Whimsy. It’s attached to the British like stink on Stilton. Or at least, that’s what I thought going into The Bumper Book of British Bizarro. While the classic (or some might say, stereotypical) British whimsy was certainly present in some stories, it was not as prevalent as I expected.
Instead, here are 32 short stories and poems (as well as artwork) ranging a gamut of styles, points of view, and subject matter. It truly demonstrates the diversity of the bizarro genre: from the horrific to the fabulist, from the incredibly weird to the “huh, I guess you could consider that bizarro.” Some make you laugh, others make you shiver. But one thing for sure: you’ll never find the same story twice.
Here some of the stories that stood out for me:
“Teeth Out for Pewdiepie” by Madeleine Swann – The first of the anthology, Swann presents us with a humorous, spot-on satire of the cult worship around YouTubers, using bodily mutilation to show just how obsessed these fans can be. (See video below).
“Little Simon and the Behemoth” by Bill Davidson – What starts as a comical David and Goliath scenario becomes an odd romance in this fun story. It utilizes classic bizarro humor and flavor with a fairy-tale taste.
“There’s No Such Thing as Mums” by Luke Kondor – A man who’s spent his life exploring cyberspace discovers he has “finished” the Internet, only for things to become a lot more bizarre, ending in a brilliant twist. A humorous, fascinating yarn.
“The Coinslot Heart” by Chris Kelso – The longest story of the anthology, it was slow to start until I realized the protagonist was in fact a vending machine. We follow the machine on a murder investigation of one of its customers. While the premise is comic, this was a well-written, dark story, disturbing yet poignant.
“TV-Head” by Peter Caffrey – A repurposed assassin robot, relegated to BBQing, goes rogue, armed with a frozen leg of lamb. It’s up to its programmers to hunt it down. Hilarious, irreverent, and absolute fun.
“Maggie Thatcher Egg Hatcher” by Leigham Shardlow – Margaret Thatcher must defend her nest of eggs from hunchback coal miners, crazed children, and devious trains. A clever allegory of the Iron Lady’s policies in office, it proved the most entertaining of the anthology, if not my favorite.
“Nanny Knows Best” by James Burr – Though very short—flash fiction really—Burr’s story was nonetheless a highlight of the collection. It is an excerpt of the trial of a dead man in a country where death is illegal. The dark humor won me over.
“Meet Loaf” by Shaun Avery – A man falls for a woman named “Loaf” at a Cannibal-Victim Speed Dating night, only to learn her mysterious secret. This is the type of story I signed up for when I picked up this book. And cannibals make anything fun.
The anthology concludes with a series of “letters to the editor,” written by each contributor as a sort of veiled self-promotion.
There were definitely high points in the collection, while other stories fell flat for me. As someone not well-versed in poetry (pun intended), I found the odd, self-described “nonsense poems” to be immense fun. As a cherry on top, the proceeds from the book go to the Mermaids Charity, supporting gender-variant and transgender youth.
The British Bizarros may be the new heart of bizarro fiction—at least in the English-speaking world (as the Spanish language bizarro community and Orciny Press flourishes). Pick up this book for some great stories and you might get a glimpse into the future of the bizarro genre.
Here’s Madeleine Swann reading “Teeth Out for Pewdiepie”: