Another year has come and gone, gang. 2014 was one of the more challenging years since I began writing fiction full time. But, even though the year was full of doubt, ended relationships, far too much isolation and second guessing decisions, there were many bright spots, many wonderful surprises and challenges overcome, lessons learned, and friendships built and solidified with the promise of great, powerful things to come in the future.
I moved into a new apartment. I started a vlog show. I released a short story collection and a double novella with Danger Slater. I started two more novels and wrote a dozen short stories. More than enough for another collection. I ended some toxic relationships. I saved a lot of money for a cross-country move to somewhere still not decided. I launched this website. I started a newsletter and released its first issue. I attended Bizarrocon for the first time.
I began the year full of doubt that anyone truly understood me or what my goals were in this fiction game, or even in my personal life. I end the year with the profound sense that I am understood. Maybe not always liked, and often disagreed with. But understood. And that’s all life is, in the end, isn’t it? A battle cry out into the emptiness of space. Hear me! Understand me! This is how I interpret the human condition! This is my sliver of the universe perceiving itself!
The calendar resetting doesn’t change who we are, fundamentally. But it gives us a moment of pause to assess where we came from and where we’re going. As long as we’re healthy enough, and have the piece of mind, we can take another step forward. Every journey in life, in love, and toward success starts with that first step every day, week, month, and year.
Here’s to that first step into the new year, gang. For all of us, let’s make it a good one.
OK, with that nonsense out of the way, here are my top three bizarro books of 2014:
1. Fantastic Earth Destroyer Ultra Plus- Cameron Pierce and Jim Agpalza
This is, hands down, my favorite book of 2014 and one of the very best bizarro books I’ve ever read. It is sad. It is violent. It is bleak. It is full of the most beautiful imagery Jim has ever created. All of his strengths are at work here. Awkward looking gaunt characters with looks of profound sadness that only Jim can create. Lots of nudity, an Agpalza mainstay. But more than those things, he’s able to take Pierce’s ethereal, dreamlike prose, and just go with the flow. Mom is young and beautiful until she isn’t. The humans are real, until they’re puppets. Tetsuo grows a whale foot named Candle. Summer goes blind and becomes something less than human. Cameron has written his darkest, most bleak tale to date. Jim has created his finest, weirdest illustrations to date. This is a masterwork of bizarro fiction. I can’t wait to see these two giants of the weird collaborate again.
2. Wormjob- M.T. Granberry
Humor is extremely hard to pull off in fiction. Many brand new authors attempt humor because it feels safe. Like they’re not committing to much. Like they’re simply goofing off and if they fail, oh well, they weren’t taking themselves seriously anyway. Humor is often employed by those afraid to fail. The problem is, those people aren’t actually committing to much. They aren’t actually putting much thought toward their comedy. This is true for all art. Movies, music. A lot of brand new artists think starting by goofing off is the best way to test the waters before they plunge in with what they really have to say to the universe.
And that’s fine. Maybe that’s the way it should be. But most of the time, those jokes aren’t funny, and that humor is really bad. Not the case with M.T. Granberry’s Wormjob. This delicious body horror tale of a woman getting experimental breast implants full of, you guessed it, parasitic worms is an absurdist tale to be sure. But the humor is funny. The absurdity is the style in which we’re told these awful people’s story. And it works! It works so well it had me laughing out loud.
Fiction doesn’t have to be crafted with pompous, pretentious prose to be moving and tell a larger truth. Newspaper comics have been cutting right to the heart of truth with absurdist cartoons for more than a hundred years. And that’s what Wormjob is. A cartoon in prose attacking the absurdity of superficial, manufactured beauty. The plastic surgery industry. Consumerism. Religion. And it is done well!
Don’t let the silliness of Wormjob fool you, Mr. Granberry is a powerful voice in bizarro fiction. One that will create many more tales of the absurd that just might give you pause and make you think that maybe, it’s not his fiction that’s absurd, but the world around you instead.
3. Kill Ball-Carlton Mellick III
For an author with 40+ books in print, one might guess that Carlton Mellick III might be running out of things to say in his fiction. And while a lot of his books aren’t exactly making profound statements about the human condition, they are always weird, always heart-felt and typically do leave the reader with a few things to chew on after they’ve closed the book.
Kill Ball shows a true bizarro veteran’s ability to take just about any premise, and create characters and a plot around them that are both engaging and honest. When Kill Ball begins, we meet a young boy who wants to touch his ailing mother so badly, he crawls inside of her protective plastic bubble, only to see her melt before his eyes. Fast forward a decade, and everyone on earth lives inside mobile plastic bubbles lest they meet the same melty fate.
That’s the setup. That’s the world Carlton creates for us, and does so effortlessly. Within 15 pages, you’re immersed in bubble world not questioning for a second the ridiculous idea that an entire planet of people would bounce around inside plastic bubbles. That’s easy to do when reading a Mellick book, because he approaches these nonsense premises with absolute sincerity.
What follows is a classic Italian horror tale of a leather clad killer ball chasing down and murdering strippers. It gets really weird and takes several turns that you will not see coming. It’s a solid book with a crazy premise that works on every level. If this guy is still hitting homeruns at 40+ books, imagine what he’ll be writing when he gets close to triple digits? I, for one, can’t wait.