It started with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (the first book ever to contain its entire joke in the title alone), then Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Extremism in writing isn’t new – it’s a sixties idea that JG Ballard was handling very well – but so-called Bizarro Fiction, which mixes extreme images with ideas, is a fresh spin. Born from US indie publishers, fantastical novels revel in titles like Shatnerquake (in which all the characters William Shatner has ever played come alive and hunt him down), Warrior Wolf Women Of The Wasteland and Adolf In Wonderland.
The above book tells the story of a fantasy world where black snow falls in the shape of swastikas, and offers a nightmarish, fairytale version of the Auschwitz prison camp. Prisoners 999 and 1001, conjoined twin brothers, are forced to endure the sadistic tortures of the Ass Goblins. It’s deliberately distasteful and offensive, an exercise in identifying the boundaries of decency and going beyond them, again and again, but in an era when very little remains shocking, the author might have actually managed to create a genuinely disturbing work of fiction.
According to the Guardian, ‘Bizarro fiction is by turns stupid, repulsive and crude. But at its best, it is also intelligent, compelling and well-written. Any literary genre that can be both bad and good at the same time is worth watching.’ It may turn out to be a desperate ploy to sell fantasy novels, but there has always been slipstream fiction – the books that live beyond the main mass of an increasingly uniform available selection.