The Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue) Paperback – Dec 18 2007
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From the Inside Flap
"The Bizarro literary movement is the ultimate in outsider lit." - 3AM Magazine
"[Bizarro is] universally intriguing, thoughtful, intelligent and, most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun." - The Pedestal Magazine
"The literary equivalent of a David Lynch or Tim Burton film ... These stories offer a glimpse into a rising genre that functions like the cult movie section in your local video store." - Horror World
Even though the Bizarros are underground cult outsiders, they still have gained an incredible amount of respect in the publishing industry, having been praised by the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Christopher Moore, William Gibson, Alan Moore, Piers Anthony, Cory Doctorow, and Charles de Lint, to name a few, as well as the publications Asimov's Science-fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-fiction, Cemetery Dance, Fangoria, Wizard Magazine, Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Face, among many others. They have also been finalists for the Philip K Dick Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling Award, the Wonderland Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize.
Bizarro isn't just weird fiction, it is damn good weird fiction, and the genre grows exponentially every single day, so, love it or hate it, you'll be seeing a lot more of it in the years to come.
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Introduction or What is this Book?
The first "Bizarro Start Kit" (colored orange) was an instrumental book in introducing bizarro to a wider audience. Combining eight of the top bizarro writers into one volume, it was responsible for hooking many readers (this reviewer included) on these strange new authors. This year, Eraserhead Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Afterbith Books have combined forces yet again to give us "The Bizarro Start (blue)."
This time we have ten different authors contributing novellas and short stories for our reading pleasure. Due to the nature of this book, let's look at each writer individually.
Fracalossy starts off the volume with twelve short shorts characterized by word-play and a strong sense of fun. These stories start the book off right, getting the reader into a strange and logically-loopy frame of mind. "A Body in Motion" is the stand-out piece in which a man's body rebels in some rather creative manners.
Jeremy C. Shipp
"Flapjack" is a novella about two men in a prison with one recounting the strange tale of how he got there. The story floats along with dream-like logic as Shipp creates new language and cultural customs. The main-character narrates with a sense of innocence and an ever present shadow of darkness. Tim Burton would be right at home directing an adaptation of this story.
Krall contributes "The Longheads," the middle novella from his collection "Squid Pulp Blues." The Longheads from the title are disfigured war vets that have some sinister plans for a small town. Meant to be read as a middle piece between two related novellas, "The Longheads" feels underdeveloped on its own. While Krall is a strong writer, one wishes he had submitted something more stand-alone appropriate for this collection.
"Monster C*cks!" is the attention grabbing title to this contribution. It is a novella about a man who gets much more than he bargained for from a penis-enlargement system that actually works. Hansen tells a funny and thrilling story that in the hands of a lesser writer would just be juvenile. Instead, the reader receives an engaging tale that gets inside the head, and pants, of the main character.
Shell is a sort-of bounty hunter, hired by The Rotting Man to go to Hollow City and bring back a woman named Pearl. So begins the surreal/horror/noir novella "The Devastated Insides of Hollow City." Prunty has a talent for writing dark and enthralling tales and this is no exception. For horror fans, this is the stand-out piece of the collection.
"Nin and Nan" is the exceptionally strange offering from Gerdes. Nin and Nan live on top of a hill and when billboards and roads start to impede upon their space they are forced to take action. From there, they embark on a journey that takes them to the very top powers of the government. Those crazing the extremely bizarre will be sated with this story.
"Cheesequake Smash-Up" is the story of a place where buildings have the ability to levitate. To determine which fast-food franchise will monopolize the market, a race is being held with the structures themselves being used as vehicles. Sands has created a tale even weirder than the previous two sentences suggest. He easily wins the award for strangest, balls-to-the-wall weirdo-fest.
"Shamanspace" is the meta-physical offering that Aylett gives us. Dealing with the role of history, books, and self it is a complex and dense tale. Including a brief history of the story's world and a fictional bibliography, this is the most experimental story of the collection.
"The Order of Operations" is the story of several people whose lives intersect around a common payphone. In a book filled with outlandish concepts, Tebordo's story stands out as it is mostly based in reality. Where it is unique is in its presentation, skipping back and forth between several perspectives. This one is for the more literary-minded readers.
Rauch finishes the collection with seven short stories. The reoccurring theme of his pieces is how the average person is suppressed and crushed by the weight of the world. Of course, this is told via miniature people in ant costumes and cranium enlargement. This selection of stories is a thoughtful final contribution to the book.
One could call this the second generation of Bizarro writers. They are a group of writers that are influenced by many authors contained in the first starter kit. What is most exciting is these authors, while influenced by, are not rip-offs of the first line of writers. Each of the eight authors contained within stand on their own as writers. With the shear amount of variety present here, any fan of weird fiction will find something they can love.
The Longheads - Jordan Krall: Tommy Pingpong and his partner Jake are looking to buy some guns for a heist, all the while evade their former partner, a diaper wearing bastard named Peachy Keen. But why are the Longheads buying up all the guns?
The Longheads, insane and deformed war veterans, go on a homicidal rampage on the streets of Thompson, New Jersey, in this story but it's mostly in the background. The main part of the story is the pursuit of Tommy and Jake by Peachy. Throw in an image of Barbara Stanswick in the sky and a serial killer that draws comic strips on the backs of his victims and you have quite a tasty morsel of bizarro noir on your hands.
Monster C*cks! - Mykle Hansen: An inadequate IT professional takes male enhancement too far and his mutant penis takes on a mind of its own...
Wow. I had a feeling the lead's penis would grow out of control but I had no idea as to what extent. Holy crap. On a non-Bizarro note, the depiction of IT workers was spot-on.
The Devastated Insides of Hollow City - Andersen Prunty:
Shell, a detective, is hired to find Pearl, Queen of the Hollow City. Can he survive the slag plague long enough to find her and bring her back to the Rotting Man and collect his fee?
This story was a bit of bizarro noir, a grotesque journey through a plague-ridden city to find the queen, a diminutive girl named Pearl. I should have guessed where Pearl was but I didn't. I need to track me down some more Andersen Prunty soon. I like his style.
Cheesequake Smashup - Bradley Sands: In a battle for fast food dominance, McDonalds, Burger King, White Castle, and scores of other chains enter a building demolition derby. Gunning for a promotion, office worker Monty Catsin enters his employer, NGA, into the derby as well. Who will emerge as the sole provider of fast food in America?
Cheesequake Smashup is mother-whoopieing hilarious. Combine an absurd office, complete with an octogenerian sexpot, a giant goldfish, a gorilla, and lots of mobile buildings smashing into one another, and a heaping helping of absurd humor and you've got a winner on your hands. I'd say Cheesquake Smashup was worth the price of admission on its own.
All this awesomeness and more can be found in Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue.) Get out your credit card and buy it today!
This time the reader is introduced to the work of Jeremy C. Shipp, Ray Fracalossy, Jordan Krall, Mykle Hansen, Andersen Prunty, Eckhard Gerdes, Steve Aylett, Bradley Sands, Christian TeBordo, and Tony Rauch. All of the authors represented have completely unique styles, and all are extremely fun and entertaining.
It should be noted that where the BSK (Orange) was very fun, and at times an easy but entertaining read, the BSK (Blue) is more... cerebral. The stories presented are far more thought-provoking and in places difficult. There are a few lighter, more fun pieces (Mykle Hansen and Ray Fracalossy's offerings come to mind), but overall the BSK (Blue) presents a strong argument for the literary merit of the genre.
Once again, the value of this book can not be overstated. Like it's predecessor, the works are samplings and in some cases whole novellas from larger works. The beauty of this edition is that one need not read the BSK (Orange) first. The starter kit series is meant to be read in no particular order and serves simply as a great way to familiarize oneself with the genre.
Again, this book is just plain amazing. The weirdness flows forth, taking you along with the deluge. Fun, thought-provoking, ultimately entertaining, this is an anthology worthy of a place anyone's shelf.
A definition, or rather, definitions of bizarro appear at the beginning of this book, so I won't attempt to expand on them. What I can say is that based on the ten different authors, all with very unique stories, is that bizarro is not just the genre of the weird-it is a genre that allows us to step alternately into worlds of the surreal, humorous, and horrific, sometimes all at the same time. Every story in this book was stylistically different than the rest-there was no solidifying theme running through the book. They challenged me as a reader to keep up with what the author was creating at every step. It seems that in a bizarro story, things can turn dramatically on a single sentence, even when some elements are used repetitively to bring a point across. This is not a genre to hop into assuming that you will be able to relax and casually blur over certain passages and retain full comprehension of what is going on.
I won't lie and say that I "got" it with every story written here, but I was entertained by most of these efforts, amused, repulsed, and intrigued, which means that these stories kept my interest, even if I wasn't sure of the exact path that I was being led down by each author.