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Is there any decent Bizarro fiction out there?

So the term Bizarro fiction has crossed my path three times in as many days. That trips my curiosity circuits, which in turn activate my data collection probes, which tell me that I need to read some of this stuff.

Bizarro fiction styles itself as ‘literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store’. To my outside eye it seems like literature much more influenced by film than by other literature, literature that wants the schlock and awe factor of cult cinema, rather than the deep immersion of good fiction. But it also seems like Bizarro might be a healthy and timely cure for the ever more burdensome seriousness of much genre fiction.

In this interview Rose O’Keefe draws a line between Bizarro and New Weird. It’s a line I somewhat agree with, with New Weird defined by its desire to present weird stories that please literary readers, whereas Bizarro is more likely to offend them. I’m tempted to like Bizarro for that reason alone, but fear it will all be as poorly written as the few examples I’ve found so far.

Sturgeons Law says 90% of everything is crap, I’m sure it holds for Bizarro. So what is the 10% of good stuff? Who is the ideal exponent of Bizarro? What is the best Bizarro novel? Are there great Bizarro stories to read online? Give me names and links people!

And also…

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17 thoughts on “Is there any decent Bizarro fiction out there?”

  1. The thing about bizarro fiction is that, much like cult movies, a work (or author) beloved by many is definitely not for others; identifying the “best” stuff is even more subjective than usual.

    E.g. Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake is a riotously funny concept with tons of energy, but its prose is not its strong point, and that’s going to turn some people off. On the other hand, the writing in Cameron Pierce’s Ass Goblins of Auschwitz is strong, but the story’s weirder and less cohesive than the epic tale of Shatner vs. Shatners. Kevin Shamel’s Rotten Little Animals is playful and funny and has some nice twists, but it’s kinda scat-heavy.

    Thing is, none of that criticism is all that relevant. For segments of the bizarro audience, it’s going to be beside the point, or even a strength.

    However, in my still-limited exposure to the genre, Carlton Mellick III’s books are the most well-rounded. He’s a talented stylist with drag-you-in ideas and a lot of humor. I’m liking The Menstruating Mall and wished I’d picked up The Haunted Vagina, too.

    I’ve seen a few other authors repeatedly compared to him (and vice versa), but I’m not familiar with their work. Should be able to find them on Mellick’s wikipedia page.

  2. Carlton Mellick III is a Clarion West graduate and has made it into the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror at least once, so he’s a strong writer. But his purposely simplistic 7th grade reading level prose turns off a lot of serious readers. Still, he’s worth checking out. I recommend Cybernetrix, The Egg Man, Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland. Or one of his more goofy books like Sausagey Santa.

    Kevin L. Donihe’s “Washer Mouth” is also highly recommended.

    There’s a lot of good bizarro fiction, but many authors are an acquired taste. It can grow on you, though. Big time.

    1. Carlton Mellick is the name that keeps coming up. One more recommendation and I will buy Warrior Wolf Women.

  3. Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland = bizarro post apocalyptic fiction. It’s basically female werewolf road warriors versus a dystopian society ruled by McDonald’s, with Mayor McCheese as a warlord of the apocalypse and the Hamburglar as a samurai. Sounds dumb, but it’s actually pretty great. One of Mellick’s absolute best. I highly recommend it.

  4. I’m a new bizarro author (my first book HOW TO EAT FRIED FURRIES comes out this fall from Eraserhead, and I have a short story coming out in a mass market anthology, too).

    I find that I’m a weirdo among weirdos…someone who manages to appreciate BOTH The New Weird AND Bizarro (though, if you put a gun to my head and MADE me choose a side, I’d have to go with Bizarro). I think the part of the dilemma with this discussion is that both the New Weird and Bizarro are two relatively new, often misunderstood, genres.

    Unless you’ve actually sat down and read Ann & Jeff Vandermeers’ anthology THE NEW WEIRD (I have, and enjoyed it), it really is difficult to understand what “New Weird” is. And unless you’ve read the wide array of Bizarro books, it’s hard to understand what’s meant by “the literary equivalent of the ‘cult’ section of the video store”.

    Remember, cult movies don’t have to necessarily be “shlock and awe”. David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ingmar Bergman are all “cult” directors. I like to think of Bizarro being influenced by both the art house and the grindhouse.

    But Bizarro influences aren’t solely cinematic, either. Many Bizarro authors cite Phillip K. Dick and Thomas Ligotti as influences (for example).

    But to answer the question posed in your blog title, yes, there is quite a bit of decent bizarro fiction (much of it exceeding “decent” into the realm of the “superb”)…If I had to pick my favorite Bizarro book of all time, it’d probably be EXTINCTION DIARIES by Jeremy Robert Johnson, followed (very closely) by SHARK HUNTING IN PARADISE GARDEN by Cameron Pierce (which, by the way, is a very different book than ASS GOBLINS OF AUSCHWITZ). I’m also a big fan of Gina Ranalli’s SKY TONGUES. I enjoyed a fair bit of Mellick’s stuff, too. Off the top of my head, CYBERNETRIX was a nice read.

    1. Great suggestions Nicole. I’m still not convinced that Bizarro isn’t overwhelmed by filmic influences that will make it struggle as really good prose fiction. (I love film. I love books. I don’t love books by people who watch films by don’t read books. Of which there are many.) I’d be interested to read How to Eat Fried Furries.

  5. Interesting post! It set me off exploring and I ended up ordering two Bizarro books – one of the starter kits and “House of Houses”. The description of the latter sounds strangely beautiful. I’ve not been this excited about an Amazon order before. I’m don’t know if I will love or hate these books.

  6. To me these literary genres are a bit facetious in that neither genre is well-defined enough at this point to really draw a strong difference. Both are more or less neo-fabulists at this point, with one genre, New Weird, striving more for an altered sense of reality and the other, Bizarro, going for all-out oddity. Really this style of ‘weird’ driven storywriting has been around since the 50s anyway, it’s just matured a bit and moved on from the Burroughs and Ballards of yesteryear.

    1. Interesting angle Benjamin. I’d argue that genres are at their best when they are ill defined. Its the point where we can definitely say what they when they stop being interesting.

      Full blog post on Bizarro fiction coming soon for anyone interested.

  7. Bizarro interests me, but the writing is so poor . . . Rose O’Keefe’s comparison of Bizarro to cult films and lowbrow art seems about right to me, but even the lowbrow artists can paint — some even better than so-called legitimate artists — and cult films like ERASERHEAD and ICHI THE KILLER, for all their weirdness, are still capably made films. For bizarro to gain acceptance as a genre it’s going to have to embrace its “literariness” and learn to stand as a literature on its own terms. Right now bizarro’s literary quality is at the level of fan-fiction, and that’s simply not attrative to most readers, even the ones interested in bizarre subject matter.

  8. I have a hard time getting past the first few pages of these books and frankly I find them not only lacking in literary merit but also in imagination. It’s not enough to just pull “sick” or “crazy” ideas out of a hat. There are numerous literary precedents for this kind of stuff- Philip Jose Framer’s sublime “Image of the Beast” comes to mind and maybe the Illuminatus books and other trippy novels from that time period. Of course the grand-daddy of the genre is most likely the Ducasse’s “Maldoror.” Unfortunately most “Bizarro” books I’ve encountered fail to even pay homage to such lineage. This is largely because the authors content themselves with absurdity and sophomoric humor while failing to tease out the dramatic potential of a literary genre that could be potentially boundless. I suggest a little more Antonin Artaud and Angela Carter and a little less Quentin Tarantino.

    1. That’s a respectable opinion, but Bizarro literature isn’t about paying homage or putting academic merit in their books or trying to evoke a “time period”. Bizarro literature is about having fun and doing whatever-the-heck-you-want to get away from such pretensions. Bizarro literature IS absurdity and crazy ideas – that’s the point.

      I just got my first Bizarro novel published (Vulgarity For the Masses) and I didn’t care Jack Jiminy Squat what people would think about it as I wrote it. I wrote it for people who were sick of easily digestible titles with cliched ideas and prose, I wrote it for people who always, in the back of their minds, wanted to read stories about the weirdest stuff they’ve ever come up with in the privacy of their heads without it feeling like the author is high above and pronouncing down at you.

      And that’s all it is. It’s just fun and weirdness for it’s own sake. It’s not designed to be for everyone, just those willing to put aside those things and have a look. :)

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