Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #4 | Damien Angelica Walters, Tiffany Scandal

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

They Call Me Monster by Tiffany Scandal

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice by Damien Angelica Walters

It takes guts to commission two stories with virtually identical thematic hooks in the same anthology. It takes even more sizeable viscera to place those stories exactly side-by-side in the table of contents. But Lockhart isn’t afraid to take this risky but logical leap, and with Scandal and Walter’s stories creates a logical double-bill: a teenage interlude for the Eternal Frankenstein experience, if you will.

Yes, both stories take the teenage high school experience as their springboard into — and out of — the core of Shelley’s text. While they are similar on one level — both concern themselves with a Frankenstein’s Creature teenager put together by overprotective and/or scientifically overzealous parents, who are offstage for most of the narrative — their differences are also crucial.

Scandal takes a more straightforward route (her story is also the shorter one), and has the Creature-stand in protagonist, Imelda, narrate her own experience of being bullied across various high schools as her parents move her from one town to another once the bullying gets too much to handle.

Sissy Specek as Carrie

Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976), dir. Brian De Palma

“We can’t punish the whole school,” becomes a refrain, and it serves as an equivalent to the the pitchfork-happy mobs that have become synonymous with Frankenstein stories ever since Hollywood got its mitts on Shelley’s text. While Walters builds a sense of dread through a carefully chosen framing device, Scandal pulls the rug from under our feet right at the end, mingling the satisfying arc of the coming-of-age story with something far more sinister.

In fact, Walters embraces our expectation for ‘Frankenstein stories’ from the word go: she knows that we are calibrated to expect a certain kind of arc from any take on Shelley’s text. She even throws in an extra reference for good measure: the narrator of the story — we soon catch on that we’re hearing one side of an interrogation — mentions the cult favourite film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie as a trigger for the grisly episode she would set in motion with her friends.

And there’s a nasty thrill to be had with how Walters dangles the carrot (or rather, bucket of pig blood) of what’s about to be recounted. Unlike Carrie, however — in which there is never any doubt about the ferocity of the bullies — this is a story of casual bullying that builds into something more malignant as it progresses. But on the other hand — and because we’re given everything from the self-justifying perspective — it’s also a reminder of how easy it is to victim-blame and scapegoat those who appear to be innately different from us.

Remember the pitchforks. They haven’t gone away.

Read previous: Siobhan Carroll

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #3 | Siobhan Carroll

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

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Thermidor by Siobhan Carroll

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has inspired dreams and nightmares about weird science and body modification, but let’s not forget that at the core of this much-referenced Gothic text is a tortured meditation on what it means to be human… and what it means to be its opposite.

If a creature is made from scratch with very little reference points to guide it, what does it think and feel? This is the tragedy of the Creature — a shambling creation in more ways than one, improvising his way through a makeshift life with only sporadic successes along the way.

But the Creature’s problematic physical make-up is nothing when compared to the chilly and nervous reaction of Victor Frankenstein to his creation. It shocked me to listen to Kenneth Branagh describe Victor as intrinsically a “good man”, while he talked about the thought process behind his own take on Shelley’s novel in a Charlie Rose interview, because while Frankenstein may be many things, I struggle to imagine him fitting into even the most liberal of ‘good man’ molds.

In fact, one of the main strands of the novel, to me, is Victor’s chronic inability to take responsibility for what he did — to allow himself to feel enough empathy to accept the Creature’s pain as a legitimate enough sign of his humanity.

So apart from its oft-propagated Gothic trappings and monster-movie-ready fodder, Frankenstein is a story about dehumanization, from both ends of the scale: the abjection of the creature exists as a result of Victor’s callousness, or denial of all of the things that should bind the two together in mutual understanding and love.

justine

All this being said, Siobhan Carroll isn’t shy to indulge in a variety of cosmetic thrills that Frankenstein brings up, and neither does she resist making some delicious intertextual and historical connections to dream up her merciless little tale.

But by connecting Victor Frankenstein to the Marquis de Sade — using the name ‘Justine’ common to both Shelley’s text and Sade’s oeuvre — Carroll betrays a sensitivity to how dehumanization is what infects Victor’s project from the word go.

Like Sade’s own early novel Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue — which takes place just at the brink of this key moment in history — Carroll’s story is saturated in the spirit of Revolutionary France, as seen over the shoulder of Justine — a character whom we could more or less equate to a Bride of Frankenstein figure. To wit: she procures still-breathing bodies for her master, who in this case is not a nervous weakling but a scientist who views torture as a necessary part of the experimental procedure.

Being a product of the very processes she helps enable Justine is in a perfect position to show how chilling lack of empathy can really be. And the story’s most intriguing passages concern her faded, ghostly rememberance of empathy past, when she sees but doesn’t feel previous pain and fails to put two and two together upon witnessing the suffering of others.

This is also a subaltern story in many ways, with Justine catching on to the Victor’s — aka the patriarchy’s — privileged and exploitative ways. But because she’s hard to sympathise with for obvious reasons, Justine’s ideological struggle makes for complex reading.

Like Shelley’s novel, Carroll’s story is about humanity at its outer limits, and throwing Sade into the mix feels like a logical extension of that literary experiment.

Read previous: Orrin Grey

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #2 | Orrin Grey

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet by Orrin Grey

Check it: Orrin Grey’s contribution to Eternal Frankenstein has its close-second-person narration talk about a kid watching a movie. Now, an outwardly rational but profoundly misinformed part of your brain may be passing these signals right about now: Gee, a story about someone just sitting there watching a movie sure sounds boring as heck!

I hear that, I do. But not without raising you The Prayer to Ninety Cats by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Haven’t read it yet? That’s fine. Help yourself. I’ll wait. Really.

Done?

Okay, now comparisons are odious, and a comparison to one of the (pretty much) undisputed champions of contemporary weird fiction may feel particularly odious indeed. But Orrin Grey is not to be thrown away — a direct translation from my native Serbian that also happens to rhyme, hooray! — especially given that his recent short-story-anthology-Kickstarter* was a runaway success, and that his prolific output has proven he’s a name to watch out for, if nothing else.

But when talking about an anthology that aims to build on the literary reputation of an undisputed — no doubts about it in this case — classic, it’s also good to point out stylistic commonalities. After all, Frankenstein is the hook here, and intertextual joy is one of the main reasons both readers and writers tune into these books in the first place.

And I have a feeling that Grey will be the last person to contradict that statement, given how this story is shamelessly seeped in enough nostalgia to make the folks behind Stranger Things blush with (neon) envy.

Still from Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

Still from Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965)

To those with even the slimmest knowledge of what’s being channelled here, the title announces both the premise and the vibe of the piece: it’s a ‘Tales of the Cryptkeeper’/Elvira kind of affair, where Baron von Werewolf curates a selection of creepy flicks for an impressionable and eager young audience.

(Being non-American, my own first-hand exposure to this kind of thing is slim indeed, and I was mostly made aware of it through the legacy of Ed Wood and David J. Skal’s excellent The Monster Show)

But apart from the Tim Burton/Stranger Things element of a nostalgic love-in for all the things that made these ‘vintage’ horror films special, Grey reminds us of another key aspect of Shelley’s original novel: that when it came into contact with the Hollywood machine, it spiraled into directions that Shelley could never have imagined.

So now we have Frankenstein battling an entire planet populated by malignant alien forces. Which is distinctly separate from Shelley’s pained meditation on absent fatherhood and scientific hubris. But it’s also, of course, awesome! And it’s a joy to go along with Grey’s wide-eyed narrator: expectations are tugged for both of us, and the affection the young one feels for Baron von Werewolf is oddly touching.

So much so that when a moment of genuine menace arrives, you feel it in your guts. This, despite all the metatextual trappings and the story-within-a-story nature of Grey’s tale. The gaps in the already-mysterious film being presented by the Baron here also add their own spooky spice in the background.

A love letter to vintage monster mash-ups done with affection and grace.

Read previous: Amber-Rose Reed

*Please donate to our Patreon and help us make Malta’s first serialized comic book, MIBDUL. Thanks!

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon #1 | Amber-Rose Reed

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

Torso, Heart, Head by Amber Rose-Reed

I was gonna make all cool and not in fact start at the very beginning, but perhaps it’s a testament to the editorial prowess of Ross E. Lockhart that the opener to Eternal Frankenstein lured my bolshie self into going conventional, at least just this once.

Mostly, this is down to the fact that Reed’s story — more of a tone poem than anything else — latches onto some of the core themes of Mary Shelley’s original text in a way that’s succinct, seductive and with an aftertaste of irony that lingers and urges you to dive back in for that re-read.

Which, incidentally, you should be able to do with relative comfort and ease. Slightly dizzying the story may be in terms of any ‘narrative’ structure that you may expect, but it’s certainly brief enough to invite second helpings.

The anatomical segmentation suggested in the title announces Reed’s clever idea early on. To wit: just like Frankenstein’s creature is a ‘cut-up’ creation made up of various disparate parts, so does this very text appear to the reader as a fragmented series of images and incomplete episodes.

Opening with a pugilistic micro-chapter (whose title is not in fact suggested by the story’s title-proper) we are then taken to the ‘Torso’ — an upsetting episode witnessed by a carpenter or ironmonger — before proceeding to the ‘Heart’ and the ‘Head’. Each of these are stories that hint at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; that have the whiff of that seminal text but that don’t try to pin it down and suck any remaining juice out of it by force.

An infant death, a thwarted love story and a father’s imploring letter to a young man pursuing his studies abroad. It’s only the final one that gives away an explicit connection to Frankenstein, including as it does a reference to a seemingly determined anatomy student…

And as in the ‘galleys’ that separate pages in a comic book, the reader is invited to fill in the rest. This is an inspiring take on the pastiche. Or rather, it shows that Reed openly resists one of the biggest temptations imaginable when submitting to anthologies like this: to amp up the cosmetic thrills of classic literary works and forcibly reshape them into something you’ve always wanted them to be.

Thankfully, what Reed does is more open, more worthy and, well… more eternal.

Read previous: Introduction

Eternal Frankenstein read-a-thon | Introduction

In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.

eternal-frankenstein

But first, kindly indulge me in a bit of a personal reverie on what made me fall in love with Mary Shelley’s seminal novel in the first place…

*

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite novels of all time. I guess this isn’t particularly unique – what with the book being the source of one of the most perennial features of multimedia pop culture since the beginning of the 20th century – but that doesn’t of course take away from the intense love I have for the original novel.

It’s not a childhood favourite, either: I first decided to finally tick it off my virtual to-read pile for a very functional reason. I was in the final year of my Bachelor’s course in English Lit at the local Uni, and one of the elective courses I chose that year was ‘Literature and Technology’, taught by the inimitable Prof Ivan Callus, and which had Frankenstein as a required text for obvious reasons.

Frontispiece for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Illustrated by Theodore Von Holst (Steel engraving; 993 x 71mm)

Frontispiece for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Illustrated by Theodore Von Holst (Steel engraving; 993 x 71mm)

My social life at Uni was at its highest ebb at the time, but so were degrees of academic stress – what with a dissertation to complete and synoptic exams to cram for – but despite all this, I decided to put everything aside and check out the austere Everyman edition of Shelley’s groundbreaking, genre-creating work from the University of Malta library and finish it asap.

I guess I expected it to be fun-by-accident, and stylistically creaky in a similar way to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, whose essence – in my humble opinion – was improved and made far cooler by subsequent iterations. In other words, I suppose I was expecting to find an old-timey version of all the things that have made Frankenstein great for generations to come.

But actually, I ended up being humbled by a novel whose raw power was undeniable. She wrote this when she was nineteen! I kept saying to myself in disbelief, but there was also something peculiarly appropriate to this fact. Far from being creaky, it moves at a breakneck (if pained) pace – the work of a young woman trying desperately to give shape to the confusing mess that life can sometimes be.

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Portrait of Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (1840)

Despite the fact that – much like its central Creature – the novel mashes together various preoccupations (the scientist’s hubris, motherhood, absent fathers and the inability to function in the world as a context-less outcast), it also felt like a barely-edited transcription of a fever dream. Which is even more surprising given how the story is stacked together against various frame narratives – a gradual build-up with a shifting POV that immerses you deeper and deeper into, instead of alienating you from the story.

(It always saddens me to think just how outmoded this style of storytelling has become… how easily we would dismiss a novel that tries this nowadays as being ‘long-winded’ and/or accuse it of ‘taking ages to get going’.)

Thankfully, even if its pop culture counterparts sometimes loom larger – like Karloff’s original Hollywood creature – than the reputation of Shelley’s own novel (I wonder how many people familiar with the Frankenstein name even know there is a book), it’s heartening to know that Shelley is in fact getting respects from the quarters who matter. The legacy of this, her first novel, has been discussed and celebrated ad infinitum for various reasons, and I won’t get into that now.

Despite the fact that – much like its central Creature – the novel mashes together various preoccupations, it also felt like a barely-edited transcription of a fever dream

Suffice it to say that it was great to hear that Word Horde, one of my favourite indie presses, has decided to dedicate an anthology to Shelley’s influential novel, amassing an army of some of the best writers working in the genres that same book has helped give rise to.

I look forward to reading and reviewing each of the stories, as I’m fairly confident that all of the 16 writers whose short fiction makes up the contents of Eternal Frankenstein has felt a similar electric charge as I have when first experiencing Mary Shelley’s work.

Because after all, it is a charge that has run through my own fiction too. My debut novel, Two, contains a somewhat hidden but nonetheless deeply embedded debt to Shelley… and I’m confident that anything else I write in the future will contain at least a shred of Frankenstein’s legacy in one way or another.

So, despite it not being a dreary November night, I look forward to unleashing my little micro-creations (aka mini-reviews) into the world very, very soon.

I hope you enjoy them too.

Watch this space.

 

Painting a beautiful ruin | The Nameless Dark by T.E. Grau | Book Review

VIDA OCTOBER BOOK REVIEW

T.E. Grau’s debut collection The Nameless Dark is a powder keg of imagination and potential. While the rag-tag gathering of stories sometimes slides too frequently into the unhallowed and by now well-trod annals of contemporary Lovecraftiana – a testament to it being made up of various magazine and anthology contributions over the years – the writer’s voice has a rich, fresh appeal.

Mining a vein opened by the likes of Clive Barker and more recently stretched further by the pained and earthy tales of Nathan Ballingrud – who introduces Grau’s collection, confirming that he’s a writer with a baton to pass – Grau regales readers with stories that have clear horror hooks but that don’t skimp on atmosphere or psychological exposition.

And as with the abovementioned precursors and influences, a keen handling of dread is another key wrinkle in the work, making for an unsettling but immersive experience.

One of my own favourite stories from the collection would have to be ‘Return of the Prodigy’, which I had originally encountered in the Cthulhu Ftaghn! anthology from Word Horde.

Detailing a late honeymoon in a Pacific island gone wrong, the story makes full use of its exotic setting to both seduce and unsettle the reader, while also letting in yet another trademark of the author’s work: a satirical streak; the targets in this case being the dull and bigoted American middle class. The undeniable pleasure of schadenfreude looms over the story – you know these unpleasant protagonists are in for an unpleasant time, which adds a giddy excitement to the terror.

Neither is our protagonist in ‘The Screamer’ all that sympathetic and relateable – a corporate cog with very little love for his fellow man and woman beyond what he can get from them, Boyd gains a strange kind of dignity in his doomed trajectory as he follows the titular ‘scream’ that appears to infect his workplace with a siren-like call.

The regression into a submerged world of horror bubbling right under the urban sprawl is a common theme for Grau and his fellow peddlers of modern horror, and an atavistic charge – an escape from the mundane into a world of destructive bliss – is taken to its logical conclusion here.

More traditional thrills are to be found in ‘Beer and Worms’ – a brief but hard-hitting chiller consisting of nothing more except for a conversation between two friends out fishing, which by the end takes a truly sinister turn without our characters having to lift a finger to influence this very sudden and very real shift in the mood.

It’s a testament to Grau’s ability to wring horror out of any situation, which is made all the more seductive and poignant by his command of the language.

In fact, Grau’s emphatically non-minimalist style holds him in good stead throughout, and on this point he’s very much in line with Ballingrud’s approach to the genre. It’s not so much about ‘sweetening the pill’ of the horror with beautiful language. If anything, it’s rather the opposite: the language immerses you into the tale, and Grau is also careful to add texture and nuance to his characters – making the hammer fall all the harder when it does.

VIDA OCTOBER BOOK REVIEW BOX

T.E. Grau

But the writing is also, quite simply, a pleasure to savour, and notable passages can be picked more or less at random throughout the collection. Here’s one example from ‘White Feather’ – sins of the father horror on the high seas that takes its sweet time to establish a rich historical narrative before kicking into pulpy gear:

‘Chilton held the glass to his nose, working through the alcohol and molasses down to the subtle perfume of Newtown Pippins before they were picked, smashed, and ordered to rot. Back when they first emerged as springtime buds from a lifeless branch, so full of promise. This was the aroma of his home, of a particular wind and soil that knew him from birth and yet held no judgement. He wished he were a boy again, before his father lost his leg and his mother her will, before the responsibilities of adult life solidified a legacy that was as permanent as history written by the bloody victorious. Before his last raid on Nova Scotia’.

Sometimes it does dip dangerously into style-over-substance territory, as happens with the undeniably fun but largely cosmetic ‘The Truffle Pig’ – another story written for a Word Horde anthology, this time from Tales of Jack the Ripper – which envisages the world’s first serial killer as a member of a long-standing cadre of murderers who work in what they believe to be a noble tradition.

While the language and mood is certainly on point as ever, there’s not much to the story beyond this high-concept twist. A similar problem plagues ‘Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox’, in which Grau very convincingly transports us back to the golden years of the Beat Generation milieu, only to end his psychedelic journey with a Lovecraftian add-on that fans of the weird fiction genre (and the looming behemoth that is Lovecraft) will have experienced all too frequently.

But that’s not to say that riffing on Lovecraft automatically means reverting to formula, nor that Grau isn’t capable of adding something fresh to the mix.

Clear evidence of this can be found in the strongest entry in the collection, ‘Tubby’s Big Swim’. A tour de force in every sense of the word, the story does appear to have a coveted octopus at its centre, though the resemblance to Cthulhu is kept to a minimum, and Grau waits until the end to deploy it to full effect.

Instead, the bulk of the narrative concentrates on the journey of a young boy burdened with a stereotypically shitty home life, who nonetheless remains hopeful that his pursuit of the octopus in question will bring happiness… if not transcendence. The glorious kicker of Grau’s tale is that it’s largely told with a corresponding sense of wide-eyed wonder shared by Alden, our protagonist.

It’s a modern picaresque story with a Dickensian dynamic at its core, and as the beleaguered but resilient young man winds his way through vibrant, filthy streets and suspect alleyways – climaxing in a visit to an abandoned zoo – Grau paints a vivid, memorable tapestry.

The Nameless Dark is a rich and varied collection that taps into the best strands of contemporary horror fiction.

The Stars Are In The Gutter | Bleakwarrior by Alistair Rennie | Book Review

First, some music

It’s a wonderful bonus that Alistair Rennie‘s debut novel BleakWarrior has its own soundtrack, composed by the author himself, which you should definitely check out and listen to while you leaf through his gloriously crafted sledgehammer of a book. But for the purposes of this review, I propose the following piece of music to set the tone. I trust it will soon become clear why this selection was made.

New Weird or weird-weird?

There is an argument to be made for Alistair Rennie’s work slotting in rather neatly into the improvised sub-genre labelled ‘The New Weird’. After all his short story, ‘The Gutter Sees The Light That Never Shines’ was the only original entry in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The New Weird (2008), where it was presented as a sort of laboratory experiment of what’s to come — if anything is to come at all — for the genre under discussion, celebration and dissection.

Well, reams could perhaps be written about the ins-and-outs of the New Weird itself (for my part, I wrote something of a middling MA dissertation on the subject) but thankfully, Rennie went ahead and developed the germ of what lay in the original short story into a head-bangingly bizarre novel, BleakWarrior, released earlier this year from Blood Bound Books.

Weaving in yet another short story pertaining to the same (secondary) world, which was also published under Ann Vandermeer’s watch during her all-too-brief and unceremoniously interrupted spearheading of Weird Tales, Rennie’s novel does boast a general thrust towards weirdness — but whether said weirdness can be pinned to the aesthetics of any particular genre is another thing entirely.

Bleakwarrior by Alistair Rennie

BleakWarrior by Alistair Rennie (Blood Bound Books, 2016). Cover illustration by Maxwell John Hudetz

BleakWarrior may resemble a superhero name — and he may have the abilities that vaguely match some superheroes — but the protagonist who wields it in Rennie’s novel has no alter ego. Neither do his erstwhile colleagues who populate the rather high-strung planet Rennie has concocted. In fact they boast names like Automanic, Gutter and The Light That Never Shines.

And their main mission in life is to obliterate each other with no rhyme or reason. Who needs alter egos, who needs a private life and relaxation time when endowed with such a single-minded mission? (That’s for the ‘Linear’ beings, not the ‘Meta-Warriors’ we’re concerned with right here.)

I’ll get to the main plot motor in a moment, but I’d like to dwell on this for second, because it’s important. 

What Rennie captures so well is the hedonistic and atavistic thrill of having just such a brutal sense of purpose in life. The knife’s edge walk between creation and destruction — more to the point, between sex and violence — is what Rennie appears to be insatiably obsessed with. The inexorable churn of brutality that these characters engage in feels both inevitable and — operating within the hellish logic that Rennie sets up — strangely beautiful.

In lesser hands this would have felt like an adolescent indulgence: an exercise in attention-grabbing antics to an audience of lobotomised gore-hounds and their scandalised elders.

But then, the kicker.

You see, BleakWarrior suddenly grows tired of killing people without knowing the reason why. So begins his quest; which will of course be punctuated by blood and thunder — and blood and guts — while also being placed in direct parallel to that of The Sisters of No Mercy (their name a hint at yet another aesthetic fetish that Rennie very much gives vent to in the novel’s make-up): two expert warriors slashing and fucking their way through an organ-retrieving mission in the hopes of revitalising their dearly-departed ‘Middle Sister’.

This allows Rennie to have the cake and eat it too — an often-frustrated adolescent indulgence now given full vent. By placing a philosophical conundrum at the very centre of this monstrous clusterfuck, Rennie asks you to pay attention, all the while bending your mind with the very nature of this juxtaposition. Rennie has written eloquently on what makes the Sword & Sorcery genre so special, and  BleakWarrior’s amoral world of violent supermen and women out for nothing but more violence certainly evokes that genre to some degree.

But the kicker kicks it all into crazy town. Since this is a book better experienced than explained, here’s a few extracts to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Whorefrost’s cock is long and thin with a remarkably bulbous head that makes it look like a bauble on the end of a stick. His testicles are disproportionately large and, like the rest of his body, hairless. More to the point, his egg-sac is teeming with semen that has an unusual potency: it is deadly cold and, to this extent, biologically devastating.

Humidity hung to the Fetid Mountains like a lubricant. The slopes were thick with an organic welter of sprawling variations of fecundity and decay. There was an aura of prototypical distinction between emergent species that took the principle of diversification to extremes that hardly seemed worth the bother.

…But what was most alluring in the appeal of the girl whose name they didn’t know was the potency of her vaginal juices that spilled over the lips of The Sisters of No Mercy with a sublime and syrupy thickness that seemed to fill their brains with infusions of erotic wonder. The taste had a weighty tang that produced an effect of mild invigoration mixed with a prolonged sense of internal melting, like being absorbed by the outer shades of a celestial aurora.

Notice how the perfectly sculpted — and it must be said, somewhat arch and archaic — prose serves as a jolting cymbal crash when combined with the XXX-rated stuff under consideration? Of course, it’s also funny, which feature Rennie exploits to full effect.

Yeah. This shit will fuck you up.

Hail, Dionysus

BleakWarrior is literature to the Nth degree. It’s a work by someone who is hopelessly infatuated with the ‘lower’ genres but whose love and enthusiasm for them is filtered through a mature intelligence and a respect for and knowledge of the art of fiction. The obvious clue of the ‘Meta’-Warriors gives that detached postmodern element to all the craziness.

In fact, this is a novel that gets its animating friction from the simple fact that it’s at constant war with itself. It’s a novel chock-a-block with one sensationalist set piece after another — a Jacobean display of torture porn Grand Guignol that will serve as a benchmark for prose brutality for years to come — but that’s delivered through a strong narratorial voice with no interest in simply remaining in the gutter (with the Gutter). Instead Rennie wrings the experience for all that it’s worth, making sure to play with ideas as well as bodies.

But gods damn it, what will remain etched in your brain is the images. The voice will only help you take them seriously as part of an interesting new project in genre writing. One that will hopefully spawn a plethora of imitators — to say nothing of more, more, more from Rennie himself, hopefully — which will grow over the literary terrain like rancid but glorious fungus.

For BleakWarrior is a a child of Dionysus filtered through the voice of Apollo… until you realise that it’s not Apollo at all, but a trickster god the likes of which we haven’t seen before.

In short…

This shit will fuck you up.