Dreadful Tales Gets Weird

Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve read no less than 12 of the most insanely off-the-wall books I’ve ever seen. That’s a lot to digest in such a short amount of time – approximately something like 1200 (or more) pages of the weirdest shit you’ve ever laid your eyes on. And that’s also on top of the books I’ve checked out in the mean-time, and the 100 years of Horror articles.

And sleeping.

And eating.

Not books… eating food.

Though… I could eat books…

Never mind. Eating books is a bad idea right now.

Especially after the announcement I’m about to make, and mostly cause I’m nervous about this.

What’s the announcement? Well, I’m sure you can see that the site has taken on a bit of a… different… look today.

That’s because we’re trying something different with our design (which will be ongoing for a little while) and celebrating Bizarro Fiction for the next 9 days here on Dreadful Tales! (January 23rd to the 31st)

Now, one might ask what exactly Bizarro Fiction is:

According to the most informative website on the genre, Bizarro Central‘s ‘About Bizarro’ page:

What Is Bizarro?

  1. Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.
  2. Bizarro is literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store.
  3. Like cult movies, Bizarro is sometimes surreal, sometimes avant-garde, sometimes goofy, sometimes bloody, sometimes borderline pornographic, and almost always completely out there.
  4. Bizarro strives not only to be strange, but fascinating, thought-provoking, and, above all, fun to read.
  5. Bizarro often contains a certain cartoon logic that, when applied to the real world, creates an unstable universe where the bizarre becomes the norm and absurdities are made flesh.
  6. Bizarro was created by a group of small press publishers in response to the increasing demand for (good) weird fiction and the increasing number of authors who specialize in it.
  7. Bizarro is like:
    • Franz Kafka meets John Waters
    • Dr. Suess of the post-apocalypse
    • Takashi Miike meets William S. Burroughs
    • Alice in Wonderland for adults
    • Japanese animation directed by David Lynch

Even though the Bizarros are underground cult outsiders they still have gained an incredible amount of respect in the publishing industry, having been praised by the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Moore, William Gibson, Jonathan Lethem, Piers Anthony, Cory Doctorow, Poppy Z. Brite, Michael Moorcock, and Charles de Lint, to name a few, as well as the publications Asimov’s Science-fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-fiction, Fangoria, Cemetery Dance, Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Details Magazine, Gothic Magazine, and The Face, among many others. They have also been finalists for the Philip K Dick Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling Award, the Wonderland Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize.

Bizarro isn’t just weird fiction, it is DAMN GOOD weird fiction. And it grows exponentially every single day, so, love it or hate it, you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the years to come.

We’re excited to bring you a look at 8 new bizarro novels from Eraserhead Press, and specifically from the minds of the New Bizarro Authors Series folks who fill the 2011 lineup (henceforth known as the NBAS ’11). For those of you who don’t know, this is a series Eraserhead Press has started in order to bring some fresh blood to the genre.

Here’s the idea behind the NBAS:

You hold in your hands now a book from the New Bizarro Author Series. Normally, Eraserhead Press publishes twelve books a year. Of those, only one or two are by new writers. The NBAS alters this dynamic, thus giving more authors of weird fiction a chance at publication. For every book published in this series, the following will be true: This is the author’s first published book. We’re testing the waters to see if this author can find a readership, and whether or not you see more Eraserhead Press titles from this author is up to you. The success of this author is in your hands. If enough copies of this book aren’t sold within a year, there will be no future books from the author published by Eraserhead Press. So, if you enjoy this author’s work and want to see more in print, we encourage you to help him out by writing reviews of his book and telling your friends. In any event, hope you enjoy…

Given the guidelines there, and the fact that I was contacted to review one of the books, I wanted to lend a little more than a helping hand. I’m a huge fan of bizarre tales and upstart authors, and it’s no sweat off my back to read a few hundred pages and talk about it. So for the next bunch of days you’re going to be checking out the weirdest that the genre has to offer (with other stuff peppered in), and reading about some of the fresh blood bursting onto the scene.

With that, let’s welcome Justin Grimbol, Vince Kramer, Constance Ann Fitzgerald, Troy Chambers, Spike Marlowe, Michael Allen Rose, Eric Beeny, and S.D. Foster to the fold. This week is gonna be weird

Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk

Shatner.  Star Wars.  ‘Star Trek’. ‘Twilight Zone’. Bruce Campell.  If any one of these things get your Flux Capacitor fluxing , well then, Shatnerquake is a book that you need to read. 

Shatnerquake takes place at the inventively titled convention known as Shatner Con.  Shatner Con is a celebration of all things Shatner, with theaters showing Shatner 24/7, a museum dedicated to Shatner and ,of course, a legion of Kirk obsessed fans who are chomping at the bit to get to meet their idol.  Sounds like the perfect event for the inner nerd in all of us, right?  Well it would be …………if it wasn’t for those darn Campbellians!  What are Campbellians, you ask?  Campbellians are rabid fans of Bruce Campbell who have cut off their right arm below the elbow in a display of dedication to their hero. There is nothing Campbellians despise more, and I mean nothing, than William Shatner.  The Campbellians have come up with a plan to permanently eradicate William Shatner from the planet by unleashing a Fiction Bomb at Shatner Con (in case you were wondering, a Fiction Bomb is a device that is housed in a VCR that, once detonated, can erase the memory of any character from the general consciousness).  Unfortunately, the Fiction Bomb malfunctions and instead of erasing Shatner from existence, it unleashes every character Shatner has ever portrayed on an unsuspecting world.  These characters all share the same insatiable desire to destroy the actor who gave them life.  What follows is one of the most wonderfully bizarre pieces of genre fiction I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Shatnerquake is some of the most fun that you are likely to have reading a book.  At just under 100 pages, this story plays out like most of Shatner’s films- a cheesy action-fest that will have you laughing and cheering throughout.  Technically this book is considered bizarro (and that certainly is an apt description) but, due to the broad appeal and solid writing, it is able to transcend genres. Fans of sci-fi, horror, bizarro, action and comics have all sang the praises of this book.  It is that good. With nods to even the most obscure Shatner characters, fans will find themselves reading and re-reading Shatnerquake just to see if they can pick out all of the characters- a Where’s Waldo, of sorts.

There is something special about reading a book where you can sit back and say, “Man, that author is one if us.”  Burk knows how to push all the right buttons because he is a total nerd just like us.  There is a certain level of confidence and respect that the author shows toward his fans- he knows that we will be familiar with the Incubus Shatner, while chuckling at the ‘Rescue 911’ Shatner.  It is gleefully apparent that Burk had more fun writing this story than any of us will ever have reading it, and that is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. He is nothing more than a fan who is indulging his inner-geekdom. 

Lucky for us readers, Burk has the talent to pull off a story like this with great ease and fluidity.  It would be easy to dismiss the concept as just another inventive piece of ‘Star Trek’ inspired fan fiction but Shatnerquake is so much more than that- it is the definitive piece of Shatner/Trek inspired fiction. Burk’s vast imagination and skilled writing are what make this a very special experience. 

I honestly don’t know what else I can say to persuade you to read this book.  If the thought of Captain Kirk wielding a light saber doesn’t sell you on this wonderfully crafted novella then nothing will.

The Starfish Girl by Athena Villaverde

“In an underwater hell, the only hope of survival lies in the mind of a bizarre young girl…… with a starfish growing out of her head.”

That is what I envision the tagline to be if Athena Villaverde’s superb debut bizarro novel ever got optioned to the big screen.  Actually, I hope that this book will get optioned for film because this is the most cinematic novel I have read in quite some time.

 From AthenaVillaverde.com:

 In a post-apocalyptic underwater dome, there lives a girl with a starfish growing from her head. Her name is Ohime. She is the starfish girl.

 Alone in this world, Ohime must fight for her life against lecherous crabmen, piranha people, and a yellow algae that is causing humans to mutate into fish. Until she meets Timbre, a woman with deadly sea anemone hair. Ohime thinks she is safe with her new protector and friend, but Timbre is on the run from a violent past. Now they must escape Timbre’s former master, the evil Dr. Ichii, who is determined to conquer the underwater dome . . . and destroy the starfish girl and her friend in the process.

 Starfish Girl plays out like a finely tuned exploitation flick.  There is an impossible mission, some amazingly cheesy scenery and an undercurrent of unspeakable dread that flows just below the surface.  I loved those off-beat exploitation films growing up but I have never really gotten that feeling from a book….until now.  Villaverde has created the perfect exploitation anti-hero with Timbre, giving her a sick and twisted backstory that make her personal journey for redemption all the more powerful. She is a certified badass mama that one can’t help but cheer for. Timbre is pitted against the unthinkably evil mad scientist known as Dr. Ichii.  Together these two characters engage in some of the most off-the-wall battles and banter that you are likely to find in genre fiction.  They are both searching for a hidden vessel that will bring the few remaining survivors to the water’s surface so they can start to rebuild civilization.  The vessel’s exact location lies in the mnd of the innocent little Starfish Girl, Ohime. If that doesn’t sound like the perfect premise to a grainy film being shown on a 42nd St. theater screen, well then, I don’t know what does.

Villaverde simply lets the story flow as we follow Timbre and Ohime on their quest to save humanity.  Despite the delightfully strange scenery, the story seems to grow and flourish in a very organic fashion- leaving the impression that no plot point is being forced or contrived.  In the end, this is the real strength of the novel.  This is not a bizarro novel that is trying to tell a story, this is a wonderful story that incorporated the elements of bizarro.  There is a real emotional attachment that the reader will make with the these rich and colorful characters.  There are moments of saddness followed by bursts of sheer jubilation as we are sucked into this underwater world inhabited by ghastly monstrosities and flawed protaganists.  This type of attachement is hard to come by in a genre ruled by blood and guts and this is really what sets Starfish Girl apart.

Villaverde’s prose is very simple , with each word chosen for maximum impact.  The net result is a story that moves at a very brisk pace with absolutely no filler to be found.  Villaverde writes her novel like a screenplay- only the essentials are included and the rest is left to play out in the readers mind.  This is the perfect style for this type of novel.  The author is smart enough to never let the words interfere with her stellar story.

I love the flexibility of the bizarro genre.  Authors like Andersen Prunty can use the style to craft a brilliant tale with a very important message, while Mellick can relish in weird humor.  Now we are introduced to Athena Villaverde, who uses the formula for one very basic purpose-  tell one wildly entertaining story.  Villaverde has set the bar extremely high with her debut novel but I have faith that an author of her talent will continue to elevate her writing and storytelling aility.  I am telling you, people, Athena Villaverde is a name to watch out for!

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You! by Bradley Sands

From Amazon.com:

Rico Slade doesn’t care about the political climate. Rico Slade has an advanced degree in badassery. Rico Slade’s favorite food is the honey-roasted peanut. Rico Slade can rip out a throat with his bare hands.

But Rico Slade has a problem. His arch-nemesis, Baron Mayhem, is threatening to drop a bomb on the Earth that will kill every human being except himself while leaving the world’s currency intact. To save the planet, Rico Slade must journey across Hollywood to find Baron Mayhem. Unfortunately, Rico Slade’s crime fighting style involves ripping out the throat of anyone who gets in his way, including grandmothers and Midwestern tourists.

As Rico Slade leaves Hollywood in ruins, the only person who can stop him from destroying the city is his Jewish psychologist, Harold Schwartzman. Until he does, Rico Slade will kill as many people as it takes to thwart Baron Mayhem’s evil scheme. Rico Slade will fucking kill everyone.

Rico Slade is the all American male.  He will rip out your  fucking  throat without hesitation and if you dare aggitate him, there is no doubt that he will punch you in your fucking face a bunch of fucking times.  It is as simple as that.  Rico Slade takes no shit from nobody. Rico Slade also maintains a giant pompadour.  Why, you ask? So the police can identify him as a practicioner of badassery. It doesn’t matter that Rico Slade is a fictional character portrayed by some frumpy bald dude named Chip Johnson.  Rico Slade will still rule the shit out of everything. See, Rico Slade has invaded Chip Johnson’s being so now Rico can kick ass in the real world too!

Rico Slade is happy that Bradley Sands took the time out of his stupid life to chronicle the life of Rico Slade.  Rico is not really that happy that Bradley Sands decided to try and make him think by incorporating some social commentary into this book.  Rico Slade’s life is about Rico and boobs, Rico and explosions, Rico and owning the shit out of motherfuckers, not some heady bullshit about the state of America’s consumerism.  Who gives two shits about the facade that most Americans put up?  That is just some dumb shit that people (who don’t have a constant nu metal soundtrack playing in their head) think about. Luckily, Rico Slade is not one of these people and if he was, well, he just might have to kick his own ass.

Overall, though, Rico likes the work that Bradley did.  Although at one point Bradley insisted on using some “blue” language so Rico had to wash Mr. Sands mouth out……….. with his fucking foot.  Thats just how Rico Slade rolls.   Oh and Rico Slade was a little upset when the author tried to question Rico Slade’s sexuality in an attempt to  illustrate America’s sense of homophobia.  That was really gay.  Other than that, Rico totally loved all of the ass he kicked in this book.  Hell, thinking about it gives Rico Slade the biggest hard-on.  Rico Slade would be the first to tell you how truly impressive it looks at full mast.

Rico Slade gets annoyed when people call this little document of awesomeness a brilliant work of bizarro.  It is brilliant but he doesn’t know about all of this bizarro shit.  That sounds like some sort of terrorist speak and, with the help of Jesus, Rico Slade will destroy anyone who even resembles one of those fucking animals. Rico Slade is all about decency and good ol’ American values.  Anyone who questions that will get a size 22 zebra skin boot up their poop shoot.

Do yourself a favor (not only because this is one of the best book you’re likely to read this year but for your own general well-being) and go pick up this fantastic book or, I swear to Christ, Rico Slade will fucking kill you.

My Fake War by Andersen Prunty

Welcome to the United States of Everything.  The military is the dominant force and war is the new national pastime.  Books are irrelevant and libraries are all but forgotten while the majority of the population is on a state sponsored welfare system.  This is the world where Saul Dressing finds himself in Andersen Prunty’s smart bizarro novel, My Fake War.

From Amazon.com:

The absurd tale of an unlikely soldier forced to fight a war that, quite possibly, does not exist.

Saul Dressing is a flabby middle-aged librarian who just wants to be left alone to listen to jazz, watch porn, and cultivate his toenails. All of this changes when a soldier in a camouflage sweat suit shows up to draft him into the army of the United States of Everything. His mission is simple: go to a foreign country no one has ever heard of and incite the opposition to strike first. All alone in the middle of a desert with no enemy in sight, Saul must come to terms with the absurdity of his situation. Thus begins a surreal journey into the politics of war, consumerism, and giant robots.

My Fake War is a bizzaro novel with a message.  It is cautionary tale to a generation that has known almost nothing but war.  Prunty chooses to tell a very straight-forward tale while still reveling in some truly bizarre occurrences. The protagonist, Saul Dressing, is an overweight librarian whose favorite activities include slowly masturbating himself to sleep and growing his toenails so long that they are now referred to as talons.  He is actually the most down-to-earth character in the story and is also the vehicle for most of the novel’s message.  Dressing encounters the absurd as he is drafted into the military by a slop of a man known as Baxter Baxter.  Baxter shows up to Saul’s house wearing a less than official looking sweat suit and tells Saul that he has been drafted and will be sent to a foreign land to wage a one man war. Saul is witness to some extreme weirdness as he comes to the ultimate realization that war may not be the answer and the enemy may be those who sent him to fight.

Interspersed between these strange plot points, Prunty allows Saul to muse over the philosophy of war.  These are the moments that make My Fake War a complete success.  Take this passage for example:

It seemed stupid.  It seemed beyond stupid.  It seemed like the most retarded thing in the world. Just within the scope of my vision, there had to be a hundred dead people.  What here was worth that?  What here was woth one dead person?  If there was anything here, what could possibly be more valuable than one human life?

These are the moments where Prunty really elevates himself above his peers.  He is able to drive home a very strong point with simple prose and an everyman type of humor.  Despite the sheer ridiculousness of the story, Saul comes across as a sympathetic character.  The reader feels for his plight as he is forced to engage in activities that go against his best moral judgment.  At its core, this book is not only a statement on war but it is an exploration of human behavior and emotion.  Pretty heady stuff for a novel about a fat librarian waging a one man war in a desert, huh?

As the story progresses, Prunty continues to peel layers off of Saul’s soul to explore the inner workings of the human condition.  He actually has the entire story come full circle as Dressing begins to retaliate against the powers that forced him into war.  Here is a passage that shows how Saul has come to grips with the need to fight:

But this was a matter of defense, wan’t it? Wasn’t I defending my home? Wouldn’t I condone war if people were trying to invade the United States of Everything, as opposed to us invading them?

Saul Dressing now understands when war and violence are appropriate.  He now has the experience and perspective to be able to justify the need to fight.  Saul is going on the offensive to maintain his way of life, not to better his way of life.  This is the ultimate lesson that Prunty has set out to teach us.  He simply asks us to reflect on the root cause of the wars that each of us choose to wage on a daily level.  Why are we fighting? Are these wars worth it?

My Fake War really establishes Andersen Prunty as one of the elite names in the bizarro genre.  He keeps the readers on their toes with enough sci-fi absurdity in the peripheral, all while Prunty drives his message home.  The author never comes across as preachy or overbearing- he simply lets the story take center stage.  My Fake War would be an excellent starting point for those looking for an entryway into the world of bizarro while those crazy bizarro die-hards will certainly appreciate this wonderful entry into this wonderful sub-genre.

You can check out Andersen on his website, here.