Unicorn Battle Squad

I wasn’t too sure I wanted to read a book about unicorns, but knowing it was written under the Bizarro banner, I figured I’d give it a try. I’d heard that Kirsten Alene’s first book, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, was really good, but it wasn’t in front of me, and Unicorn Battle Squad was, so I read it. The story follows Carl, a clerk living a fairly structured life of work and boiled cabbage, but when his father dies (or goes missing), he ends up going down the rabbit hole. Before long, he has a unicorn, he’s living with a bunch of filthy, burly men, and his city is in danger. Carl has to pass tests, fight (sort of), and take care of his unicorn, Yury, a fortified dapple with thick skin and sand crab claws growing out of it. Oftentimes, I imaged the world and characters looking like something from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.

When I began, I was sucked into the story pretty quickly, but the book itself isn’t as consistent as the earlier chapters. Unicorn Battle Squad loses steam as it chugs along, with Carl passing out or getting buried, and suddenly, everything’s been taken care of for him when he wakes up/climbs out. As everyone else says, the ending is abrupt. Really abrupt. Often, I like it when an author doesn’t really try to explain the logic of the world they’ve created, but in this case, there are a few instances in which I think some expanded explanations might have been nice (Nathaniel, for instance)- although, if we only really get Carl’s point of view, I suppose there would be a lot we wouldn’t know.

Despite all of that, I do think that Alene has a lot of potential as an author. She puts some solid ideas into Unicorn Battle Squad, I just think it needs a little more fleshing out. I give it a solid B. It’s better than just average, but it’s not quite as good as I know it could be.

Get it on Amazon.

Adolf in Wonderland

I’ve been thinking about trying to be less perfect lately, so I picked this book up at the right time. Cartlton Mellick III’s Adolf in Wonderland is the story of a man pursuing an imperfection that he is unable to identify through an imperfect world full of imperfect characters. Imperfect by Adolf’s standards, I mean- many of the characters and settings are really interesting, both in design and by their actions/attributes. It combines the strict order and control of the Nazis with the absurd freedom of Wonderland, and though it’s similar to Alice in Wonderland in spirit, Mellick manages to make Adolf in Wonderland its own thing.

For the most part, I thought Adolf Hitler was easy to relate to, but he frequently shows you the error in his ways. In fact, I often found myself at odds with Adolf’s decisions, probably because I wasn’t being forced to make these decisions myself. The story is a bit of a life lesson, with the real absurdity coming from Adolf Hitler himself, as you see how the quest for perfection really plays out. Mellick ties the book up nicely by closing with a quote from Haridas Chaudhuri.

At the point, I’ve read a few CM3 books, and this one is probably my favorite. One constant I like about Mellick’s books is that they are quick reads. It’s almost like you’re on a car ride, with someone telling you this really interesting story, and before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination.

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Night of the Assholes

I don’t worry too much when I pick up a Kevin Donihe book, anymore. At this point, I know I’m going to have a pretty good read. When I saw that Night of the Assholes was a parody of Night of the Living Dead, though, I worried about it just a little. Parodies can easily go wrong. Donihe didn’t care what I thought about any of that, though, and wrote a good book anyway.

Instead of zombies, we get assholes, which are probably more terrifying than the walking dead, especially considering how easy it is to become one. They don’t have to bite you, or even touch you. If you be an asshole to an asshole, you become an asshole. It’s that simple. Obviously, it would be difficult to resist, considering the myriad forms assholes come in. What’s worse is that you can’t always identify them immediately. Assholery manifests in so many ways…

This book is increasingly topical. It’s basically a worst case scenario version of the real world, using plot points from Night of the Living Dead as a skeleton, filtered through bizarro. As with its counterpart, we follow a woman named Barbara (as opposed to the poorly spelled Barbra) who finds herself fleeing to a house to hide out from an epidemic that seems to be sweeping through civilization. Here, she’s paired up with other survivors which all mirror Night of the Living Dead characters. One of my favorite parts is when Barbara first goes upstairs and finds the note. Barbara, by the way, is a highly relatable protagonist. Moreso than her NotLD inspiration. She may be the most relatable protagonist I’ve ever encountered in a book. I’m not even sure I’d have made it out of some of the situations she finds herself in.

While Night of the Assholes may not be my favorite Donihe story, it’s nice to see him break away from his previous works a little, and successfully tackle a parody.

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Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars

Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars, by Cody Goodfellow, has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long while. I’d heard good things about it, but getting me to actually pick up a book and read it is a chore. Finally, though, I decided it was time. Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars ended up being a good collection of short stories wrapped in a nice Alan M. Clark cover. In fact, once I started reading, it was hard to stop. More than once, I’d see that it was 2am again, and I knew I needed to sleep, but flipping ahead, the next story wasn’t too long, so maybe I could read just one more…

What was different about these stories, compared to other Bizarro books I’ve read, is that they have a strong horror vibe. I was reminded of old TV shows, like Tales from the Crypt and Monsters. Some of the stories have an H.P. Lovecraftiness to them. Though I like most of the stories here, Drop of Ruby, Atwater, Magna Mater, and Losers Weepers are probably my favorites. Goodfellow has people encountering dark forces, insanity, Platonic Forms, alchemic creations, mental landscapes, and mysterious porn booths.

I’ve seen this collection as being referred to as Goodfellow’s best short stories, and that’s good enough to make me interested in picking up more of his writing. I’d like to see what he does with a novel.

Get it on Amazon.

The Deadheart Shelters

I picked The Deadheart Shelters by Forrest Armstrong without knowing much about it, other than I’d heard a few people say it was good.  A blurb on the cover says it’s the literary equivalent of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film, and I like Jodorowsky, so this seemed like a promising book.  Overall, it is pretty good, though I don’t know that I’d really compare it to Jodorowsky’s work, unless maybe I were contrasting the two.

The Deadheart Shelters is a bit like a fairy tale, in which the protagonist is caught in the conflict between slavery, in its various guises, and freedom.  Armstrong’s language has a poetic quality (poetic prose?), and flows in a dreamlike or stream of consciousness kind of way, but it stays within the boundaries of the constrained storyline.  It’s sort of like most people’s lives, where just some stuff happens within a loose framework of a story in which things are connected via the fact that they occur in a sequence, all in the shadow of The Absurd.  So, in a way, it’s actually quite relatable.

While the story itself is minimalistic, it’s wrapped in some great scenery.  I think, though, that its strength is also its weakness- Armstrong makes heavy, heavy use of simile and metaphor.  Sometimes, it’s fantastic, but other times, it gets lost on itself, with similes embedded in metaphors embedded in similes… and it’s in these cases that the poetry of the writing may be too much for some people.  In the end, though, this didn’t detract from the book, and I can comfortably give The Deadheart Shelters a 4/5.

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By The Time We Leave Here…

I was drawn to J. David Osborne’s  BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS by the cover, which is how you’re not supposed to judge a book, but I did it anyway. The colorful Alex Pardee art coupled with the description on the back were enough to make BtTWLHWbF seem promising. A blurb on the cover also refers to the David Lynchian nature of the book, which flags down my skeptic’s attention. Too many things are compared to David Lynch’s work, and most of the time, this is a stupid comparison, because all they have in common is a bit of “weirdness.” It’s like saying all comedies that have a man and woman in them are romantic comedies. That aside, in this case, the description ended up fitting the story. The setting is bleak and minimalistic, and there’s a tangible ambiance, with the clear feeling of something ominous in the air. If the book came with a soundtrack, it would be a low, subtle, near-constant noise you only notice sometimes, but provides a definite sense of unease.

Most of the book is made up of vignettes, with the last two chapters being substantially longer than their predecessors- so when you reach that point, settle in and enjoy the entirety of this story’s bleakness being laid bare. The author makes heavy use of sentence fragments, which actually suits this story, and like a lot of my favorite bizarro authors, he uses descriptors that are both creative and interesting. Normally, I’d catch typos as I read, but I didn’t see any… so, there are either no typos, or I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t notice them.

The ending may leave you confused. Jeremy Robert Johnson says in the afterward that 2/10 people will ask about the ending. I suspect that number is higher. Does the ending make sense? Is it a slice of life? Vorshtein? People are still debating Mullholland Drive… I’ll leave it up to you to decide. However, I will say that I very rarely re-read a book, because reading is dumb, and part of a global conspiracy orchestrated by the Illiterati in a sweeping effort to create a One Word Government, BUT I think I would like to read this one again, especially knowing how it all turns out.

This is Osborne’s first book, so he seems like a promising new author. I’m planning on picking up his second book, which probably says something since I hate reading so much.

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Kitten

I have yet to read any of the New Bizarro Author Series of books. This isn’t because I think they aren’t potentially good (or even great) books, it’s just that my time in incredibly valuable, and I’m barely literate as is, so IF I’m going to take the time to stammer my way through a story, I want to know ahead of time that I’m probably going to enjoy the next three weeks of reading… which is why I tend to stick with established authors and books with good ratings. Just because I haven’t read the other New Bizarro Author Series books, though, doesn’t mean I’ve ignored them- they SOUND great, based on their titles; Bucket of Face, Avoiding Mortimer, The Egg Said Nothing, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs… and though these all sound totally interesting (and I will get around to them), G. Arthur Brown’s Kitten has this diminutive, innocuous title that is wholly intriguing compared to other books in the genre. “Kitten.” Is it a story about a kitten? I don’t know! It’s like the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” all unassuming but full of power. It kicked my interest in the face and made me take notice.

The great thing about Bizarro stories is that they can take you anywhere, they can do anything, and they don’t have to conform to standard models of storytelling, which is one of the main reasons I love them. Can I talk about Kitten without giving anything away? I’m not sure, but I can try. The story held my attention, and G. Arthur Brown created a world in which anything weird or strange feels very natural to me. This is imperative to my enjoyment of anything in this genre, and absolutely important to me when dealing with anything Weird. In fact, I’m constantly talking about how crucial it is for Weirdness to be Authentic- it’s something channeled from a Source by Prophets. Forced weirdness, “look how random and weird I am,” is a major turnoff.

There are a lot of great moments in this story, too. I especially loved the advertisement and the children’s story and birthdays before a birth day and the TV shows… but again, I don’t want to spoil anything. Brown incorporates a good mix of interesting storytelling, absurdity, comedy, Bizarro-ness, colorful characters, and some fantastic ideas into a slim book that feels thicker than it is- in an entirely good way. I get the sense that this is his first book-length story, but not that he’s a first-time writer. Far from it- he seems to have good control over his writing. If this is his first attempt at a book, I think there’s a great deal of impending potential in Brown’s work, and I hope we get to see more of it soon.

Buy it on Amazon

Squid Pulp Blues

I’m reaching a point at which I’m entering Bizarro books with less and less skepticism. Not to be a complete snob, but I see “weirdness” as a delicate thing. Too many people try to be “weird” and “random,” but their efforts fall flat, aren’t interesting, and stink of “trying too hard.” You probably know the type. After a couple of years of reading books that fall into the Bizarro category, though, I’ve hardly been let down. When I picked up Squid Pulp Blues, I faintly felt my skeptic swimming around, just below the surface- but by the time I got to chapter 3, he must have drowned, and I was hooked on Jordan Krall’s story.

I can be a bit lazy with books, even short ones, but I finished this one the same day I started it. The world of Squid Pulp Blues is a colorful and interesting place- one of my absolute favorite aspects of the book is that Krall doesn’t attempt to explain everything the characters encounter. There are strange and mysterious things in Thompson, New Jersey that remain strange and mysterious to both the reader and the town’s inhabitants. Life doesn’t always give you answers and, thankfully, neither does Krall. Of the 3 stories, I feel that the first and third are stronger than the middle child, but all 3 are pretty entertaining.

As a minor sticking point, there were just a few too many squid references. Every once in a while, I’d think “yeah, ok, squids, I get it.” The book could also use another round of editing. There’s typos, and a few instances of duplicated words. At one point, the word “both” was spelled “book.” How does that even happen? OVERALL, this is a quick, addictive read, and it’s convinced me to pick up another Krall book in the near future.

Buy it on Amazon.

D.D. Murphry Secret Policeman

For several chapters, I was sure that D.D. Murphry Secret Policeman was somehow about me. I was suspicious of it, but then my employers let me know that it was just a coincidence. knowing that, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Alan M. Clark and Elizabeth Massie make a good team- I love the idea behind the story, and I very much like most of the story… there was just a little something that seemed to be missing. I have no idea what it was, something intangible, perhaps, but still a very enjoyable book.

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Satan Burger

A past version of myself wants to rate this book with 5 stars. It wants to make references to it, even though most people won’t know what Satan Burger is. If I could have read this book during my formative years, I feel it would have been Very Important to me. I would have thought Carlton Mellick III was a kindred spirit, and that I should gouge out one of my eyes just so he had another hole to f- me in, filling me with what I might, at the time, think of as “GLORY.” This book would have been transformational had I known about it 30 or 40 years ago. The me of now would rather give this book a 4 star rating, because I like and enjoyed it, but the impact isn’t the same. I think, though, it’s a little unfair to take something out of its place in Time and say “well, it’s not got the same impact!”

The passage of time doesn’t detract from it, in my opinion. Or, it shouldn’t. Once, I would have loved it. Now, I like it. I’m going to rate it based on then, though, because if you’re someone who likes weirdness, or maybe it’s just your Nature, and you didn’t really have an outlet for it, once upon a time, or a sense of belonging because the internet wasn’t what it is today, I think you could have read this book and felt pretty inspired. And maybe you would have really pursued your own weird style, knowing that someone else had transformed theirs into a book… and it would have been pretty great. Maybe now, you’re like “yeah, whatever, I see ‘weird’ commercials and eat ‘bizarre’ cereal all the time,” but I don’t think that attitude does this book any justice.

10 years ago, this book was,or would have been, genius- for some. Now, I think it’s still pretty good, but my opinion is skewed, slightly, only by the fact that I’ve read other Bizarro stories since then, and I’ve watched a slew of things created by what is probably the Greatest Generation, those who fall between X and Y… and so maybe something that was very fresh for its time is a little less fresh now. Don’t let that spoil it for you, though. Satan Burger is worth reading, especially if you’re new to the idea that a book can be titled “Satan Burger.”

Buy it on Amazon.