Monday, February 06, 2006

ANGEL DUST APOCALYPSE by Jeremy Robert Johnson (Eraserhead Press)

I am extremely particular about many genres of fiction--especially horror. It is easy for it to get bloated and thoughtless and--more often than not--gory for the sake of gore.

That said, if you could marry well-crafted literature to stories of visceral horror, you would be holding ANGEL DUST APOCALYPSE in your hands. Jeremy Robert Johnson has put together a collection of stories (most previously published in various magazines) that cover a vast array of themes and ideas--and even points in time. The writing is genuine and delicious. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll lose your lunch.

The lead story, The League of Zeroes, is a short, beauteous story of the end result with our culture's fascination with attention (extreme haircuts, piercings and tattoos): body modifications. A true post-apocalyptic adventure? Even worse:

It all leaves me with the impression that I'm living in some kind of ravaged nuclear wasteland. The problem with that diagnosis lies in the absence of any apocalypse. No one dropped any bombs; no great fire scorched the Earth.

We just ended up like this. We followed a natural progression from past to present. We're not Post-Apocalyptic, we're Post-Yesterday.

Next up is Dissociative Skills, which tells the story of a kid who pops a pill so he can drop off and take a scalpel to his belly in order to see what's inside--and successfully finds out. Granted, you don't want to eat any red meat before you read this story--but this is to be expected from good horror. Even Stephen King, before he got all Green Mile-ish and whatnot, was a vivid and explicit storyteller; it's just part of the genre.

What makes JRJ's group of stories so compelling is the sense of self (or lack of self, or search of self) that is present in each element of the collection. Johnson is probably a few books away from doing for horror what Jonathan Lethem did for science fiction. Plain and simple? Forget horror; this is good fiction. From stem to stern, each story will amaze you--and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts you'll read them all more than once.

And you'll never suspect this was produced POD (which Eraserhead uses as its print model) based on two simple things alone: the price ($8.76 on Amazon) and the rich cover, which was clearly not someone's weekend play with Photoshop. This is a top-notch collection that is certain to be a welcome addition to your library.