A quick dozen books

Review

A while ago I wanted to go through everything I’d been reading and provide brief reviews for them in blocks of months. But I’m not the best with time management, so I’ll just keep playing around with things until I find something that works. Right now, I’m just going to write a bunch of short reviews on stuff I’ve read from all over the place. Nothing elaborate, just here’s a book, here’s what it’s about, and here’s what I thought of it.
1) Biomega, by Tsutomu Nihei

This is a six-volume cyberpunk manga series. I read it in January/February of this year and it’s one of my favourite book series. It’s about a guy called Zoichi Kanoe, who works for the monolithic Toha Heavy Industries. He works his way through a megastructure filled with monstrous cyborg creatures and into highly monitored cities. He’s searching for a solution to the N5S virus. The virus turns people into zombies, and the problem Zoichi faces is that there are forces in the world that are trying to spread the virus, to baptize the world and see in a new era. The art style is sketchy, with a gothic cyberpunk type visual aesthetic. And the plot is sparse. Little dialogue. The pace rockets along with lots of action, monsters, motorbikes, zombies, and talking bears. It’s a bombardment of awesomeness.

2) Placenta of Love, by Spike Marlowe

This sort of thing is why I love bizarro fiction. It’s a tragic love story that’s just so weird. And the weirdness enhances the tragedy. A robo-pirate falls in love with a placenta. Theirs is a forbidden love that spirals out of control. The story is set on the planet/amusement park Venus, which is populated with all sorts of creatures and bizarre rides that form this wonderfully hedonistic planet-culture. It’s a space-age sci-fi fantasy that’s beautiful and sad and at times quite sexually explicit with things that you would perhaps prefer not to be so explicit. But it’s wonderfully imaginative. It’s a touching story. It’s the romance narrative you’re familiar with, but it’s exactly nothing like any romance narrative you’ve read before. And this is the author’s first book. It’s part of the New Bizarro Author Series which, hopefully, will lead to more books. I know I’ll buy ’em.

3) The Crud Masters, by Justin Grimbol

This is another New Bizarro Author Series Book. It’s about a poor gang of kids who just bum around the place and drink and fuck and watch the giant monsters out in the bay. Yes, there are giant monsters. And robots. One of the kids in the gang is a robot. They get into fights with the rich kids and they get beat up, and the book is pretty much about the exploits of the gang. They’re little freaks with no future, and it’s kind of tragic. There’s the urban slums, and it’s both sad and wonderful that these kids are living for the day-to-day, no real direction, and all they’ve got to look forward to are the fights with their rich rivals. They’re living in the moment, and I guess this book is all about rooting for the underdogs. Those kids are awesome. They rule the streets and they know how to give a beating, and they know how to take a beating. They’re tough. At the end of the day, that’s all they need to survive.

4) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

A seven-volume manga series, the first few volumes of which were adapted into a film of the same name. It’s by the fantastic man that did the films “Princess Mononoke”, “Spirited Away”, and “Ponyo”, amongst others. “Nausicaä” is one of my favourite movies, and this series takes expands on the movie in volumes. It’s a post-apocalypse fantasy, where there are giant portions of forest that are infected with these spores that are harmful to humans. Once the spores spread to human habitats, they’re stuffed. Some move, some shelter themselves, and others attack the forest and the giant insects that reside there. Nature becomes angry, and unless the humans work together to stop the forest from engulfing the world, they’re all going to die from the spores. The manga explores a complex network of cultures and politics as Nausicaä attempts to bring peace to both nature and mankind. And it’s packed full of action and conflict, and populated with a richly fantastical setting.

5) The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan

Say what you want about picture books, Shaun Tan’s picture books are just unreal. They’re all just fantastic. Very creative and quirky, beautiful and touching. And so very powerful. I bought the Red Tree a couple of months ago and I’ve read it through quite a few times. It’s 122 words long. There’s not a word there that doesn’t belong. But it’s not really for children, or for “children of all ages”. It’s for people. It’s a book about depression. On the first page: “Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to” and you’re sucked into a world of surreal numbness. “The world is a deaf machine.” It’s dark and terrifying and beautiful. It’s about a journey through darkness to the light. It’s beautiful, the art, the words, how out of this bleak world, wonderful and amazing things grow. This book is something I can always rely on to give me strength.

6) Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa

Where to start with this? Well, I started with watching the anime. Then I watched the reboot series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I read the manga series last, but the story and art are largely the same (well, the Brotherhood anime and the manga are, anyway). It’s a 27 volume manga series about a fictional military nation-state with a European vibe. And where we have science, they have alchemy. The ability to transform matter into something else, and provided that matter is equally conserved in the process. Equality and balance are themes that are explored throughout the series. But really, it’s about brothers Ed and Al, who used alchemy to try and resurrect their dead mother. Ed lost his arm in the process, Al, his whole body. With Al’s soul bound to an empty suit of armour, the two set out on a journey to restore their bodies. It’s totally gut-wrenching, and it’s pretty relentless throughout the series, as a wide cast of characters try to aid or hinder Ed and Al in their quest. They are just two children in a large world of adults. There are politics and war. Everyone wants something different, and the brothers get caught up in this complex network and they become part of something much larger. I could go on and on about how much I love this, but really, it all comes down to how ridiculously amazing the plot is. For something that’s run for as long as it has, and for how complex it is, it is brought together so well, the action is awesome, and the plot twists slot in real neat, and it really stuns. Just stuns.

7) Kraken, by China Mieville

This is the longest book I’ve finished in quite a while. It took me a while, too. But basically, it’s about a kraken on display in a museum that goes missing. And it’s an urban fantasy, where London  is this city with a wild, dark, agressive underground culture. There are people that communicate through the city, there are religious cults that worship giant sea monsters, creatures that posess statues, and gangsters that are all sorts of crazy. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there was one point where the gangsters Goss and Subby were doing their thing, their cockney intimidation routine, and it was just so intense and violent and crazy imaginative. It’s really well written, if somewhat a bit too verbose. Then there’s the matter of everything sprawling out of control and keeping it making sense, and bringing it all together at the end. It could have gone anywhere, really. Considering the reader was left in the dark as to how the universe of underground fantasy-London operated, it kind of came off a bit ‘deus ex machina’-ey at times. But it’s imaginative and interesting and explores more complex narratives than, say, a bizarro novel.

8) Party Wolves in my Skull, by Michael Allen Rose

Another book from the New Bizarro Author Series. This one’s about a man whose eyeballs fall in love with each other, detach themselves from his head, and run away to get married. A group of ‘party wolves’ move into his skull and help him to track them down. It’s a road story and a love story, and a totally batshit insane story. It’s wildly entertaining. It’s really weird, full on bizarro stuff. I’m not really a fan of comedy, and I guess one thing about bizarro that I don’t really get is when authors do the full on weird stuff for comedic effect. I’ve read stuff like that and enjoyed it well enough, but I much prefer it when the story is told straight up. No joking around, this is what happens, accept it for what it is. And that’s what Party Wolves does. It’s a serious enough story, which I think makes it all the more powerful. It’s random and all over the place, but you’ve got to expect the unexpected when it starts with a man’s eyes popping out of his head and running away with his car. It’s great to see the author going for a story so radical and tackling it full on.

9) The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, by Eiji Ōtsuka (author) and Housui Yamazaki (illustrator)

I only got volume one yesterday. I finished it last night. It’s an ongoing manga series which is currently up to 15 volumes, I think, in Japan. I put an order in for volume two today and I’ll be waiting with anticipation. The basic concept is like this: think of Uzumaki meets Ghost Whisperer. There’s some fucked up shit going on here. Sometimes there’s not, but it’s still weird. A group of students at a Buddhist college form what they call the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. They find dead bodies, figure out their problems, and work a way to releasing their souls so they can rest in peace. Where Ghost Whisperer has one lady constantly hassled by apparitions, Kurosagi has a group of paranormal oddballs. One guy can talk to the dead, one guy can track them down. There’s a guy with a puppet/alien hand, a chick that can embalm the bodies, and a chick that runs the operations. I’m only one volume in, but the stories are fascinating and a little disturbing. The artwork is very slick and neat. The characters are weird, the concept is interesting. Count me in.

10) Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom, by Cameron Pierce

I’m very fond of Cameron Pierce’s bizarro writing. The second bizarro book I read was his short story collection, Lost in Cat Brain Land. And I think he’s just been getting better and better. Now, I don’t care what people say about vampires, I like them. And Cthulhu, who doesn’t like Cthulhu? If you’re willing to admit it, it was nice to know you… What Pierce has done here, is he’s created a fantasy world that is entirely unlike our world, save for a few key traces of pop culture. Cthulhu and vampires and lolcats and hamburgers. It’s a very weird world and it feels very dark and very cold. And I don’t take ‘dark’ to mean ‘sinister’. I guess I mean it in the way that a world of vampires has a lot less light than our world. And everything is warped and estranged, and yet so fantastically vivid. The plight of the vampires is something to empathise with. The main characters are endlessly in love and they are heartbroken by tragedy. It starts with the line: “Wake up, the baby is dead.” This is a story with heart.

11) The Blob that Ate Everyone, by R.L. Stine

Yes, this is a Goosebumps book. It’s about a blob that ate everyone. Who’da thunk it? In terms of style it’s the typical pulp horror garbage that Stine usually feeds the children. But this one’s totally meta. See, the main character is a writer who is writing a story about a blob that eats everyone, and then he realises the story is coming true. So, of course, he plays around with his newfound power, tries to understand and control it. A few plot twists, hey presto, best Goosebumps ever. For something that’s fairly formulaic, this particular Goosebump was pretty entertaining.

12) Island of the Super People, by Kevin Shamel

This is what you’re looking at when you get behind the guys in the New Bizarro Author Series. This is Kevin’s second book, his first being part of the first group of New Bizarro Authors. This book is like The Incredibles, but set in a world where superheroes don’t comingle with society. They’re of an entirely different breed local to a small, obscure island. The story is about a group of anthropologists who are studying the superheroes and trying to learn more about them. I guess you could say they’re there to learn something about themselves too. And there are some superheroes and supervillains that could leran a little about themselves too. In amongst the action and weirdness, at its heart, this is a story of self-discovery. And learning to reach out to others and to understand others. That’s a lesson that I can relate strongly to. For all the bizarro/cartoon logic, this is a story with real depth.

Review: Gigantic Death Worm By Vince Kramer

Review

Original Review From the Surreal Grotesque Issue 3

If this book were a movie, it would feature Vince Kramer playing multiple characters in many different wigs and costumes that are all obviously him. Some comedy is like that. The Mighty Boosh, Monty Python, all of that far-fetched stuff that could only exist from the creativity of those lunatics involved. They go for the crude, the vulgar, the obnoxiously entertaining, and you feel like you’re not just getting wild stories out of it, you’re also granted passage into the minds of the people that created it.

You pick up Gigantic Death Worm and you get a large slice of Vince along with it. It’s a combo-package deal.

His writing style reminds me of an artist who did a series of pictures where he got a whole bunch of kids to do a whole bunch of drawings of monsters and he redrew them to look more realistic. And the kids had all sorts of strange, crooked shapes and limbs and eyes and things sticking out in odd places, and strange ideas like baseball monsters and things. There was no point to it, but it was crazy awesome.

It’s like Vince sat down with a bunch of kids and got them to tell him all sorts of crazy and nonsensical junk, and then he took it and made it more crazy and nonsensical, violent and pornographic, and then strung it together in a single, crazy, nonsensical story and polished it up a bit. And there are copious amounts of that youthful sense of wonder and spontaneity and excitement and imagination. It doesn’t need to be poignant. It’s got shit blowing up and shit being awesome. What more do you need?

This book is about these totally awesome frat dudes and this chick who get stuck out on a ski lift, and there’s bears that spit wolves, then there are these gigantic death worms and these Mexican ninjas and it’s totally badass, and it’s the end of the world. It’s gross and comedic and violent and vulgar and crazy and wicked fast paced and fun. Reading should be fun. And you can tell that Gigantic Death Worm is all about fun. It’s crazy, stupid, afternoon-killing fun and it serves as a reminder not to take everything so seriously.

And it’s glaringly obvious that, on top of everything, Vince had a ball writing the damn thing. A writer who truly, madly loves what he does? I can’t say no to that.