Book Review: The Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple)

The Bizzaro Starter Kit (Purple)

The Bizzaro Starter Kit (Purple)

I’ve reviewed a couple books here that are billed under the subgenre of Bizarro, such as Dodgeball High and Technicolor Terrorists. Bizarro, however, is a relatively new subgenre of speculative fiction and many are still unfamiliar with it. To introduce people to the genre, Eraserhead Press has released three collections of various authors. The original Orange edition was published in 2006, followed by a Blue edition in 2007. We’ll be looking at the newest Purple edition published in 2010.

The Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple) defines Bizarro as “the genre of weird” and “the literary equivalent to the cult section at the video store.”

Okay, maybe Bizzaro isn’t that new considering that dated reference to video stores. Man, remember those?

Even in the presentation of the first author, we see that the roots of Bizarro have been around for a long time. Russell Edson wrote surreal stories and prose poems from the 1950s up until his death in 2014. The Starter Kit includes ten of his prose poems. These short poems include a piano giving birth, a man erasing his daughter from existence and a husband and wife arguing over the ape she cooked for dinner.

Russell Edson was already one of my favorite poets, so it was great to see him here. His poetry is funny and thought-provoking but difficult to describe. It really just needs to be read to give any idea what he’s about.

The next author, Athena Villaverde, is more straightforward with her novella “Clockwork Girl.” Pichi is a cyborg who is given as a gift to a rich young girl named Marisol. Despite being treated as just another toy, Pichi comes to deeply love Marisol and is heartbroken when she’s discarded.

“Clockwork Girl” is probably the least “weird” story in the collection, fitting squarely in the category of science fiction. It’s still a well-written and sad story that includes some very beautiful imagery. It reads a lot like a Pixar movie made for adults.

The next presentation is another novella. “Punkupine Moshers of the Apocalypse” by David Arganoff. In a post-apocalyptic city populated by genetically modified punks, the water source is starting to run dry. Dressica and a group of other punks set out to find why the river that runs to their city isn’t flowing.

I wasn’t that big on this one. The fact that I’m not a big punk rock fan is one thing. This story is packed with references to the music and the subculture. But besides that, it ended a little too suddenly, and for all the world building in it, the novella just ends up feeling like it was it cut out of a longer work.

The next section is a collection of three short stories by Matthew Revert. Revert has done a lot of graphic design work in the Bizzaro scene, and many of his works can be scene on the covers of books from Lazy Fascist Press. As these stories show, he writes as well as he designs.

In the first story, “A Million Versions of Right,” a young boy discovers that he can ejaculate tiny tilers that proceed to cover his body in tiles. The next is “Concentration Tounge,” where a man becomes addicted to writing the word “shoes” over and over again. The final story is “The Great Headphone Wank” in which a man receives a pair of headphones from his girlfriend that produces nothing but the sound of someone masturbating.

My summaries don’t do these stories justice. This is one of my favorite sections of the anthology. All three of the stories are wonderfully written, absurd, gross, hilarious, thoughtful and creative. Revert is an author whose work I’ll be picking up more of very soon.

Up next we have a set of comics by Andrew Goldfarb. I’d try to describe these comics, but I’m afraid my brain would break in half. All I can say is that if you’re a fan of alternative comics, you’ll love Goldfarb.

The next section is Jeff Burk’s novella “Cripple Wolf.” A wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran boards a plane on an overnight flight from Japan to Portland, Oregon. When the full moon comes out, he transforms into a werewolf and all hell breaks loose.

In his biography, Burk lists Troma Entertainment as one of his influences. That’s no surprise since “Cripple Wolf” is basically the literary equivalent of a Troma film. It is over the top, vulgar, ridiculous, pulpy and my god is it fun to read. Fans of good-bad horror films are going to love this one.

The next novella by Garrett Cook (quick disclaimer: I’ve taken a writing workshop from him) called “Re-Emancipator” is in a similar vein. Hbooth, a descendant of John Wilkes Booth, is on a mission to stop a plague of zombie Abraham Lincoln clones.

The story took me some time to pull me in, but it has some great writing. It’s like a Barry Malzberg alternate history story, a Japanese zombie movie and a comic from Heavy Metal magazine thrown in a blender on the highest setting . Seriously, this thing is nuts, but it’s great fun and a lot smarter than one would think at first glance.

Kris Saknussemm’s “Sparklewheel” is next. A couple goes to a carnival, and after a ride breaks down, it flings them into a strange land. This is as really hard story to summarize. Really I can only say that it’s as a psycho-sexual fever dream. Despite the fact I can’t really find much to discuss in this one, it was another favorite of mine. I really want to read more of Saknussemm’s work.

The next piece is the longest one. A novella by Cody Goodfellow called “The Homewreckers.” In an alternative post-WWI world where men and women live in segregated cities, Floyd Mundy, a private eye, has been hired by the women’s side of the city to help solve a string of murders.

“The Homewreckers” is a noir story with a lot of science fiction elements. It’s probably one of the funniest pieces in this collection. The plot twists are absolutely ridiculous, but I kind of expected that. It did feel like it dragged a bit in places, and at times, it brought up plot points that seemed like they would be followed up on, but were then dropped. Despite that, it’s a really entertaining read.

The final novella is by another writer whose work I was already familiar with. Cameron Pierce’s “The Destroyed Room” is a sad, existentialist-themed work about a man who kills his pregnant wife on accident by pulling a set of strings that only he can see out of her. Like Pierce’s other work, this story is a perfect balance of absurdist humor and a sense of sorrow and longing. It’s yet another favorite of mine and a strong way to end the collection.

I can’t recommend The Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple) highly enough. It’s a strong collection of strange works in fiction, poetry and comics. It will introduce you to some great, lesser known author. Fans of speculative fiction are guaranteed to get a lot out of this anthology. Plus, it gives you a lot of content for the price of the book. Really, I recommend all three editions of the Starter Kits for the same reason.

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4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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Comments

  1. I remember your review of Dodgeball High! I thought it sounded incredibly weird, funny and interesting. I wanted to read it, just haven’t got around to picking it up yet. I did not know though, that it was Bizarro fiction. Actually, don’t think I’ve ever read any bizarro fiction before. The stories in this book sound like something I might like. I will be on lookout in stores to see if I can find a copy of it!

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