By Kevin Strange
Publisher: Strangehouse Books
Rating: See below.
Indie authors have it rough. Even though, in my opinion, some of the most interesting and experimental writings are being done and distributed by independent authors and small indie presses, it still is passed up by most readers for the mostly mainstream pablum called the New York Times Fiction List. That leaves the struggling indie writer to promote his books in any way possible. It is not unusual to see them giving away or selling their books for pittance. I can’t complain too much. Some of my favorite novels of late came from promotions like that. Books that I would never have known existed. Word of mouth becomes a very important tool for the independent author.
But Kevin Strange, an entrepreneur of the most bizarre, did something a few weeks ago I have never seen. For one day only, he placed all 11 of his Kindle books on Amazon free for the taking. Every single one. Of course I couldn’t resist and downloaded three of them. In hindsight, it may have been stupid not to download all eleven. However, I really wanted to find the time to read them. You have not seen my pile, virtual and real, of to-read books! Besides, I may be a cheap bastard but I am not a greedy one. Despite our reputations, we book reviewers do buy books on occasion!
Strange seems to have developed his own weird little niche. He focuses heavily on that area of the weird called Body Horror, the terror of body transformation and biological atrocities. Mutants abound in his book and they usually take place in a much changed post-apocalyptic future. I occasionally call books like this “graphic novels with words” to set the tone of action-packed prose that encourage a visual mindset while reading. Kevin Strange is not graphic novel. He is pure comic book. His style can be described as EC Comics meet DC Comics meet R. Crumb. It is impossible not to have vivid and disturbing images bombard your head while reading his works. His reliance on visual descriptions belies his background as a filmmaker. His writing is fast, rude and sometimes very crude with both violent and sexual imagery abounding. Yet there is something totally fun about it on the level of a roller coaster ride through a slaughter house. If that imagery turns you off, you might want to look elsewhere for your reading thrills. But if a roller coaster ride through a slaughter house sounds like a blast, meet Mr. Strange.
The first book I read was The Humans under the Bed. I picked it first because it was a), short and b) sounded cute. For the first few numbers of pages, it was cute. It is five hundred years after the monster/human wars which the monsters have won. No humans have been seen since then and humans have become the “monsters under the bed” for baby monsters…until some very different and modified humans appear under the bed of two monster tykes, Dexantheon Jr. and Willex. The emergence is the beginning of the next human vs monster wars and it is up to the monster kids to save the day.
It is adorable and gross at the same time. It is a children story for very weird children or for adults who haven’t grown up…and I say the “adult” part fully knowing it applies to me. We get battle after battle yet this is a book in which we root for those cut little monsters even if those tykes are described as “a Twinkie stood on end” and ”a grotesque fly if it’s been cooked in a microwave and left out in the heat to spoil.” If anything I wanted more about cute monsters and less about slipping on intestines. For more of this novella the battle and violence take over but it is incredible imaginative violence and gore with the moral that even monsters have a right to defend their world. Take that, Humans! Rating it was a little tricky since the cuteness and the violence didn’t always jive together for me. But I was still thoroughly entranced. Four stars worth of entrancement.
Robamapocalypse, on the other hand, frustrated me. First of all I am not that enthralled with Bizarro books that involve real life characters. Jeff Burk with his Shatner novels is the only one that really pulls it off . The problem is made ten-fold when you take the president of the United State your target even if you make it clear there are no politics involved in the telling. The author does say that and deliver. Yet I feel it still took away from the plot. In this wild and complex work, Lord Obama is ruling the world in the far future as a robotic mutant. Robot Obama is ruling the only human city on earth still existing after the zombie apocalypse. It’s not easy. As Lord Obama says, “Maybe accepting the consciousness of an Elder God from a dark dimension totally unfathomable and incomprehensible to humankind wasn’t such a good idea.” What entails is a hodge-podge of robot warriors, zombies and American Gladiator styled death matches, Frankly it is a bit of a mess. It doesn’t really work for me. What saves it is that Strange’s imagination is first class. But in this book it is working faster than his typing, leaving his computer to gasp out of breath trying to catch up. I’m not sure but it feels like one of his earlier works. I have to give it two and a half stars. I may have given it more if I didn’t already read The Humans Under The Bed and the next book.
It is that “Next book” that kills them all. Vampire Guts in Nuke Town is a messy but exquisite marvel of Bizarro, vampire epic, and folk legend about a really grossed out human hero. The title is not just about vampire parts but also about our hero “Guts', one of the last of the humans after an apocalypse caused by a plague that leaves vampires the rulers of earth and the few humans who survive haunted by their own mutant transformations. Guts is a true anti-hero haunted by his past yet pulled on by some unseen force to rid the world of the vampire scourge. Vampire Guts et al may be a vampire tale but the author doesn’t “do” vampire. He has created a totally different and fairly disgusting variety. This is the author’s strength. The traditional creatures of horror literature just aren’t horrible enough for him. He tricked them out and revs them up to give the reader a totally weirded out version. Like the first two books I read, Vampire Guts never lets up on the action and violence. Yet it leaves the other two books disappearing in the rear view mirror and eating dust. Five stars. Easy.
So what we have with Kevin Strange is a man with a vision, one that seems to delight in mutants, apocalypses and scattered body parts. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there is something that is inspired about his prose that makes you not mind being in a world with humans under the bed, vampire’s vs human mutants, or a robot Barack Obama fighting zombies at least for a few hours of reading. Who cares if it is a slaughter house? Let’s ride that roller coaster!