Reviews: “Arachnophile”, “Skull Nuggets” and “Day of the Milkman”

“Arachnophile” by Betty Rocksteady
On sale here.

As an arachnophobe, I’ve never found myself asking the question “If I lived in a world of giant, sapient spiders, would I be a bigot?” That is, not until I read this book. And any book that can make you ask such a question must be doing something right.

Connoisseurs of bizarro fiction would no doubt pick this book up expecting to get something odd, and despite it being the story of a man’s temptation to cheat on his wife with a large female arachnid, I found the weirdness of this book pleasingly cohesive. By all accounts, it’s an easy plot to follow with nothing so out-of-place as to be jarring. Some of the bizarro elements (like Alex’s job, or the architecture of their apartment) didn’t feel to me like they’d been explained clearly, but I guess that little bit of confusion is a hallmark of the genre.

I found a few times in the second chapter where the changes of speaker weren’t separated by dialogue breaks, but that could’ve just been an error in the conversion to ebook format. Apart from that, the prose was all tight and just descriptive enough. The climax took a larger step towards horror than the rest of the book did – whether or not you like that is up to you, but I doubt you’d pick up this book without expecting at least a little horror.

Overall, this is a very human story about fidelity, othering, attraction and the alien nature of trying to truly understand another person – all viewed through a lens of surreal, erotic horror. After all, fear and love are opposite sides of the same coin.

“Skull Nuggets” by Amy M. Vaughn
On sale here.

We’ve all heard someone say that depression is “all in your head” at some point or other, but have you ever heard someone follow it up with “Drill a hole in your skull and pour it out”?

Skull Nuggets uses weird fiction to offer a fascinating, unique insight into depression and paranoia, with some of the most fleshed-out and interesting characters I’ve read about in bizarro. As an example, protagonist Robert’s grandmother was made likeable in a single paragraph despite never appearing in the story, purely from description.

But it’s the major players in this work that will make you feel for them, with a combination of believable flaws and semi-cartoonish-yet-also-believable quirks. There was also something satisfying about watching a miserable character toy with the idea that his brain was crawling with bugs that could be exterminated.

It was sometimes hard to instantly tell which character was the POV character at the start of a new chapter, but this wasn’t a huge issue. The research into trepanation was thorough (or at least sounded thorough, which I guess is basically the same thing to any reader not versed in a topic), and there was a strong reverence for yoga, meditation and Eastern religions/mysticism. And it’s always a huge plus when a book aligns with my own interest in lucid dreaming.

Given the story’s themes of enlightenment and the splashes of hallucinatory craziness, I was hoping for more of a trippy, mind-bending “Gainax ending”. But the novella has a few of its roots in reality, and the ending is a bit more sombre – not entirely happy, but fitting, and reflective enough to help uphold its themes of mental health. It’s not a story about finding a cure, but about learning to accept depression as a part of yourself and discovering how to live with it.

4.5 brain-parasites out of 5.

“Day of the Milkman” by S.T. Cartledge
On sale here.

The world has passed its use-by date, and it’s starting to turn. What exactly it’s turning into is unclear, but humanity’s lone survivor is on a quest to find out.

I found the present-tense third-person narration a little jarring at first – mainly because I don’t see that combination in too many books these days – but I got adjusted to it quickly enough and was in for a wild ride across an ocean of curdling cow-juice. The language is nice and descriptive, and the author does a great job making this fantasy world feel tangible. The world almost is a character of its own, and the sheer scale helps to create a mood of isolation as HiLo sales a vast ocean of nothingness in search of whatever form of companionship the world is willing to give him.

A few dreamlike instances of the protagonist staring his desires in the face (and having them stare back as they try talking sense into him) interrupt the lonesome voyage. For better or worse, the tone and pacing change towards the late-middle of the book, and the protag learns that sometimes a sea of nothingness is better than the alternative. It all culminates in a whimsical, transformative climax reminiscent of scenes from The End of Evangelion, and it leaves the reader with a sense of hope that what was lost will be outshone by what replaces it. 4/5 would milk again.

I write weird and/or wonderful fiction. Find my novels here.


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