HYbriD: Misfits, Monsters and Other Phenomena on
Editors Donald Armfield and Maxwell I. Gold have taken their book, Hybrid: Misfits, Monsters and Other Phenomena, very much to heart in selecting the poems and stories within (a hybrid format in itself), to include bizarro, noir sci fi, sword and sorcery, and speculative fictions for a reading that has something for just about anyone. These tales will either provide you with a straightforward reading or something to puzzle over, leading your thoughts to deeper meanings. Or maybe no meanings at all, just some go-with-it and enjoy moments. A good collection of mixed authors should always make you want to seek out their other works and this book will certainly have you doing that. It should be noted too that the cover design and illustration by Luke Spooner (we often overlook the graphic designers when doing reviews, don’t we?) is quite good.
The first story, Making Friends, is a comedy of errors involving a happy dog, a curious but unhappy creature, and a couple of farmers meeting the neighbors they never knew they had. Angela Yuriko Smith paces it all into a 1950s sitcom-like nocturnal interlude for Miriam and Bill. It is a good choice as the opening story, breezy and light, and visually funny: there be monsters here, but they are not all gloom and doom and gory pieces.
That is, except for what happens to the villagers in the Ruination of the Gods by Dr. Chris McAuley (Stokerverse) and Claudia Christian (Babylon 5 and Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator). A wizard tries to raise the dead but gets caught. As all diligent readers know by now, what happens to people who get on the wrong side of wizards, caught in the act of doing questionable things, means terror to come. Kail, the Conan-like warrior (or Kali, since the proofreader must have been out to lunch with this one), ignores the giant stew-pot death waiting for him for doing the same punishable act and gets into trouble quickly. Luckily for him the monsters from the sea provide a bloody good diversion for the villagers. While this story uses the standard sword and sorcery approach (an angry wizard, a beguiling witch, and a warrior torn between duty and personal need), McAuley and Christian handle the action, the gory pieces, and the tragic fallout of his decision well, leaving the path open for future adventures.
If you lean towards a 3 Stooges-like bizarro storyline, go to Hopital Automatique by D. Harlan Wilson first. It defies description, as any good bizarro fiction should, but if you have watched the 3 Stooges in the comedy short, Men in Black (1934), that provides a bit of a warm-up to the absurd mayhem wrought here. It is an I-don’t-know-what-is-happening narrative and therein lies the fun. The pace is frenetic, the characters and milieu insane, and this opening line will sum it all up for you: “The car didn’t run over the nurse until she had changed my bedpan and injected a second dose. It was a Datsun.” I question how a Datsun got into his hospital room in the first place, but at least it was not an elephant*, and that second dose sounds like a clue. On the plus side, she did manage to change his bedpan before being run down. The only other meagre clue I can give you for this one, without giving up and speaking to Wilson first, is that Hopital is the French word for hospital. For the rest, you are on your own.
More sensible humor will be found in Alicia Hilton’s Savages Anonymous. A funeral home basement in Trenton, New Jersey, provides haven for a nude extraterrestrial with two heads, an extraterrestrial arachnid and other assorted aliens—along with some mutants—griping about the challenges of getting along with humans. A boy’s ghost interrupts their proceedings, sending Xapanna (the two-headed alien) on a vendetta for the boy’s murderers. The Crime Stoppers Tip line sends her in the right direction. The action and humor are conveyed through very short paragraphs, many one to two lines long, and an endearing ending that ties back to the difficulty of getting along with way-out others.
The Scoocoom of Big Rock Mountain is a more serious weird western with a more traditional approach to hybrid terror. Taking place sometime between the 1860s to early 1900s, a former buffalo hunter, Max, now sheriff, has family and Big Foot problems (skookoom is a Chinook word meaning Big Foot). Max, having helped to decimate the Indian tribes by hunting the buffalo to near extinction, is partially responsible for the scoocoom putting the bite on the settlers for its food source. Max also has a drinking problem that makes his aim a bit tricky and his step a lot unsure. Once you get past the proofreader still out to lunch (scoocoom flips to skoocoom a few times), Michael Knost delivers a simply plotted western with all the right emotional and weird elements for his characters and events.
The Big Foot theme is seen again in Maero by Lee Murray, a poem where a day packer is enjoying his hike until he comes across a severed limb and “glossy giblets quivering.” This first-person account with the Maero (Māori for Big Foot) is not the usual “train-train” encounter. A sadder one is to be felt in Kolkata’s Little Girl, in which Bandhura is “waiting, in front of a blue-clothes shop for someone to tell her story.” A too long and heavy mala hangs around her neck, hinting at a deeper meaning hidden among the poem’s lines. Alessandro Manzetti’s acheri is haunting and begs for a longer treatment.
There are many hybrids to be found in this collection of twenty stories and poems. The editors have crafted an engaging reading experience across genre types, of which this review has only scratched the surface. As Dark the Night will trap you in Stella’s depression-fueled shadows; the noir science-fiction Vis-à-Vis puts you there in Punktown among the low-lives and no-lives; and Slo-Mo will make you mind the sloths and give them a wide berth and forget the selfies. All these stories make for an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
*For those not familiar with the Marx Brothers, the reference comes from Groucho’s quip as Captain Spalding: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got to my pajamas I don’t know.” Feel free to also substitute proofreader for elephant if you are so inclined.