Author: David Barbee
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Uncharacteristically for me, I am not posting the cover here, which can explained by the fact that I did not find an image with a suitable for me size and the cover itself is an offense to my aesthetics. It has been a long term conviction of mine to think that bad cover art is the chief buzz kill, when one is set out to purchase a book, novella, anthology and I am not about to let this happen with ‘Carnageland’.
David Barbee is my first contact with the Bizarro fiction, which is the black sheep in the publishing world. Due to the devotion to the absurd, weird and crass, Bizarro is an underground niche with a specialized following and a thriving culture. I decided to read ‘Carnageland’ on my own before supplying myself with materials on the genre basics and the experience can be summed up as an acid trip gone wrong, followed by a heavy whack on the head by a frying pan and during all that being flashed by an old gypsy woman, hustling on the street. After spending some time with Google, I learned that one is supposed to feel like that [Google underlined the bizarre part once more] and I was positively charmed by the shock to the system. Mind you I am not that well in the mental faculties and what I find uncomfortably fascinating, might be a reason enough for you to develop insomnia or lose appetite for awhile.
Trust me, there is much appetite to be lost here, since ‘Carnageland’ chronicles Alien Invader 898’s first invasion into what appears to be a planet made from precious crystals and metals with oceans from oil and inhabited by what seems to be the perverted versions of beloved fairy tale characters. I have to say that perverting childhood memories has been quite fashionable and the exploitation here steams on without shame as we witness that sex has become this world’s only currency, because when your whole planet consists of valuable items, one must search for something rare and guess what sex counts.
There is great shock value to Bizarro fiction. It is an apologetic punch with brass knuckles and it cannot be stomached by anyone. Barbee has a big palette, with which to shock and he does so with numerous acts of violence. Bodies pile up in these 67 pages faster than in Rambo 4 and each death is delivered by a new means. Sex is crass, primal, obscene and uncomfortable to read, but there is a point to all this, though I may gather that some would argue about whether this claim is true or not. Shock is often the tool of provocation. The mind needs a jab to refocus and finally start thinking and there is much to think about, because 898 stems from a civilization that inhabits a Piggy Bank Planet and worships greed as holy. These aliens, spread out, exterminate whatever life inhabits their assets and then harvest without care. Does that ring a bell? It’s arguable, whether the sex mentioned here serves the purpose to criticize modern society’s taste for debauchery or is just added for other more obvious reasons.
What I didn’t take to was the writing itself. The prose is Spartan at best, which did not appeal to me. I have preferences towards the lyrical language and Barbee is straightforward to the point that I would lose my interest, when 898 did not kill and maim, from which he occasionally had breaks. Then I had some trouble, distinguishing between points of view, where I wasn’t sure whether the narrator was 898 alone or whether Barbee chose the omniscient POV. Under normal circumstances, these two issues would have been the kiss of death and I would have tossed this novella aside, but the genre is too weird to dismiss.
Verdict: [B -] Reading ‘Carnageland’ is like filming a horrible alcohol-bred accident. You just can’t stop, even if it has a few cons against it.