People know what they like, for the most part. It hardly needs stating, it's such a well-accepted fact. But what people don't always have are the words for what they like, the names that they can actually use to communicate it. That's not exactly a problem I can tackle, but I'm going to take a little nibble off of it with this new set of posts.
So welcome to Subgenre Saturday, a look at the myriad subgenres tucked under the speculative fiction umbrella… and maybe a handful that hang around just outside the umbrella, too. And believe me, when you start digging deep into it, there are a lot of them out there.
But today, we'll start with one very near and dear to my heart, one of my great loves, as a reader. Bizarro fiction. Sort of a new kid on the block, sort of a Frankenstein compiled from other 'cult' genres, bizarro is described by the writers and publishers involved in it as 'literature's equivalent to the cult section at the video store.' It's the B-movie of the literary world (although there are bizarro movies and other such media, as we'll see).
Bizarro fiction didn't officially become a thing until 2005, when houses like Eraserhead Press (easily the biggest bizarro publisher out there) adopted it to describe the books they were working with. From a literary standpoint, you could say bizarro is a bit of magical realism mixed with a bit of splatterpunk horror and stirred up with some sex and nudity. But even that's not a good definition. I think the best definition I've found was from a blog about writing bizarro. It's taking an idea that sounds absolutely worthless, then making it not suck.
Let's take a look at my favorite bizarro novel (novelette, really), just to maybe explain it a little better: Ultra Fuckers, by Carlton Mellick III is dystopian sci-fi… but not. But maybe. Here's what the 'worthless idea' part of this book would be (spoilers ahead): a sentient gated community that takes over the world. Yeah. Sure. But it ends up as such an unnerving book. A husband and wife head to a diner party in a new housing development. But they can't seem to find their way. The streets are to confusing, and it just seems so huge. Eventually, they get directions from one of the stations scattered throughout the community (they also serve fast food, and just about anything else you need). But the directions, of course, lead them nowhere. The wife leaves to find it on foot, and the husband continues to drive.
Eventually, we learn that the whole community is continually replicating, processing everything from the world, filling in holes, covering the planet in the same set of houses and streets again… and again… and again. Eventually, it circles back through the whole world and starts again, reprocessing what it already made. An endless cycle that leaves the world a barren suburbia.
That. That is bizarro, and that's pretty tame, compared to a lot of the other books. Dead Bitch Army. Shatnerquake. Razor Wire Pubic Hair. Just to name a handful of them.
When it comes to movies, there are a few that definitely fall in the bizarro category. Probably the most famous is Eraserhead, which is where the press got its name. It's an excellent movie (it's pretty hard to go wrong with David Lynch and space sperm), but it's not my favorite bizarro flick. If I was going to personally recommend just one bizarro movie to someone, it would be The Saddest Music in the World. The story of a legless Canadian beer baroness (who uses glass prosthetics filled with beer) who hatches a plot during the Great Depression to find the saddest music in the world, because sad people will drink more and buy her beer. It's a good intro to the sort of off-kilter vibe that pervades bizarro works, and it's fairly humorous, so it doesn't get as heavy as some of the darkest works.
So, if you like things that are pretty out there, I'd give bizarro a try. It's one of my favorite genres. But as fair warning, I should point out that a lot of the works have some pretty adult content. Lots of blood and gore, sex and nudity, violence and language. NC-17 books, here… of course, if you're like me, that just makes you want to read them more, right?