Four Walls Eight Windows
Laughter is infectious and infections are often communicable. By that computation, Witpunk may be the death of us all or at least those in the broad humorless landscape of America. A movement that started just two years ago on the electronic forum of fictionmags is quickly becoming a full-blown crusade to put the fun of satire and cynicism back into science fiction. While there are many good examples that run contrary to the notion that the sci-fi racks are a humorless wasteland, among them geniuses like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, there is an awful lot of deathless prose wandering around the outer reaches of space.
The answer that emerged from the scintillating conversations floating around out there in the ether is Witpunk, a sharply crafted and surrealistic sub-genre that skewers not just science fiction but many other aspects of the modern world with a sardonic and merciless wit. This collection, brought together by Locus Online columnist Lalumiere and Golden Gryphon Press' head honcho Halpern, assembles more than twenty stories in a good range of fiction that runs a delicious gambit between pure satire, psychedelic tales, and some that could almost be pure horror.
Indeed, much of the collection recalls the origins of fantasy fiction as far back as visionaries like H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Lewis Carroll, all of whom used their extraordinary talents to comment not only on the nature of human society but on the current state of affairs as well. Note that much of this book is quite darkly painted and serve no good as fairy tales. To be honest, though, Alice In Wonderland still scares the hell out of me.
Some of the most disturbing stories are patterned after children's fairy tales and others are just hilariously absurd, such as the opening tale, "The Teb Hunter." In this one, a couple of chaw-chewing country boys that might be in line beside you at Wal-Mart scuttle into the woods to hunt bioengineered teddy bears, a species good ol' Jimmy Ray likens to prairie dogs and other varmints. In the psychedelic realm, "Coyote Goes Hollywood," takes a Fellini-esque approach to the old Warner Bros. cartoons.
On the dark side are "Timmy and Tommy's Thanksgiving Secret," which will be a secret delight to Tofu-loving vegetarians everywhere, and "The Wild Girls," in which our narrator meets Sarah, who may or may not be The Queen of the Foxes. In neo-medical and dastardly clinical horror, you can stumble upon "Savage Breasts," a couple of seriously deranged mammaries that have taken on a mind of their own, as well as "The Seven-Day Itch." The latter story involves a dysfunctional relationship between Janet and Paula that becomes a sickening process of whatever the opposite of separation anxiety is.
"They were deeply regretting not having let Angie amputate but it was definitely too late now," writes the mysterious Elise Moser, another Montreal-based Witpunker. "Paula felt alternately guity, because she wasn't the one who was being sucked away (although who knew what would happen when Janet's whole body was gone) and disgusted, by the feeling of Janet's lump of a body attached to her." Like fingernails on a blackboard, this one gave me a long creepy crawl all the way down to my toes.
There are a dozen classics and over a dozen new stories here but you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two schools. This is bleeding edge satire but it has the same timeless quality as Jules Verne's adventurous stories or a classic like Mark Twain's "Diary of Eve." Among the heavy hitters are Robert Silverberg, Paul DiFlippo, Pat Cadigan and others who have taken the road less traveled and freaked out on words to the joy of any wood nymphs watching. With wit and a razor-thin line between a smile and a lip-licking hunger, these boys and girls are playing on the wrong side of the tracks. Watch yourselves, kids.