Book: Extinction Journals
Author: Jeremy Robert Johnson
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, novella
Why Did I Consider This Book Odd: Because I walked into it knowing it was about a man with a suit of cockroaches. Also bizarro.
Availability: Published by Swallowdown Press in 2006, you can get a copy here:
This novella is also available in the Bizarro Starter Kit (Orange), which has the works of other bizarros in it as well. I always recommend giving money as directly to the author as you can, but this could be a nice intro to bizarro for new readers. Gina Ranalli’s novella, Suicide Girls in the Afterlife, also reviewed here, is also in this edition.
Comments: I was discussing this book with Mr. Oddbooks and trying to explain it. Mr. Oddbooks is a prosaic sort of guy, whose reading tastes run towards tales of the open sea and computer manuals. “So why was the President wearing a suit made of Twinkies? Did he really think that they would protect him from the effects of nuclear war?”
I had to think about it. “I’m not sure. Maybe because they are so filled with preservatives? But that’s not what’s important…” And therein lies the awesomeness of bizarro when it is done correctly. Outrageous, surreal story-lines with insane details that once you are accustomed to reading such details, they don’t really even register. You get into a headspace where you have to say, “Well, why wouldn’t the President be wearing a suit made of Twinkies.”
I said in another bizarro review that you cannot go looking for plot holes in bizarro because you will find them. This is not a medium in which reason means much, surrealism and wonderment taking a far more important role. This was a fine example of bizarro, and a fascinating book regardless of genre.
To give a bare-bones plot description: A man who anticipates a nuclear holocaust designs a suit made of cockroaches in order to survive. His suit eats the President, who was, as I mentioned already, unwisely encased in a Twinkie suit. He meets God, or a God-like spirit who has come back for mankind only to find a few men left on Earth. He travels the remains of the world looking for safe food and water and meets a woman who has survived with the help of ants. Together they have to stop a formicary adversary who means to conquer what is left of the world.
The novella is filled with subtle humor. Take this passage when the protagonist, Dean, meets the God-like spirit, known as Yahmuhwesu. Yahmuhwesu is having trouble getting the Rapture to start and needs the help of… well, someone else:
“How much do you know about super-strings? Whorls? Vortex derivatives?”
“Oh god, nothing at all.”
“Okay, that doesn’t help. Is there someone else around here that I can talk to?”
I am almost certain that would happen to me at the end of the world. I suspect most of us sense we may not be wholly spiritually worthy to stand in the presence of the Divine but really, perhaps we need to work on our math skills instead of morality.
Dean is an odd man, a man who evidently saw a lot of the world before the bombs fell, with many experiences that make coping with a destroyed Earth a bit difficult.
…he realized he should have hooked up a gas mask instead of a portable breather unit.
But he couldn’t submit himself to that level of suffering. Dean had a severe aversion to having his face enclosed in rubber; an extraordinarily rough time with a dominatrix in Iceland had forced him to swear off such devices.
While I could not really connect to Dean or any of the other characters in the book, that is okay. It’s hard to see how one could connect with an expert on cockroaches who travels a post-apocalyptic world on his back, carried by the hearty cockroaches he has sewn to his suit, roaches he eventually develops a wavelength with. But Dean’s thoughts are interesting and ultimately, his mind and his actions have enough universally human about them that we recognize our own feelings in some of what Dean does. After a battle with a deranged ant-expert, Dean thinks:
One day you fall asleep happy. Next to a river under a dark sky. Then you wake up and everything has changed. Including you. You changed so much that for the first time you actually risk your life.
Love. It’s as good a word as any. It will do.
And you’ve gone so crazy with this feeling, call it love, that you find yourself in an absurd situation, humming moaning at telepathic bugs and killing brainwashed entymologists.
It sounds silly.
But it feels important at the time.
And this passage pretty well sums this book up: Absurd, silly, yet ultimately important. There are overtones of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. There is a sense that Vonnegut could have written this. It mixes the sublime and the ridiculous superbly. I very much like this novella and recommend it. I look forward to reading more of Jeremy Robert Johnson in the future.