For this month’s reviews, I thought I would focus on the publications of one press rather than those of an era or author. This month’s subject is ERASERHEAD PRESS, the most prolific and energetic voice of contemporary bizarro fiction.
Bizarro fiction is a relatively new genre which is not entirely easy to define. It encompasses elements of satire, absurdism, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive works that are as strange and entertaining as possible.
Bizarro works are truly a mixed bag. Sometimes I’ll read a work and think it was revolting filth and sometimes I’ll read a work and find it to be a beautiful literary and socially relevant gem. Sometimes I’ll think both things simultaneously! What I love most about this genre is that, if nothing else, I will be entertained. The wonder of bizarro is that it doesn’t stoop to worn-out tropes or regurgitated storylines. These authors are hard boiled, willing to experiment, and write ideas that are stimulating, strange and, most importantly, unique.
Eraserhead Press, the premiere publisher of these book, is headquartered in bizarro central, Portland, OR, and championed by CEO, Rose O’Keefe. It also includes a dozen or more smaller imprints set up by associates, such as Deadite Press, Fungasm Press, and Lazy Fascist Press, amongst others.
Erasurehead Press is here: http://www.eraserheadpress.com
My personal favorite author to come out of the bizarro movement is Carlton Mellick III, who writes with the precise craft of any literary voice today, but puts out the strangest titles which are in turns geared toward horror, dark fantasy, alternative history, and science fiction. For EX: Satan Burger, The Haunted Vagina, War Slut and, my top bizarro pick, Zombies and Shit. Carlton is a writing machine, dedicated (mind-blowingly!) to a new book every three months. Generally, overly-prolific authors end up publishing a lot of dreck, but Carlton’s works are crisp, funny, and quite simply a consistently entertaining read.
Carlton Mellick III is here: http://www.carltonmellick.com
Which brings me to my first review:
REVIEWED: Quicksand House
WRITTEN BY: Carlton Mellick III
PUBLISHED: June, 2013
Of the six or seven books I’ve read by this author, ‘Quicksand House’ is one of my favorites. It starts off as a mystery, in which two children are essentially locked in their baby room and raised by a nanny through puberty. Machines make their food and the children teleport to school, but they’ve never met their parents which is their dearest wish. The baby room is in the midst of an immense mansion, and scary things crawl in the walls, and myths and fears abound for them, wondering what lies outside the locked door. One day their mechanical life breaks down, and survival forces them to finally leave the baby room, searching through the rest of the house for their parents.
As always, Mellick’s writing is brilliantly imaginative, fast-paced, strange, and satisfying. This book is rather a bit more of an emotional coming-of-age experience rather than action-packed fiction ploy (not to say there’s not plenty of action and thrills included!). But the ending is beautiful and sweet, and swear-to-God, I choked up and a tear ran down my cheek after I closed the final page.
This is really a great book and, with themes such as self-acceptance, fear of abandonment, love, and family values, I think it deserves to find a wider audience than the traditional bizarro crowd. Though the children of Quicksand House encounter wild exploits, the story itself is engaging and relatable and exciting.
Five out of Five stars
REVIEWED: The Last Goddam Hollywood Movie
WRITTEN BY: John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow
PUBLISHED: August, 2013
‘The Last Goddam Hollywood Movie’ follows a group of Hollywood filmmakers who survive a nuclear apocalypse and then band together to create the first ever post-apocalyptic movie which (just as in real life) promises to accurately portray the events leading to the nation’s disaster, but instead creates a highly fictionalized concept which is at whim of finagling, backbiting, competing resources, and lots and lots of drugs. Peter Kornberg is a writer who gets hustled by his nemesis, Julian Harvey, to direct the film, and the novella-sized book follows the conflict between the two of them during the entire radiation and mutant-filled journey of production. Fast-paced and quick-witted, this would seem more fictionalized if it weren’t for the fact that the authors, John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow, have been involved in Hollywood flicks themselves, and the satirical commentary becomes even more scathing on who peoples the industry and how movies are really made.
Four out of Five stars
REVIEWED: Son of a Bitch
WRITTEN BY: Wrath James White and Andre Duza
PUBLISHED: July, 2012
Intense, foul-mouthed, hard-punching, and wild, this story really is about the son of a bitch. The descriptively-named character is born half demon/ half canine, splitting his dog mother open at birth. Fused with Cuban black magic and the spirit of a local hitman, Warlock, the dog/ monster, goes on a murderous rampage, followed by the hood, Demitrius, who breeds dogs and is witness to the dog joining with Warlock’s soul.
Consider the dog/monster has similarities to a werewolf, albeit one that evolves and is seeking revenge. This is a quick read, at times funny and at times seething with violence. I never felt connected with any of the characters, but the plot kept me hooked all the way through. Lots of action and gore, and the ending was perfect. Good to read when you need to blow off some steam or suspect your family pooch might be hiding something malicious.
Four out of Five stars
REVIEWED: Super Fetus
WRITTEN BY: Adam Pepper
PUBLISHED: August, 2009
To say this book is offensive is to say that serial killers may have some personality flaws. Up front, I do not recommend this book to any person with even moderately conservative values or self-expressed ‘taste’ in literature. But for those of you who enjoy a gross-out tale or a redneck battle, ‘Super Fetus’ is for you!
This story is about a (you guessed it) fetus growing inside the uterus of a trashy, burned out woman who’s already a mother of three and cannot fathom raising a fourth brat. She decides to abort it, but the fetus has prematurely developed and is self-aware of his placement. Simply put, he ain’t coming out! Super Fetus fights all manner of abortion proceedings and even causes his mother to throw up any unhealthy foods. “Only salads and healthy foods for me!” He does pushups and punches back at anyone reaching in to pull him out.
It’s a crude and foul-mouthed tale, at times hilarious, at times terribly shocking and sad, but ultimately a fun and quick read, clocking in at only about 87 pages. Though the story could have been a lot more, it’s successful on its face value. I would have loved to read a bit more back story about the mysterious ‘father’ with no face, as to who he was and the potential of Super Fetus. But the ending is perfect for a follow up, so perhaps someday there may be Super Toddler!
Four out of Five stars
REVIEWED: The Rising (author’s preferred edition/ uncut)
WRITTEN BY: Brian Keene
PUBLISHED: September, 2013 (first published March, 2003)
Simply put, this is a zombie book. More than that though, it’s an adventure thriller and a classic in the resurgence of undead in popular culture. To underscore this point, as I read ‘The Rising’ I thought, “Gee, yet another linear zombie story. Main character searches for his son, meets motley survivors, and crosses lots with paramilitary groups, all the while blowing away killer zombies.” But as I thought this it also dawned on me that Brian Keene was one of the first authors to write this type of action zombie story, and the reason it seems so formulaic and familiar is because there have been a horde (pun!) of writers who have copied this idea and wrote their own zombie apocalypse tales, inspired by the likes of Keene. Besides books, Keene’s influence is also found in video games, comics, movies, and other media.
The edition of this review is the ‘extended cut,’ i.e. the author’s preferred edition, published ten years after the original, in which Keene returns about 35,000 words cut from the debut. The story is a page-turner and follows the paths of several different characters as their lives intersect in the quest for survival. Some of the main characters seemed rather flat (Jim and Frankie), while I found myself relating and rooting for more of the lesser/ secondary characters (Baker and Skip).
The one unique element in this book which is not usually seen is that these zombies (Potential PLOT SPOILER) are actually host bodies for demons, and so retain consciousness and can perform normal human activity such as driving cars, opening doors, and <gasp> fire rocket launchers. In addition to human zombies, the survivors must contend with animal zombies, which adds a whole new layer of fear, fighting off zombie rats, birds, and lions.
The Rising promises on zombie battle and delivers on that promise wholeheartedly. Overall, it’s an exciting read, filled with violence, gore, and many, many surprises.
Four out of Five stars
Eric J. Guignard
Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. Assorted stories and articles that bear his byline may be found in the disreputable publications reserved for back alley bazaars. As an editor, Eric’s produced the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award®. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for many more forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Of America, and the International Thriller Writers. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard.