Sunday, August 9, 2015

The art of telling a good story

The Art of Horrible People

By John Skipp

Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

Pub Date: August 1, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have always been fond of writers who seem to write in hyperdrive. Whether it is Hunter S. Thompson, Harlan Ellison, or Garrett Cook, I like the writers that let it all out, appearing not to care whether you can keep up with them. If their imagination or emotion gets a little ahead of the prose, that is just part of the attraction. The writers I like realize that they can’t write for the audience. The audience needs to come to them and the payoff is when the reader gets into the writer’s strange and manic mind and say, “Wow! Now I get it!” At least, that is the way my own strange and manic mind perceives it.

In The Art of Horrible People, John Skipp becomes one of those authors. Of course he had a bit of a head start as one of the early architects of Splatterpunk. His standing as a father figure of the Bizarro movement doesn’t hurt either. But in this new collection of eight short stories, Skipp seems to be airing a mixture of amazement and repulsion over the acts of the human race which frankly can be pretty horrible. Call it cynicism or realism, Skipp may have held it in too long to be anything but a torrent of words and emotions. There is a mishmash of styles here from straight horror to dark comedies and pieces that border between free association and straight-out rant. Yet they all are entertaining in Skipp’s own manic and sometimes just far-out crazy style.

For instance, take the first story.  “Art is the Devil” is a dead on depiction of the too often overhyped and phony world of the visual arts. If anyone is going to be an art connoisseur, wouldn’t it be the devil? It is a funny over-the-top satire of the contemporary art scene. The second story, “Depresso the Clown” is very different but just as extreme. It is a straight horror story on the capture of a rather pathetic clown. Whether you call it tragedy or comedy will depend on how you feel about clowns.

“Rose Goes Shopping” is a dark comedic takeoff on the zombie story. It reminds you that even in the zombie apocalypse, old habits die hard. In my  opinion, this little story makes the zombies seem relatively decent. “Worm Central Tonite!” is quite short and more of a concept piece. It packs a nice philosophical wallop in just a few pages.

“Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror” is essentially 26 flash fiction pieces all about Hollywood and the movie industry. This is Skipp’s cynicism working overtime. You can argue that Hollywood is an easy target but the quick vignettes are essentially spot on and it is clear the author has waded more than once in the craziness of the movie game.

“Zygote Notes on the Imminent Birth of a Feature Film as Yet Unformed” is ironically the best work here. “Ironic” because in some ways it is the most typical of the Bizarro genre yet atypical for this collection because it seems reflective and intimate with multiple layers.  I think it is one of the best piece of short fiction I have read from this author.

“In a Waiting Room, Trading Death Stories” is an amusing hiccup of a tale but simply whets our appetite for the last and other best short fiction in the book, “Food Fight”. This is Splatterpunk at its best. It is a tale about chaos in a behavioral health center told through different perspectives in Skipp’s equally chaotic style.

Skipp is one of those writers that need to be read to be believed.  Although he is mostly a stalwart of the splatterpunks it is easy to see why the younger Bizarro writers see him as so influential to their own movement. But what it comes down to is that Skipp is basically his own sub-genre and resists pigeon holing. The Art of Horrible People is no less than the art of telling a good story.

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