrative arc to a film or a novel, as films and novels have much different narrative arcs to short films and short stories. A series has a lot longer to set things up than a single text. At the end of the film or novel, everything has to be wrapped up and satisfying. The series can pull as many twists and turns as it likes, because it has until the end of the season to wrap them up. It's not uncommon for some series to leave loose ends, even major plot points wide open at the end of a season, to keep interest for the next season. Each episode has its own narrative arc, which is part of a larger season's narrative arc, which is part of the show's narrative arc. Which is sort of closer to the real world than movies or books that have a difinitive ending. So I guess that's why people like stuff that shows no sign of finishing.

But I've grown comfortable to the fact that when I read a book or watch a movie, I know that it will end. I know it won't play around with my emotions, teasing me, kicking me from plot twist to plot twist, which I start off enjoying, until I get to a point where I'm all like "fuck you guys, I'm sick of this teasing, I'm leaving!"

I got bored of the Simpsons, as I'm sure a lot of people did, when, after 22 years of the show (I have not been around/watching the show for nearly that long) I get bored of watching the same family living in the same house, interacting with the same people and behaving in the same ways more or less for such a long period of time. Sure, I can still watch it and laugh, but I think there's one thing sitcoms don't do as well as other series with larger plot-arcs, or novels and films with definite endings. It's that I can't watch whole seasons of the Simpsons like I can other shows. It's the sort of show I'll watch an occasional episode of and enjoy the fact that year after year, it's still in the same place. And I can say the same for Family Guy or American Dad, which I watch on a much more regular basis. But I think what we really crave for in a story is change. We want character development. Something to really latch onto and find ourselves caring about. Bart is still a little rebel, Lisa is still a little nerd, Homer is still a big fat dumbass and Marge is still a pestering housewife. Now, I haven't watched the show in a long time, but I'd be surprised if, on the larger scale (not on an episode by episode basis) these characters were anything different.

We are raised to believe that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. And while I like to play around with those preconceptions myself, I can't escape that. I like stories with change and development. I like stories that are going somewhere. A little while ago, I read the first eight volumes of the graphic novel series, The Walking Dead. It's great, brilliant. Lots of character development, lots of great plot twists, and at the end of each episode, there's a gut-wrenching twist that keeps the tragedy of the zombie apocalypse going. Now, I'm faced with two options. I can continue reading volumeby volume to keep up with this story which has captured my interests, or I can wait until the next eight volume compendium comes out and read another bulk portion of the story as one. Or I suppose I can wait until it ends, although I have heard that the writer has no plans on finishing any time soon. This bugs me. Even in the eight volume compendium, there was no greater narrative resolution at the end. There was just more conflict, build up, climax, resolution, plot twist, conflict, build up, climax, resolution, plot twist. It feels quite formulaic for something that is so captivating. Especially since each episode is more or less the exact same length. From episode to episode, there's just no knowing when it will end. My best guess is when all the main characters die. But then throughout the series, more main characters are introduced, so probably a better estimation is when everyone in the zombie apocalypse is dead. And I have no idea when this will be, and as I have to wait for the writer/artists to figure that out for themselves, let alone write the ending, this upsets me greatly.

And with that, I shall let this chapter of my blogging saga come to a close. I will still check up on comments and such, should people still visit here and want to talk about stuff after I've moved over to the manifold for real. I'll probably eventually make a similar post about neverending stories on the manifold as a point of discussion. So, yeah, thanks for reading this blog for the past year and a half. I hope if you're reading this that means you're interested in what I have to say, and will follow me across to my new blogging home.

P.S. I apologise for the amount of unbroken text here. I promise, the manifold will not nearly be this long-winded and tedious. The times that I do write this much, the text will be broken up with pretty pictures.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Egg Said Nothing, V for Vendetta, 10 A Boot Stomping 20 A Human Face 30 Goto 10

Every time I post something here, I feel like I haven't done much on here for a while. I only made one new post for March, despite reading 2 novels, 4 novellas, a poetry collection, a graphic novel and 1000 pages of ongoing serial comic. I've also been writing essays and stories and poems and such.

At uni, I'm doing a unit this semester that's done entirely online. The idea is that we're making use of the internet as a space for writers. And for this unit I have to create a number of new "nodes", such as a twitter account, blog, youtube account, blog, podcast or blog. As a warm up for the creative assignments for the unit, I whipped up this fictional blog: and my assignment blog, which I'm starting to pull together now, is a poetic/minimal webcomic. I don't draw/paint much, so it's really sketchy as shit, but it's fun. The thing is, now I've got two blogs I'm going to dump my creative works onto then leave once they're done. I may or may not continue Billy Demonseed, however, I have turned it into a print zine. The thing is, I've got to have at least one other "node" and I'm definitely not recording any creative content to put onto youtube (I don't have the resources) and I'm definitely not doing twitter.

Probably the easiest thing to do would be to make a profile blog and link it back to my pure fiction blogs. I've been playing around with the tools over at wordpress and while I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, it would make sense to make the blog there. I only really need to maintain it for the next three weeks, but I'm wondering whether I should consider it a trial of sorts, to perhaps start my personal blog afresh now that I've got a clearer sense of direction with where I want my writing to go and how I want to go about it. Then there's the question if I want to hang onto that one after the three weeks, do I keep this one for book reviews or take them over there too and spread them out amongst posts about other things? I think it would make more sense to do the latter, to keep it all tied in. I mean, my music blog and flash fiction blog on my blogger account are just sitting there collecting dust, and this blog hasn't really been about my own writing for quite a while now.

But anyway, I came here this morning to write THREE book reviews because I am fantastically behind the times now.


The Egg Said Nothing - Caris O'Malley

This is the third book I've read from the New Bizarro Author Series, as recommended to me by Steve Lowe (author of Muscle Memory). I read this back towards the end of January, but one thing I remember about it was that it was really good.

Muscle Memory and Bucket of Face were really good, but this was my favourite out of the three. Why? It's a lot darker and complex. They're all really comical, but this one is comical in that violent Kill Bill sort of way. Blood spatter comical.

The Egg Said Nothing is about a guy who wakes up to find that he's laid an egg. There's no logic to it, and it's something he has a lot of trouble getting used to. Then the time paradoxes and murdering begins and I won't hurt your head (or mine) trying to explain how everything works because it's just tragically suicidal.

The writing is great, clever, logical, yet desparate and sprawling. My impression is if Chuck Palahniuk started out writing Bizarro, it'd look something like this. Honestly, I can't wait to see what Caris O'Malley puts out in the future.


V for Vendetta - Alan Moore & David Lloyd

This is the first graphic novel that I read. I love it. I saw the movie first, and I really enjoyed the movie, but the graphic novel is just something else. I guess the reason why I chose this over other graphic novels/comics was because I'm not a fan of superheroes. I never really got into batman or spiderman or superman. Sure, I watched the X-Men movies and the Batman movies and enjoyed them for what they are, but V for Vendetta, it utilises the comic book space to put its best foot forward.

Since reading this I've read a good chunk of the Walking Dead zombie apocalypse series and the Watchmen graphic novel (the latter story also written by Alan Moore in the '80s). Now, I don't want to write off all superhero comics as comic book geek trash, and while I'll get around to writing about Watchmen later, the reason that drew me to these graphic novels was the story. The writing. Moore is a genius. V for Vendetta is a fully rounded story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. There's a lot of plot and character development, and it's all ridiculously well thought out, considering it was originally released as a serial comic. It's not like the comic or the sitcom that brings everything right back to the start at the end of the issue, or that has a cliffhanger ending, where the only purpose is to keep the series going.

It's a benchmark for dystopian literature. It's dark, it's gritty, and while it's got the good vs bad hero factor that superhero comics do, the enemies are posed as real people, the heroes often act in ambiguous or morally questionable ways. This is something that crops up in the Watchmen too, but right here we have the gritty underbelly of our society, corruption and greed and fear campaigns, and it's all fiercely political, and I think that's something that resonates with the story even to this day.

When I think of this book, I think I'll always have the distinct memory of the time and place where I read it. I bought it in Melbourne, in a sci-fi/fantasy/comic book, all round nerd shop in the city and I read it on the plane home. The whole lot. I've only read whole books like this twice, and the other time was for another book I'm very fond of, Dorothy Porter's verse novel, the Monkey's Mask. This book is utterly captivating.


10 A Boot Stomping 20 A Human Face 30 Goto 10 - Jess Gulbranson

I also got this book on my travellings in Melbourne. It's the first book I've bought from LegumeMan Books, and I found a number of their titles in a quaint little cult bookshop called PolyEster Books. I'd heard a little about this, mainly that it was a really weird novel, and so I bought it.

I read it towards the start of February, a quick read, very violent and self-destructive and so strange. I can't remember a whole lot about it aside from bringing music legends back to life, conspiracies that I think somehow involved a group of autistic children, and I'm afraid I understand very little of it. I think at some point I'd have to go back and re-read it to recall what was going on, because really, the narrator was thrown into a situation far stranger than the previous one at every opportunity, and when things started making sense and he was beginning to gain a level of control and understanding, that went right out the window.

It's a great chaotic read. I've got high hopes for Gulbranson, and for LegumeMan Books, which I don't thing I mentioned are based in Melbourne, so hooray for having a decent cult/niche publisher in Australia. I'm probably going to be holidaying in Melbourne again later on in the year, so I'm thinking I'll take the opportunity to duck back down to PolyEster and grab another LegumeMan title. I've currently got my eye on a book called Should Have Killed the Kid. From what I've heard it's set in post-apocalyptic Melbourne. And Melbourne is just great. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bucket of Face

I read this book towards the end of January, and I've read a lot of stuff since then, so I'm not 100% crystal clear on what I thought of this book when I read it, but it did leave a good impression. And considering this is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, I sort of feel obliged to have my little say on it and encourage more people to give it a read.

So, where to start...

Bucket of Face follows the story of an innocent bystander to a Mafia deal gone wrong, and the turn of events change his life forever. That aspect of the story seems pretty reasonable, right?

Well, I should probably mention the mobsters are a banana and an apple, and the merchandise they're dealing with are faces.

Ok, I'm just going to let that sink in.

Got it?

Right, well the protagonist, the 'everyman' donut shop employee has these two dead fruits, a briefcase of cash and a bucket of faces in his posession. He takes this as an opportunity to start a new life with his kiwi fruit girlfriend, go somewhere exotic where he never has to work in a donut shop again.

It's all set up for a cracking bizarro mafioso story. I'm sure you're still wondering about the apple and banana mobsters. And the kiwi fruit girlfriend? I will get to it soon. You see, Bucket of Face is not your average bizarro mafioso story. It's brilliant and clever, it's such a well thought out story. The hitman sent after the protagonist is a tomato obsessed with Michael Jackson.

It works like all good bizarro should. It sounds random and incoherent, weird elements tossed in to make things entertaining. It's not until you get sucked into the story, the seemingly weird-for-the-sake-of-weird story, when you get these plot points that take the story to the next level. Something so strange as fruit-people, you'll find actually makes perfect sense. The bucket of faces? Well, yeah, of course. It's got a charming central plot line that blows out of proportion, that is quirky and humorous, and then you know it was thought out in much greater detail than you first guessed. And it's not spelled out for you. It's clever. It's funny. It's entertaining and it's well written.

Get it, read it, love it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Muscle Memory

It's getting close to the end of February and I'm still trying to wrap up the books I read in January. Three to go. Three marvellous, entertaining, and wonderfully written books. These are the three new bizarro author series books that I read from the seven new books put out in this series in 2010. Muscle Memory, by Steve Lowe was the first.

The concept of this story is simple enough to grasp: a bunch of people wake up to find they switched bodies in the night and they need to figure out what the fuck is going on. It's your standard Freaky Friday shit, pretty much.

Ok, so Steve Lowe isn't the next Shakespeare or James Joyce or whatever, but what he has in this tiny little book, is, pure and simple, an entertaining story. He takes the body switching concept and makes it his own. Firstly, the main character wakes up in his wife's body and finds out that he died some time in the night. Which means that his wife is dead. Yes?

I think that's how it worked out. Insert some government conspiracy and alien shit in there and you got Muscle Memory. It's a funny book. And not the sort of funny where it comes out as forced humour. It's sort of like, this book keeps getting stranger and stranger, and without giving too much away, the body switches are well thought out such that sometimes you don't know whether to cringe from the awkwardness or laugh.

I thought this was a great read, certainly a decent introduction to the new bizarro author series, as Lowe focusses on telling his story, and telling it well. The thing that really holds this book strong is that the crux of the novel, the body switching concept is entirely unoriginal, it's old, yet it works anyway. Steve Lowe nods to the fact that he's working with recycled concepts early on in the book, and then he just leaves them behind. It's a body swapping novel, but the difference is that it's Steve Lowe's body switching novel and he's made it his own.

My next book review will be Eric Hendrixson's Bucket of Face. And in amongst my "to read" pile, which I'm trying to keep trimmed down, is Lowe's second short novel, Wolves Dressed as Men, which I'm quite looking forward to. Hopefully between now and then I'll have caught up a bit on a few more reviews, but with uni starting soon, it may be a bit of a struggle. Although with uni starting soon I will probably be reading less.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Night of the Assholes

Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is classic bizarro fiction. Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is clever and entertaining. Kevin L. Donihe's Night of the Assholes is quaint and charming.

Yeah, with a title like that, you may not conjure up those thoughts, and I think perhaps I am stretching things, but this is the third book of Donihe's I've read, and the second novel, and by now, I'm sure he knows what he's doing.

Donihe is one of those guys who (to me, at least) writes to tell a good story. Now, I must say, my favourite authors are usually the ones who try to do things a bit differently, to push some boundaries, to challenge the norm. And while bizarro certainly pushes boundaries in terms of content, I find it doesn't always push boundaries in terms of style. Guys like D. Harlan Wilson and Carlton Mellick III (flick back to my past couple of reviews), and even some of the up and coming bizarros in the New Bizarro Author Series had some literary style flying about the place. The danger of this is that it can be hit and miss, and while I'm yet to read Donihe's earliest books or weirdest books (I'm keen on getting a copy of House of Houses at some point in time...), I'm convinced that Donihe has found his little notch in the bizzaro genre and is quite happy there.

I guess I should probably talk a bit about the book. Now, after reading Mellick's Zombies and Shit, I had kind of worked myself into the zombie mindframe to read this book. I'll admit (as much as I've admitted various intertextual references in the past) that I'm quite unfamiliar with Night of the Living Dead. I don't watch many movies, let alone many horror movies, let alone many zombie cult horror movies. So, launching off a narrowed perspective here, I can say that for me, what makes this book work is not the references to zombie culture, it's not the Night of the Living Dead parody that seems to be at play here, or the mad-libbed assholes. In fact, this book could (in the wrong hands) have turned into a hideous pop culture spoof-fest that is essentially a hollowed out joke book pretentiously pretending to be a novel.

What makes this book work is the lead protagonist. Pure and simple. The support cast isn't too bad. It's refreshing to find yourself in a well-thought-out story, especially when people seem focussed on churning out mindless (hullooooo zombies....) parodies to suckle up to the cash cow. In this age of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Pirates and Ninjas and Super Fucking Mega Space Monsters, it's fantastic to see that Kevin L. Donihe knows how to tell a good story. Yes, it's a story as much as it's a parody.

Oh yeah, it's a book about an asshole epidemic, where everyone everywhere turns into assholes! It sounds pretty fucking cool, but if ever Donihe went through a phase of writing fanfiction, there is no trace of it at all here. Which is more than I can say for other parodies involving "what if we do x story, but instead of y we have z!" or "let's do x story, but add y to the story!!!!"

I think I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but really, I feel like the point needs hammering home. Donihe wrote a damn fine book about zombi- uhhh assholes, and while the title assumes the role of parody, the novel doesn't feel "gimmicky" or "tacked on", which I believe is no mean feat. Washer Mouth was a great book too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Egg Man

I would have to say that the Egg Man, by Carlton Mellick III, is one of my favourite reads of his thus far. With all the sick shit he's put out over the years, I've now read... seven Mellick books. He does some awesome, weird, disturbing, sexual, juvenile shit, and while you expect a bit of all of the above, there's something else to his books (well, his stronger novels, at least) that keeps us limping back. Now, it all whittles down to one question people should ask more often: Why?

Why read this book over his other titles? Why choose this author over other authors? Why choose this genre, when you know it will fuck with you every single time and offer no sympathy afterwards.

Here's why I like the Egg Man so: It's dark and disturbing and quirky. It's compellingly twisted. It's rank and fetid and sexual. It's about instincts and taboos and nature and culture. It's about dystopia. It's about obsession. It's about fragile things and things that are too large to conceptualise. But really, it's a book about a guy who paints with his nose and a dirty, smelly chick and a guy with a massive brain.

As with other Mellick books, it's dark and surreal, and goes places you don't really want to go. But it's got a gothic beauty about it. There are politics at play that stir up something wonderful in my mind. And the world Mellick creates for his festering creatures to exist in is so brutal, yet so creative and strangely wonderful, it's so easy to just lose yourself in it and smother yourself with its people. It's a feast for the senses. It's a book that flowers in your imagination and touches on concepts of perspective and being that are so foreign it feels like the only way to attach yourself to Mellick's world is to completely detach yourself from this one.

And I think Mellick, himself, considers this his best work (or at least, one of his best). Well, Mr. Mellick, you sure know when you've hit the mark. The Egg Man is a cult masterpiece that is impossible to accurately describe. it's just nothing like anything I've read before.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted a book review, and I've been doing a lot of reading over that period, so I've got a lot of stuff to catch up on. I'm tossing up whether to belt out a heap of short reviews or to pick the books I most want to talk about, or whether to keep pushing through the list.

Well, at least at the moment, I think I'm reading more books than I'm buying. I'm still buying a lot of books (I've got five on order at the moment), but I'm getting through the new books while also chipping away at a few that have been sitting on my shelf all too long.

So anyway, the last book that I read that I haven't reviewed yet is D. Harlan Wilson's Peckinpah.

I read Wilson's Blankety Blank right at the start of the year, and instantly found myself drawn to the writing. Now, I've got a few notes worth mentioning here; that I don't watch as many films as I'd like to, and the films of Sam Peckinpah (where the title of this book came from) have eluded me thus far. The symbolic significance of the title, to me, is fleeting. In comparison to Blankety Blank, I think Peckinpah is of similar substance; comical violence, a radical aggression towards suburbia, and chapters shaped in the form of microfictive snapshots (I'm hesitant to use the term "vignette" as my understanding of the word is somewhat vague at the moment), however, I personally prefer Blankety Blank over Peckinpah. Perhaps it's an issue of substance. But I am by no means saying that this is a bad book.

Each page is brimming with Wilson's strange (quite alien) brilliance. I'm wishing I wrote the review for this while the image were still fresh in my mind. Right now, all I can do is thumb through the book and try to remember what that initial reading was like. Peckinpah is subtitled "an ultraviolent romance", and while the book is brimming with ultraviolence, Wilson seems to tackle images of shock violence, blood and gore, with a sort of whimsical nonchalance. As with A Clockwork Orange, the ultraviolence in Peckinpah is extreme. However, A Clockwork Orange shocks its audience, whereas Peckinpah humours it.

I think the key to getting the most out of this book is just to let go of any expectations you may have for it. It's violent and absurd and punchy as fuck. Where else are you going to find a book where characters rip pigs in half just for kicks? And I'm sitting here and looking at the title, and I'm thinking, the only romance that occurs in this book that I can grasp at, would be between the author and Peckinpah. The book is littered with references to filmic techniques. At moments it seems like Wilson has forgotten about a plot and just decided to toss the reader in a completely different direction.

Some people may find this style frustrating. If you flick through the book, it looks like a total clusterfuck. There's one chapter in there that just says "pigshit". But that is precisely why I think D. Harlan Wilson is the shit. It looks like the book is just thrown together while on some sort of drunken bender, but when you sink right into the core of it, you're actually inside a densely constructed chaos. The madness is doing something to you, it's getting inside your head. It's unsettling you. It's making you question what the fuck is going on and why, but it's not hinting at any sort of answer. It's making you laugh at something that's not traditionally considered "humour".

It's wild and sporadic and violent and funny. It's genius. Next up on my D. Harlan Wilson reading list is Dr. Identity, and next up on my reviewing list is The Egg Man, by Carlton Mellick III.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fistful of Feet (review)

Fistful of Feet, by Jordan Krall

I've read a considerable amount a bizarro considering I only really started reading bizarro a couple of months ago. The more I read of particular authors, the more I get used to their style. Carlton Mellick III is certainly the most prolific writer in the genre (belting out new books left, right, and centre), but with those authors who've only got a few titles here and there, it's difficult to figure out exactly what they contribute to the genre until you read more.

Jordan Krall's Squid Pulp Blues was one of the first bizarro books I read (along with Mellick's Satan Burger and Cameron Pierce's Lost in Cat Brain Land). Now, I think what makes a good bizarro book is when the author tries to do something different, as opposed to tries to do something weird. Unique, as opposed to random. Squid Pulp Blues is a collection of three novellas, each connected through one crime-filled town. It's a weird, weird book, it's a no holds barred bizarro adventure, but it borrows stylistically from the noir genre. Fistful of Feet, evidently, continues on Krall's genre take on bizarro through its implementing of the western genre.

This is Krall's third published book and first full length novel, and I think as he progresses, his talent to tell a good story becomes just that extra bit better. I haven't read his first publication, Peacemeal June, which, from what I gather, is not so much a weird genre story, but a straight up bizarro story. I have, however, read his fourth published book, King Scratch, which was actually the first book he wrote. It's sort of like a predecessor to Squid Pulp Blues in its crime noir style, but I believe it's more for hardcore horror fans, as it takes precedence of fucked up shit over plot development. Which I guess brings me to Fistful of Feet.

It's a "weird western". That's a title that sums it up perfectly. It's a pretty wild novel, set in the town of Screwhorse, and follows Calamaro, a few other out-of-towners, and the townsfolk as frictions rise as crooks and cowboys and Indians draw themselves towards a chaotic, bloody mess. The local whorehouse specialises in some pretty weird fetishes, and while the simple townsfolk try to stand around and look innocent, they are anything but. Once this story gets going (and it gets going pretty early on), things quickly get out of hand, and stay that way for the majority of the book. At some points I just wanted the pace to slow down to build up a bit of tension, but this book is one of wild extremities. A lot of sex, a lot of violence, a lot of people getting what's coming to them.

As with Squid Pulp Blues, the narrative style of Fistful of Feet is one of disjointed, simultaneous plot lines. So while the plot runs linear, Krall is constantly switching between seemingly unconnected stories as they wind themselves towards eachother. The way certain plot points are foreshadowed in this book is probably my favourite part about it. Where certain characters or plots may seem to have dropped away to nothing, they're sitting dormant until the right time to make their dramatic entrance. It's not an easy thing to do with this style of narrative storytelling, but Krall pulls it off brilliantly. There were some points that I felt should have been pushed further in the book, such as the plot with the gold. It comes down to a matter of personal taste. I would have liked more suspense, and perhaps a closer correlation between the intersecting plot lines. But it's a great, weird, disturbing bizarro genre read, and I think Krall is becoming more ambitious with each book. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Zombies and Shit (review)

Zombies and Shit, by Carlton Mellick III

I don't really know where to start with this book. I was really looking forward to it. I'm not a huge zombie fan, and while I love a good horror book, I don't really read all that much horror. But as far as horror goes, this is like those horror movies that are ridiculously over the top, they're not scary, just disturbingly funny.

So, what is this book about? It's about a group of lowlife shitkickers and gutter punks who are dumped in a zombie infested wasteland to participate in a reality tv show called 'Zombie Survival'. It's pretty full on, with 20 participants featured as main characters, plus minor characters, plus detailed backstories.

I think what really separates this book from all the other zombie books around is the characters and backstories. Mellick has built up a corrupt post-apocalypse world where the majority of the world's population lives on an island called Neo New York. It's divided into four quadrants; Platinum, Gold, Silver and Copper. And that's pretty much how class is divided in the city. The show takes its contestants from copper and uses them to entertain the citizens of the other quadrants. This season of the show, however, contains contestants that are far more interesting than past seasons, with mercenary punks, androids and immortal lizard/humanoid creatures. Even the average contestants show a determination that exceeds expectations.

The concept is fascinating, and the action is brutally entertaining. And the stories that unfold are genuinely thought-provoking. From this book comes issues of race, class and corruption. Why save the world, when the guys in control have their every need catered for. There were parts in the book where I wanted to stop reading, or to just skip over them (I'll just skim over Gogo's story...) due to the graphic fetishised nature the story had adopted. But I guess that sort of stuff just works as a reminder that this book is a zombie book, and it's fucking hardcore. So I think a lot of people who don't read much horror/bizarro would probably cower away from this book, if you can trek your way through the disturbing parts, it's well worth the read. It's what you'd expect from a book called 'Zombies and Shit', but it's got that something else to it that is tragically sad, that the plight of humankind in the event of disaster is inherently futile. Carlton Mellick III certainly knows how to shock, but he also knows how to twist a seemingly self-indulgent story towards larger themes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Starfish Girl (review)

Starfish Girl - Athena Villaverde

"So cute!" This novel(la) is Villaverde's first publication, and it follows the story of Ohime, the starfish girl, as she wanders joyfully through the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a corrupt and violent underwater civilisation. In her travels, she meets Timbre, who is a no-holds-barred sea-anemone assassin. She doesn't like to fuck around. Together they travel through the dangerous lands of their dome society in an attempt to reach a ship that will take them to the surface to restart civilisation on land.

This book is great for a first novel. It's a fun adventure with some great action sequences and some clever and interesting plot points. The style is gothic bizarro. It's not as fucked up as some of the other books I've read, but it's got a dash of shocking here and there.

Now, I read a while ago that Carlton Mellick III mentored her throughout the process of writing this book. After actually reading this book, I can tell. I've read six (well, five and a half, at the moment) of his books, but it's not until now, that I've read Starfish Girl and I'm reading Zombies and Shit at the moment that I've noticed the influence. I'm not talking about content-wise, as Athena seems to have her own stylised world building and characterisation down no problem, but her tendancy to transition to backstories on a regular basis is something that Mellick does a lot. And I must say that it's quite an effective story-building technique (considering I haven't picked up on it until now).

This, I think, is where the novel comes into full form. The characters and the landscape are richly detailed and entertaining, and while the narrative runs in a conventional, linear direction (beginning to end), there is still the impression of dense storytelling through the use of backstories placed in key points throughout the book.

I really enjoyed the book. I read it in one day (and that was taking my time, too), and I must say that I'll be looking for more from this author over the coming years. It's stylistic, it's fun, it's a lovely bizarro book, and it's got a playfully innocent exhubrance similar to Kevin L. Donihe's Washer Mouth. If you've never read bizarro before and you'd like to give it a sample, this book is a great start. It's got a couple of shocking parts, but for the most part, it's surreal and beautiful and gothic, it's captivating and charming, it's short but sweet.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Blankety Blank (review)

Oh my god this is now in my top ten favourite books of all time. Maybe even top five. Yes, get ready for a chunk of text dedicated to why I think this book is so damn good.

Blankety Blank, by D. Harlan Wilson

Blankety Blank: A Memoir of Vulgaria is the thinking man's bizarro. It's sharp, it's intelligent, it's weird. It's a very well thought out and well written book. Damn, this book is good.

Ok, so here's how it goes:
Mr Van Trout is an asshole. He's a pretty big asshole, as a matter of fact. He has a massive silo in his front yard because he's better than everyone else. 'Vulgaria' is Wilson's construction of a dystopian suburbia. There's the neighbourhood families, the dinner parties, the kids playing in the front yard, yet most of the characters are obsessively selfish. Mr Van Trout is driven by materialism. His silo is a landmark of his success that he has to rub in to all his neighbours. There are obsessive bodybuilders, powerless superheroes, and couples obsessed with fitting into the social circle that is the vulgaria of Grand Rapids. Then Mr Blankety Blank comes on the scene. He's a serial killer with a barbershop pole for a head, and he's a true splatterpunk serial killer.

But forget about that for now. Yeah, it's a pretty absurd plot, and it is highly captivating, but you don't read this book for the plot. As with most books I like, it's the style that gets me. I love a book that's got a lot of style to it. I love seeing an author doing things differently, structuring things differently. To me, that's what makes this book. It's a fictional memoir. It reads very matter-of-factly, and it often runs off on tangents that are not so much part of the plot, but part of the setting, the vulgaria. Throughout the book there are short articles on things such as a brief history of werewolves, or a brief history of ripperology, or a brief history of silos. It sounds pretty boring, but the blatant falsehoods make this book what it is. They all work in some form or another to compliment the greater product that is the memoir. The novel goes from chapter to chapter, capturing the vital information. The dinner party where so-and-so weren't invited, or Rutger Van Trout building his silo or buying a new car, or the recent wave of serial killings and cryptic-yet-meaningless clues from the Mr Blankety Blank.

This book is brimming with its own histories it feels like there is so much more to this book than the hundred-and-something pages. They watch television differently. They watch irreality programs. They throw parties differently. They treat their children differently. They are the product of a different time and place that seems like it's a reflection of our own time and our own place. They become obsessed over their own self importance and their own intelligence. Rutger Van Trout's son is named Rutger Van Trout. One family named their daughter Sheba. They also named their dog Sheba. Some characters go by several names and personas. It feels like this book is on the brink of becoming horrifically confusing, but even where there's passages of dialogue where no distinct speaker is identified, the book still reads with a crystal clarity. Everything lends itself to some idea or concept, lends itself to adding context to the plot, lends itself to this or that or the other.

It's a social catastrophe of self-importance and assholery. I can't really say I noticed a difinitive protagonist throughout the whole book. The parents are assholes. The kids are little scumbags. Even in the presence of a brutal serial killer, it seems the biggest problems the characters have is one of a mild identity chrisis. Wilson has set this memoir up perfectly. It's like, what we'd be like if we were compelled entirely by our own greed and selfishness and our own egos. I guess you could extrapolate any number of concealed morals or meanings to this story, especially since its ending doesn't resolve very much at all, but I think I like the idea that Wilson was critiquing suburban culture and their over-emphasis on materialist needs and social status.

It's a fantastic, weird, brutally dysfunctional read. It's not for all readers, but it's definitely more than its synopsis. It's more than the weird false-factoids and surrealism. It's a top quality cult book that packs a punch quite like Fight Club or A Clockwork Orange or Less Than Zero.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Restaurant at the End of the Universe (review)

At some point this year I plan to write about something that's not a review, but for now, here's another book I've recently read, and something I can freely rant about.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams

Sometimes you get books that are popular that are one of those iconic novels that people rant and rave about like it's the best thing ever. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series is kind of like this. And while I feel bad ripping on books that get a lot of people reading (especially when the author isn't around to defend himself), that is the case this time around.

For those that don't know, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is the second book in Adams' five part sci-fi comedy series, of which 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is the first part and the most familiar. I read the first book some time last year. I'd seen the 2005 film adaptation some years before and I quite enjoyed it. So I bought the first book and read it in a couple days and I quite enjoyed it. So I bought the second book and started it and fell flat. And I tried a few times since then, each time only getting a few pages in before asking "why bother?" and failing to come up with a compelling answer. I think it's the same sort of thing that stopped me about half way through the Great Gatsby and about 20-30 pages in to the Catcher in the Rye. Both supposed classics, both books that people love to death and tell me that I too should love.

But I committed myself to giving this book another chance, as I hope to give another chance to Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye at some point this year. You could argue that I've got the mindset stuck in me that I'm not going to enjoy this book, but for the amount of times I've tried and the book has failed to impress me, I think I've got grounds to base my opinions upon. Sure, I may have built up a bit of a grudge for the book, but all things aside, I finished the book in about a week, I think. It's a short book, but that first part took some real chewing on, to make it past the barrier of not giving up.

I guess I should talk some positives on the book, so as to not completely write it off as a book to avoid at all costs. It's got a playful exhuberance to it, a humour and strange logic to it that is very much in the same vein of Alice in Wonderland. The title " The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (aka: Alice in Wonderland in Space)" would not entirely be out of place. I'd probably enjoy it more if I didn't read so much weird books already. Weirder and more abrasive. Because I like my books to have a bit of grit, a bit of punch, a bit of edge to them. This book is something the child in me would love to read. I mean, I did read the first book before my weird fiction collection got too wild.

Another thing I like about this book is that it's got some interesting ideas going on. It's got its clever-yet-absurd twisted space logic going on, it's got moments of really well thought out ideas that seem to click together quite well. But I get the feeling that these ideas are too compressed, too thinly veiled to gather any momentum, and here is where I feel the book falls into its first major pitfall. It's a fast paced sci-fi absurdist adventure, yet it bounces from plot point to plot point with a nonchalance that is simply frustrating. Why do I care that these characters are currently hurling towards a sun in a(nother) stolen spaceship? Oh wait, I don't. And when Adams tries to explain some of his ideas, he structures them in the most awkward and clunky ways that not only is their meaning lost, but it reads really awkward. The prose is so inconsistent that the wit is often lost to boring and poorly phrased chunks of texts. It's like it's been left up to the reader to turn a blind eye to those numerous instances and skimming through the book as a light afternoon read.

I guess that's all the book really is. Something you just read to switch the brain off and coast along on the strange and surreal imagery. Sure, it'd work a lot better if the prose were fixed up a bit, but it's not a serious book. It's just something you read for some light-hearted fun.

And now I'm posed with a serious conundrum. Do I buy the third book now? For those of you who have read the series, is the next book any better, or is it more or less the same sort of thing?

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Flappy Parts (review)

Ok, so this year, I might try to unclutter things a bit by keeping  general housekeeping blogs separate from review blogs from more specific writing blogs. So while I've already got an abundance of things planned/happening in 2011, there's time to flap my mouth-hole about that stuff later.

Right now is all about reviews. And specifically, a review of a particular book. The first book I read this year, Kevin L. Donihe's "The Flappy Parts." I've also read Douglas Adam's "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", so hopefully I'll have a review for that book up soon too. I think I've set 2011 up to be a year for excessive reading. And probably excessive writing too.

So anyway, on to the flappy parts.

Over the past year or so, I've grown quite keen on poetry as an art form. However, something that's been holding me back from reading more poetry is that the really good stuff is usually quite sparse. Of course, it comes down to personal taste, so I suppose I should clarify where I stand on that matter.

I like stuff that's weird, smart, different, thought provoking, challenging, original. Basically, if you do something different with your poetry, I'll probably like it. And for the record, I like this book. As far as poetry goes, my personal tastes don't stretch too far. I've read a couple of verse novels by Dorothy Porter, and the characterised poems in Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk are my sort of thing. Efficient word usage, nice and punchy, yet uses the form of the poem to their advantage.

The Flappy Parts isn't all poetry. Almost everything is under a page long, but some pieces are more prose poems or flash fiction. It's a bit of a fine-line distinction, but I consider myself a fan of the flash fiction genre, and while it can work on similar principles to poetry, it is an entirely different form.

So in this book, we have a collection of poems and flash fiction totalling a bit over 110 pages. It's a small book, but it's got a lot of material here. I think I recall reading somewhere that this book is Donihe's collections of poetry over the past decade. Now, in terms of structure, I think Donihe's got a firm grasp of the poetic form, and he's adopted some interesting poetic techniques to add some depth to his work. No doubt I'll go back and read this again, to pick up on things I didn't get the first time around, and to try to figure out more of what the poetry means, if anything at all.

As with the bizarro genre, Donihe's poetry is awkward and weird and at times disturbing, and at times just completely jarring. The material in this book. It's been a few days since I read the book and there's not too much that's still fresh in my mind. I suppose I can blame my erratic reading habits for this, as I've finished reading one book and read about half of another book since then, so I feel like I haven't properly digested this work. Call that lazy reviewing if you like, I'm gonna call it a medium close up shot review. I get a good impression of what the book is about. Most of the poetry is good. Some of the poetry is really good. I can't remember reading anything I outright hated, but to be a human being, there are some poems that aren't as good as others. Medium close up shot. I can't tell you exactly which poems were my favourite because I didn't look that close (like the extreme close up shot where you can count the eyelashes) and I can't really give you a thorough detailing of the impression of the whole book because I haven't stepped back to see how the poems compliment eachother (landscape shot, where you can see the surroundings, the composition of the shot).

So, yeah, it'd probably do the book justice for me to read it again, and at some point, I am positive I will, but for now, there's just this (which I believe is still quite a passable review). I loved Donihe's novel, Washer Mouth, but his poetry has proved to me that he's not just your average weird author. He's a wordsmith. A flash fiction freak. A poet. And he knows how to get you thinking. I feel this book would be best read by those with a keen eye for poetry, and consumed and savoured on a poem-by-poem basis. There's a lot of great material here, it feels like somewhat of a shame to reduce all this poetry into one short volume. I read it in a single afternoon, and I think this book has so much more to offer than that.

P.S: Don't lick the page.