Author: David W. Barbee
Type of Book: Bizarro, novella
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s a part of the New Bizarro Author Series, which is generally a good indicator of oddness.
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Bizarro Week is still chugging along and today features another book giveaway. You can win a copy of David W. Barbee’s Carnageland one of two ways: leave me a comment in this entry today, November 11, before 7:00 pm PST, or retweet any of my Twitter posts with the hashtag bizarroweek. Doing either will throw your name in the hat to win a copy of the book. I’m giving away two free copies and you can both leave a comment here AND retweet in order to improve your chances of winning. I will choose one random commenter and one random retweeter after 7:00 pm PST.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss Carnageland. This novella is part of the New Bizarro Author Series that Eraserhead publishes. This series is a testing ground for new writers to prove that they have what it takes to sell books so the writers in the NBAS pretty much have to hit one out of the park in order to get a book contract with Eraserhead. While I am not sure if Barbee scored a home run with this book because that is definitely a mileage may vary statement, he definitely got on base with an amusing, foul, interesting novella that is worth a read. I have read far worse third and fourth efforts across genres and while I see room for improvement, the fact is, I also see a lot of talent that makes me want to read what Barbee comes up with for his second and third and fourth books.
Carnageland tells the story of Invader 898, a priapic little alien sent to a strange backwoods planet in order to prepare it for invasion. When I say he is priapic, I mean that he wants more or less to have sex with all vaguely feminine creatures but he has undergone strict training that has taught him to curb those sorts of urges. But he comes unglued at one point. You sort of knew he would. You’re just waiting to see how bad it’s gonna be when it happens. Believe me, it’s gross.
The planet he is combing over for alien occupation is a Disney and Grimm Brothers nightmare, an inversion of all that is sweet, moral and touching in those stories. In Barbee’s hands, the stories of Peter Pan, Rapunzel, dragons and trolls all become something quite horrible and nasty. I mean, dragons and trolls and witches in fairy tales are fearsome but in Carnageland, they are just horrible and foul. Tinkerbell, who becomes Tinkerslut in this novella, experiences some really harsh treatment. I recall being actually disturbed reading it and, not to spoil too much, was secretly relieved when she died. That whole scene was just full of the yuck and those who love bizarro for the foulness and disturbing content it often brings to the table will enjoy this novella.
Invader 898 works his way through the planet on a slayer quest that is cartoonish and quite like a video game, conquering one Disney or folklore character after another. I could easily see this book as a console game, licensing issues aside. A small alien dealing with an ocean of cartoons and characters found in children’s books, a complete bloodbath. Barbee has no problem completely destroying the icons of my youth, and it was actually pretty fun, the Tinkerslut scenes notwithstanding, seeing what amounted to Disneyland get taken down by a little green man with an erection.
Barbee’s story isn’t profoundly unique. Killing off the symbols of purity and childishness, inverting them to show the seediness that was always probably there, is common enough. What made this book entertaining for me is the excellent synthesis of these things from childhood: in a book that seems like a video game, the symbols of childish stories get annihilated. This is a book with a clear protagonist but it is also a book without a hero, and in a way, that is one of the most subversive things Barbee could have written. I could not root for anyone in this book and I kind of liked it that way.
All in all, this is a sound first effort. There are some sections that could have been more polished but overall, a few clunky paragraphs in the face of an good story are small criticisms. If you’ve spent your childhood (and possibly adulthood) playing video games, if you ever fantasized about putting Disney characters in their place, and if you just like good old fashioned quests filled with blood and guts, you will like this novella.
And just to drive this home one last time, I am giving away two copies and you can win one if you comment to this review or if you retweet any of my tweets with the tag #bizarroweek. Contest ends Thursday, November 11 at 7:00 pm PST.