Tag Archives: Bizarro

By Bizarre Hands

If you’re looking for tales of unflinching tension, grisly violence, and/or deeply disturbing horror, all told in a mesmerizing voice, then you need to pick up a copy of Joe R. Lansdale’s first short story collection, By Bizarre Hands. Originally published in 1989 by Avon, most of the sixteen stories in this collection were previously published in various anthologies and magazines, although two of them are exclusive to this book. That same year, it would go on to be nominated for a Stoker for Best Fiction Collection.

There are a number of nasty, gritty tales contained in these pages. “The Pit” and “The Steel Valentine” contain suspense and violence that swiftly escalates into action-packed finales that, upon finishing them, you’d think you’d just read novels. The title story, along with “Boys Will Be Boys” (later absorbed into Lansdale’s 1987 novel The Nightrunners) and “I Tell You It’s Love,” spend so much intimate time in the depraved minds of their deeply disturbed characters that you need to give your soul a shower afterwards. And “Night They Missed the Horror Show,” a 1988 winner for the since-discontinued Stoker Award for Best Short Fiction category, is such an unrelentingly grim story that it might just obliterate one’s faith in humanity.

Not all of these stories are dark reflections of twisted souls. A pioneer in the bizarro subgenre, Lansdale pens a few tales here that furrow the brow and raise the WTF? meter to the max. “Fish Night” is every bit as mythical in feeling as the tale that one of its characters tells. “The Fat Man and the Elephant” is a straight-faced story of a man seeking a sort of god in the confines of a dying elephant’s stench. And “Tight Little Stitches In a Dead Man’s Back,” besides arguably having one of the best short story titles EVER, is a disturbing recollection of the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse and the journey that a couple take as they mourn the loss of their daughter. If I said any more, I would be spoiling it. Just make sure you have memory bleach ready, because you won’t be able to un-see some of this tale’s squirm-inducing images.

Also worth noting are two period pieces. “The Windstorm Passes” is a Dustbowl-era tale that is a spiritual precursor to his 2000 novel, The Bottoms (reviewed here). And “Trains Not Taken” is perhaps the most unusual story in the whole collection, being a bittersweet alternate history tale of unhappy love and unfulfilled dreams set against the backdrop of a Japanese-colonized Wild West.

Landsale’s particularly American prose is less of a product of his background than it is a key element of his style. It’s often quick, to-the-point and on-the-nose storytelling, yet he knows how to incorporate and build suspense. He doesn’t ever shy from describing anything grim or nasty; he doesn’t just “go there” in his stories—he’s practically built his home “there.”

Although the printed editions of this book are long discontinued, they’re fortunately not too hard to find; and, for those so inclined, By Bizarre Hands is also available as an e-book. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy now—and just know that after you read its dark tales, you will never be the same.

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Primordial: An Abstraction

There really isn’t a lot you can say about the work of D. Harlan Wilson. I know that I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel stupid every time I read something he writes. The man wields words like tools and weapons, goes at you with surgical precision and gets at those wounds with the heavy tools. So heady and wild are his plots (if you can all them such) that by the time I’ve finished, I usually think I may need to start again to figure out what I’ve missed.

He was one of the first of a class and style called Bizarro that I long ago encountered. I have read a lot of the stuff since and I still insist, Wilson is one of the best. While his work does contain some of the oddly goofy, almost cartoonish escapades that his contemporaries often purvey, his is tightly leashed with psycho-intellectual philosophies and down right unwieldy lectures that somehow work and fight like puzzle pieces.

His newest novella is called Primordial: An Abstraction. I shall do my best to interpret for you: A professor is busted for toxic teaching and sent back to redo his Ph.D. Sent to a dorm room that he shares with countless others, he begins a wildly paranoid and claustrophobic nightmare of educational bureaucratic bullshit as well as an epidemic of pornography. He immerses himself in anger, violence, and obsessive weight-training. For every step he seemingly makes towards his beloved degree, he slides back on the blood of those he’s terrorized.

I dug this book. Did I get it? I’d say, maybe a little. But I am a lover of words. Any words. All words. I just like looking at them and saying them and seeing them in strings. Wilson weaves wonderful strings. If you have the resolve to dabble in the real deal of Bizarro, if you’re growing bored of Palahniuk and his edgy-for-edginess’-sake offerings, then maybe it’s time to unhook the training wheels and give Wilson a go.

Available through Anti-Oedipus press.

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Fish Bites Cop

Do you like being punched in the face? How about being kicked in the shins? Maybe someone holding you at knife point and making you lay your hand on a table so they can smash it with a hammer sounds like bliss? All of those brutal and violent scenarios have a lot in common with David James Keaton’s collection, Fish Bites Cop!: Stories to Bash Authorities.

Oh, I don’t mean it’s a painful read or anything; I mean that at any given juncture, in any story, the unexpected veering violence could take hold and you could lose and eye—or even bladder control. Fish Bites Cop is a collection of 30 short tales. The only thread that tethers them thematically would be that there is usually at least one cop, fireman, or EMT in each story. There is also a lot of death, anger, and, for some odd reason, hand deformities.

I won’t go into every story but I will touch on the ones that left scratches. “Trophies” is the opener and a wonderfully bizarro intro it is. Through seemingly strange circumstances we get to see what lies beneath. In “Schrodinger’s Rat,” we are introduced to a group of prison inmates and witness their odd dealings and shenanigans. Brutal and witty while never losing its edge, this ain’t no Shawshank fo’ sho’!

“Greenhorns” is a tale of a group of fisherman with a much more sinister agenda. “Three Ways Without Water (Or the Day Roadkill, Drunk Driving, and the Electric Chair Were Invented)” is my favorite of the bunch. What a delirious kick in the pants it is. Part weird western, part bizarro, it’s like Cormac McCarthy’s drunken cousin after he raided the medicine chest. I mean, it has everything: vampirism, zombie horses, gun slinging, shape-shifting, and did I mention zombie horses? Glorious!

“Castrating Fireman” is a darkly comic romp that is and isn’t what its title implies. “Three Minutes” is one of the few tales that feature “Jack,” an EMT with some serious issues. In “Clam Digger,” a younger sibling must come to grips with the events that ended with his older brother’s demise. “The Ball Pit (Or Children Under 5 Eat Free!)” is a troubling tale that hints at post-apocalyptic fringes but never reveals what’s behind that dark curtain. And for the grand finale, he smacks us over the head with “Nine Cops Killed for a Goldfish Cracker,” a gonzo bloodbath of law enforcement and craziness that should be the punch line to its own joke: What’s blue and white an red all over and goes a hundred miles an hour?

So, is it a good book? You bet. I dug it. But I must be honest and inform you that it is not for everyone. If you like gritty noir-ish bizarro stories and people, with authority figures who are as flawed and warped as all get out, this is your Easter egg. If that isn’t your thing, then you may want to sit this one out. There’s a bench over there, right beside the nice policeman.

Fish Bites Cop is available through Comet Press.

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Dominoes—Now Available!

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce that Dominoes, by John Boden, is now available!

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes is available in paperback format (no digital version for this release) from our webstore or Amazon.com (for other regions, see your specific Amazon website) for $6.99.

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Back Roads & Frontal Lobes

Nothing thrills me more than discovering new authors. New to me, to be precise.

Brady Allen intrigues me with his unapologetic attitude and willingness to stand tall and stalwart while brandishing his opinions with honest intellect. This is a trait one sees very little these days, when it is all too fashionable to lay with the herd and suckle at the teat of popular opinion. This made me wonder about his literary output, so I reached out and got a copy of his collection.

Back Roads & Frontal Lobes is as amazing a collection as it is puzzling. Not a single tale here is what it appears to be. Most flirt with horror but are more about the human condition and attitudes of characters. There are shades of noir and bizarro, but the stories are most often darkly surreal and more terrifyingly realistic than should be allowed. This collection is a unique stampede of unease, stamping and snorting discomfort. I mean that complimentary, of course.

Opening with “Slow Mary,” Allen gives us a strange tale of road kill and revenge. But it was actually the second tale, “Not Over Easy,” that won my dark heart. That story follows its bizarre protagonist through a series of troubling and odd scenarios to a conclusion that is just as puzzling as the opening. “Devil and Dairy Cow” is a hallucinatory tale of a girl, a teacher, and a rainy recess where the shit hit the diabolical fan.

In the title story, a man on the lam makes a stop in Death City and finds he likes it. “The Last Mystical Vendor” has exactly what you need even if everything you know tells you otherwise. And in “The Taste of a Heart,” a motel room is the stage for an exceedingly sinister game between a man and a woman.

“Six Miles to Earth” is a highway roadshow; Tarantino by way of Russ Meyer. “Burger” is a nasty side-road monster mash. “Ballad of Mac Johnstone” concerns the courtship between an aging bluesman and death. “Road Kill (A Love Story)” brings us to a man who feels compelled to remove dead animals from the roadside and the chain of unfortunate events that come about because of it. And “Praying” exposes the insectile ways we have.

Of all of the stories, however, “Rounding Third” was the one that smacked me in the face and then continued to do so. A tragic and all-too-real slice of reality. If it doesn’t make you cry—God help you.

If early Joe R. Lansdale left you gobsmacked, then you MUST read this cat! Allen is versatile and fearless. He doesn’t give much of a damn if you get what he’s doing or not. He’s writing to get it out and if it happens to bring enjoyment to someone, cool. If not, oh well, he’s doing it anyway. And I’m glad for that!

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Bleed

With his debut novel, Bleed, Ed Kurtz gives us a premise that, while not entirely original, is handled with a deftness of vision and execution so as to make you forget that you’ve ever read something similar before.

Walter Blackmore has left the band Rainbow and is about to…oh wait, that’s not it.

Ah, here we go…Walter Blackmore has bought a small cottage in the hopes of fixing it up and making an “engagement-wedding” gift of it for his girlfriend. Of course the house is haunted—kind of. There is a strange stain on the hallway ceiling. It’s red and still wet. As Walter goes about assessing and taking care of minor repairs, the stain continues to grow. His girlfriend is thrilled with the house, not so much with the icky stain…especially after she sees it eat a bug.

The stain gets larger and less like a stain, more like a thing. Appendages and teeth and noises. It’s hungry and I bet you, horror fan, can guess what for. Walter begins to act less like his old self and more like a man possessed. Things get out of control and violence ensues. The stain evolves into something more with every passing hour, and while repulsed, Walter discovers it is something he has always needed. Maybe.

The prose is lean and sharp. The dialogue and characters are believable, even given all the bizarro madness that surrounds them. Bleed reads as though Willard created a demonic baby with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and David Lynch served as midwife. It’s a devilish good time, but you’ll want to wear an apron.

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Announcing Dominoes…

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce Dominoes, by John Boden.

Dominoes is a Little Horror Book, the perfect bedtime read for strange parents and bizarro children, a book not only meant to be read but also experienced.


Click for full-size images.

Cover art and interior illustrations were once again handled by the amazing Yannick Bouchard, who also did the cover art and illustrations for Beautiful Sorrows.

Praise for Dominoes:

“Now for something strangely different: death falls like a hellish deck of bruised songs through the lives of old and young in the unexpected flow of images screaming in Dominoes by John Boden.” —Linda Addison, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial

“Strong stuff. Strange, incantatory, and speaking of things that might already have come to pass. This is some seriously weird shit.” —Gary McMahon, author of Tales of The Walking Wounded, Pretty Dead Things, and The Concrete Grove trilogy

“Equal parts evil and beautiful, John Boden has created a prose poem that reads like a bedtime story that would work best if told right before the apocalypse.” —Adam Cesare, author of Tribesmen, Video Night, and Bound By Jade

“Boden is a master of the surreal. His language is lyrical and haunting, and he packs each sentence with more emotion than other writers manage to accomplish in an entire novel. Dominoes is a wonderfully off-kilter apocalyptic tale of madness and misery.” —Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum, The Quarry, and The Summer of Winters

Dominoes will be released in paperback format this coming October.

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Diegeses

I’m no stranger to the deliriously literate bizarro offerings of D. Harlan Wilson. I even had the pleasure of interviewing the man, an interview which proved almost as difficult to navigate as his prose yet is so damned intriguing you can’t give up.

His newest, a short book that is split between a pair of novellas, is called Diegeses, a word that means a style of fiction wherein the narrator is telling or recounting, as opposed to showing and enacting. But you can rest assured that a simple structure like that would be bent and twisted in the capable strong hands of Mr. Wilson.

The first novella is entitled “The Bureau of Me” and concerns the strange plight of a man called Curd. Curd may or may not be entirely human. He likes to drink to excess, to clear his head for thinking and plotting. He likes to fuck his assistant, often, and in strange places. He trudges through a futuristic city where people are eaten, literally and figuratively. He attempts to find the agenda and faces behind the mysterious Bureau of Me, who have been harassing him to join their ranks. During his quest he encounters sex, copious amounts of alcohol, moth men, stuttering and strange realities…and then shit gets really weird.

The second half is the novella “The Idaho Reality.” Our main character is once again Curd, although in this tale he goes by the name and persona of soap star Seneca Beaulac. This second stage is much harder to decipher than the lead in. The words seem to want to leap from the page and gouge the eyes that don’t quite comprehend. A stranger and different animal than its predecessor. Still deftly intriguing.

Diegeses is higher brow than a lot of bizarro. It is a book that must be read and then re-read, some sections multiple times, and even then you may not fully understand what’s going on…but damned if it isn’t entertaining and interesting.

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Dead Things and Satanskin

I have probably stated before, quite a few times, actually, the fact that I am just about zombied out. So when I received a package containing Dead Things, by Matthew Darst, I read the blurbage and sighed. Zombies. But I won the book through a Goodreads giveaway—and hey, Free book! Better yet, a signed free book.

I started it that night, and within two or three nights had finished it. It was that good.

The debut novel is set nearly twenty years after the “zombie event.” The dead have risen and eaten folks. Society has collapsed and rebuilt itself. Religious fanatics have lots of control. Our main characters are literally thrown together in a plane crash and forced to stick together to survive. Adding to the tension of outrunning the hungry dead, there is the fact that no one trusts anyone else, as anyone could be a mole for the church. I’m talking Witch Hunt kinda-church.

Darst uses a number of nifty maneuvers to keep this a fresh offering. The dialogue is smart and witty. The science behind the story is very well thought out and smart. In fact, I’d say the weakest point would have to be the ending, which seemed a bit rushed—literally rushing headlong into and messily hitting closure in a chapter.

As I stated, this is a debut novel. A well-written, smartly entertaining debut. Integral to the plot are the zombies; however, it is more than a zombie novel. It’s a novel about humans being, a novel where the monsters we become are far more frightening than the things shambling from the graves to gnaw on our flesh.

Dead Things is available from Grand Mal Press.

In 1992, James Havoc released this wonderful book of bizarre and repulsive word swill. I loved it. Still do. Then he went missing. Dropped right off the face of the earth.

Gone. Never to be heard from again.

Like a meth-fueled mixture of William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Michael Gira and Chuck Palahniuk being poured down the eager throat of Edward Lee, Satanskin is that hardcore. Graphic as anything you can imagine. Surrealism carved in the faces of the damned with a rusty razor equals Satanskin.

Havoc didn’t paint with words…he fed you the words then reached down your throat—or up your ass—and then finger-painted your brain with them. These stories are prose-beasts. Skulking ugly creations that stumble in and out of cohesive narrative. There are vampires and nameless things, aliens and undead creatures. Depraved children and Demonic butt-sex. It’s an explosion of supreme insanity and chaotic cringe-worthy debauchery. This is Bizarro, from a time when the tag didn’t really exist.

This title was released in 1992 via The Tears Corporation/Creation Press. In 2011, the 20th anniversary e-book edition, which includes the bonus story “Third Eye Butterfly,” was released by Elektron Ebooks.

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Skull Cathedral Woman

In 2008,Tim Waggoner put out Skull Cathedral, a supremely short and limited edition booklet, via Squid Salad Press.

Skull Cathedral is a bizarro tale that is a smorgasbord of trippy images, the premise of which appearing to be the delusions of a man going through a barbaric procedure to cure him of his less than pure thoughts. These sections of his warped psyche appear in the form of short chapters where we encounter a wide array of fucked-uppedness. Yes, I invented a word for it.

Behold a smoldering midnight in a town on fire. Hang with a man with assholes for eyes who sprays gawkers with optical diarrhea. Witness a depraved man on a raft stitched from the skin of four sluts as he floats on a menstrual sea…and gets horny. Attend a dinner date with a cannibalistic toddler. This is Bizarro on steroids.

This brief book was my first experience with Waggoner’s work and I can say I look forward to reading more. Devilishly and deliciously disturbing. Available via Squid Salad Press, but it is limited edition, so act quickly.

Jack Ketchum is a name synonymous with brutality and edgy violence. He is quite capable of that on his own. Add to that a partnership with renegade film director, Lucky McKee, and you’ve got a shimmering bouquet of dripping red madness.

The Woman follows the last surviving member of the reclusive cannibal clan featured in Ketchum’s novels Offspring and Off Season. As she stumbles on, weak and wounded, she has the continued misfortune of crossing paths with local lawyer Christopher Cleek, a man highly regarded in his stature and position, but so cracked and flawed in character and soul…well, better to leave the rest for you to discover.

Cleek captures the woman as she bathes in a stream and takes her to his home, imprisoning her in a cellar until he can “tame” her. Which he plans to do with the help of his family. This is where things get very bad.

The Woman takes you just where you expect it to, then kicks you in the shins and knocks you down a dark stairwell, where it then stands above you, sneering as it pisses into your sniveling face. It’s a bully of a novella, populated by some of the nastiest characters ever to live on the page.

My edition comes from Dorchester Publishing and also includes a bonus story, “Cow,” which ups the disturbing ante. It made me feel the need to shower, immediately. That is high praise!

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