Yeah, that’s right. There are two new Carlton Mellick III books out now. A novel and a short story collection. And they’re both awesome.
Cuddly Holocaust: Brutally fantastic
There was a time not too long ago where I thought Carlton Mellick’s best work was his older stuff. Stories like Satan Burger, Fishy Fleshed, and The Egg Man had a style that wasn’t just bizarro. There was a radical experimental edge to the storytelling, too. He messed about with perspective and senses and was totally out there. And while I still enjoyed stuff like Zombies and Shit, and Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland, they just didn’t grab me like some of those other stories did. I’m not sure whether I have changed as a reader, and my tastes have changed somewhat, but I’m finding titles like Armadillo Fists and Cuddly Holocaust giving those older favourites a run for their money. I still haven’t read Tumor Fruit or Kill Ball, his last releases before this, but I feel as though Cuddly Holocaust may become a new Bizarro favourite.
This is a bittersweet story of a girl and her plush toy. It’s also a brutal war story of a woman infiltrating the enemy to exact her revenge and rescue her loved ones. Toys with artificial intelligence turning against humans in total chaos and bloodshed. Carlton Mellick takes this concept as far as it will go, then pushes it further. Parts of the narrative echo the Warriors. The journey through gang territories, urban violence, a gang pushed to their limits, desperate to get home safe. Mellick takes the cute and cuddly, and renders it violent and terrifying. His world of plush toys is wild and dangerous, and it only gets more wild, more dangerous, and more violent as the story progresses.
Cuddly Holocaust is wickedly, violently, gore-splattering awesome. You don’t want to miss out on this one.
Hammer Wives: You don’t mess with the hammer wives
There are 6 stories in this collection. Some are better than others, although I feel it mostly comes down to substance. When Mellick takes the time to flesh out a story, that’s what takes it from a good story to a great story.
Having said that, the shorter stories in the collection have a certain charm about them that just works. Simple Machines and The Man With the Styrofoam Brain are short and fun. The other 4 stories take a bit more time to tell their stories, to set the scenes, and get some good character development going. Red World is possibly my favourite in the collection. It’s a sad story that’s very tender and sentimental and tragic. There was an impact to it, like it were cut off too short.
The remaining three are fantastic, fantastic Bizarro reimaginings of popular tropes in recent years. Vampires (Hammer Wives), Zombies (Lemon Knives ‘N’ Cockroaches), and Shapeshifters/Werewolves (War Pig). War Pig is probably my next favourite. Hammer Wives was a fantastic concept, and the story was awesome, but I think perhaps it went on a little too long for my taste. It was a story with a lot of suspense, that just ramped all the way up and stretched its way out. Not exactly a bad thing, but not quite my favourite in the collection. It definitely serves its purpose as the title story of the collection. Out of all the stories, probably Lemon Knives was the one that left the strangest impression on me. While most of the other stories hint at vast worlds of absurd terrors, Lemon Knives was very up-close and intimate. It was, as the setting describes, very claustrophobic. There seems to be a bigger picture, but we only get a very small glimpse at this insect and zombie infested apocalypse.
This is the first Mellick short story collection I’ve read, and it was well worth it. They’re strange, gripping stories that will stick with you a while.