I tend to over-describe things I like as "weird". Because I highly value invention, because I love to be surprised, many things I like tend to be weird, though many weird things are not necessarily things I like. To avoid saying that everything good is "weird" I seize on other modifiers like "bizarro" as in "punk-surreal bizarro-road movie" (hypothetical, but I would surely watch anything so described to me). To give a little more perspective, I also find Faulkner (pleasantly) weirder than expected for such a literary cornerstone and view a lot of mid-century French avant-garde as compellingly strange. Like I said, I overuse this description. But it turns out I need to watch my descriptors. Not only is The New Weird
totally a genre since the 90s (China Mieville and Thomas Ligotti are better-known exponents) but evidentally now so is Bizzaro Fiction
Apparently, these are different. While both suggest (to me) a conjoined modern cult-pulp progeny of older weirdos like Lovecraft and Philip K Dick perhaps tempered by a greater awareness of surrealism and modernism, the New Weird is generally considered to be aiming for a more literary approach, while Bizarro is the even-cultier, trashier outburst of a younger sibling, prone to shock tactics and exuberantly clever-stupid plot concepts (Shatnerquake
). The titles and frequently godawful cover designs
seem to bear this out (I'm getting real nostalgic for the heights of 70s sci-psych paperback covers
, looking at these.)
Conveniently, the cover of Steve Lowe's Muscle Memory
actually reminds me of these old 70s pulp images (good work Eraserhead press, your New Bizarro Authors series is notably free of bad Giger-ripoff visuals), and presents one of the seemingly more approachable premises. Steve says it's on the milder side of Bizarro, and I'd believe him: beyond the strange though not so unfamiliar premise of first page (man awakes to find himself in his wife's body, confusion ensues), this is actually pretty believable stuff. The plot points come fast and hard as they must for such a short but dense sci-fi novella, but direct conversational writing is sound and the characters' reactions to the events are impressively easy to swallow as the human core of the story is never neglected. And it's funny, the humor a little less dry than my preferences (see: eastern european black humor), but it works. Even the story's own cliches are mocked (raiding the basement for 80s body-switch movies like "Freaky Friday" as a misguided research attempt). And so, yes, this was totally enjoyable. My only real complaint is it's compressedness. Surely there's still more to be told here without risk of over-explaining.
My first foray into bizarro (unless The Pisstown Chaos
fall under this umbrella as well?) has been a success, and I suppose I'll be further investigating these intriguingly murky, perhaps worrisomely pulsating industrial-discharge waters in the future.