First Impressions – Vector #265
Satan Burger, Razor Wire Pubic Hair, The Menstruating Mall, Ape Shit, The Haunted Vagina, Sausagey Santa (“featuring Santa as a piratey mutant with a body made of sausages”), Adolf In Wonderland, Ultra Fuckers and The Faggiest Vampire: A Children’s Story are just some of the novels of Carlton Mellick III, one of the most prolific writer of bizarro fiction. Absurd, surreal, offensive and deliberately confrontational, those titles give you a pretty good idea of what this form of outsider literature is like. Whether you view them as being indicative of a gleeful gonzo anarchy or merely a juvenile sense of transgression is another question.
I started my induction into the world of bizarro with Rampaging Fuckers Of Everything On The Crazy Shitting Planet Of The Vomit Atmosphere! by Mykle Hansen. It is subtitled “three novels” but, at only 215 pages, these are novellas at best. The first of these is ‘Monster Cocks’, a sort-of-satire about the end of the world featuring Jack Stalker, your average American Everyman with a micropenis. Jack has a foolproof plan though: ask strangers on the internet for penis enlargement advice. After all, as Hansen puts it in typically deadpan style, “I’ve seen pictures of their dicks so I know I can trust them.” Initially, it seems he is right to trust them because soon he has the monster cock he’s always dreamed of. He names his new penis Lassie. Unfortunately, Lassie gets out of control:
“That really excellent and pressing question – what to do, exactly, with my seven-foot-long bloodthirsty pet anaconda cock-monster, who had ripped free of my crotch and ate the policeman who thinks I murdered the abusive boyfriend of Angela Fine”
Indeed. ‘Monster Cocks’ is actually surprisingly gentle – a “poignant tragedy” it says on the back – but it is hard to escape the thought that, these days, nothing’s shocking. After all, it was only two decades ago in 1991 that Lord Horror by David Britton – proto-bizarro if ever I saw it – was actually banned. Banned! That was the last time a book has been banned under the Obscene Publications Act 1857 and the idea it could be successfully enacted again is pretty much inconceivable. Last year Darryn Walker was prosecuted for publishing online a story in which the members of the pop group Girls Aloud were raped, tortured and murdered in graphic detail. This is extreme stuff but by no means unprecedented for internet fanfic, as his defence counsel said “in terms of its alleged obscenity, it is frankly no better or worse than other articles.” Walker was not convicted.
The genie is out of the bottle. When Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds was banned by WH Smith and John Menzies it meant something, now everything is just a click away. Walker can self-publish his darkest fantasies and anyone in the world can read them, Bizarro Books can happily sell their wares through Amazon. This revolution in production and distribution gives us, the reader, unfettered access to filth but it also allows publishers to print ultra-niche products and still find an audience.
For example, last week I received an email asking me if I would like to review a “multicultural lesbian steampunk anthology. Yes, I said, yes, I would. The anthology – the rather weakly-named Steam-Powered, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and published by Torquere Press – was in my inbox the next morning. As is usual for a small press anthology, there aren’t many well-known names on the table of contents are unfamiliar but it does open with a story from NK Jemisin.
The outline of ‘The Effluent Engine’ is entirely familiar – a spy arrives by airship in a foreign city, intent on securing a scientific secret – but the details are not: the spy is from post-revolution Haiti and seeks to acquire the ability to distil methane from the island’s plentiful rum effluent in order to keep its people free from colonial tyranny. Of course, this is Jemisin so romance quickly raises its ugly head in the form of a scientist’s comely (and fiercely intelligent, naturally) sister. Things develop as you would expect.
Are either of these books any good? Well, I read them very much in the spirit of enquiry and, after my first exposure, had no pressing urge to explore further. A little goes a long way with such specialised tastes. But, at a time when the horizons of corporate publishing shrink ever tighter, I’m glad they exist.
- Orgasmachine by Ian Watson (Newcon Press, 2010) – reviewed by Justina Robson
- Shine, edited by Jetse de Vries (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by Anthony Nanson
- The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed by Tony Keen
- The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Michael Abbott
- The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Martin Potts
- Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Tor, 2009) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
- The Turing Test by Chris Beckett and The Last Reef by Gareth L Powell (Elastic Press, 2008) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
- The Holy Machine (Corvus, 2010) and Marcher (Cosmos Books, 2008) by Chris Beckett – reviewed by Jim Steel
- Inside/Outside – Chris Beckett interviewed by Paul Graham Raven
- Major Carnage by Gord Zajac (ChiZine Publications, 2010) – reviewed by Shaun Green
- Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk (ChiZine Pubications, 2010) – reviewed by Graham Andrews
- The Nemesis List by RJ Frith – reviewed by Ben Jeapes
- The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Brave Story and The Book Of Heroes by Miyuke Miyabe (Haikasoru, 2007 and 2009) – reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- WE by John Dickinson (David Fickling Books, 2010) – reviewed by Donna Scott
- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Penguin, 2010) – reviewed by CB Harvey
- Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2010) – reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- The Iron Hunt, Darkness Calls and A Wild Light by Marjorie M Liu (Orbit, 2008-10) – reviewed by Amanda Rutter
- The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (Orbit, 2009) – reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster, 2010) – reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- The Office Of Shadow by Mathew Sturges (Pyr, 2010) – reviewed by AP Canavan
- Lord Of The Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by Lynne Bispham