Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Richard Calder

Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things

Calder’s Dead trilogy is a Frankenstein monster made up of masturbatory fantasies about anime, serious fevered study of De Sade and Bataille, love of the baroque prose of Nabokov and Angela Carter, and fin de siecle decadence held together with cyperpunk wiring and then torn to pieces with narrative scatterbombs from Burrough’s Nova trilogy and Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet. If you don’t like these references, you won’t like Calder.
A baroque picaresque/romp of surrealistic porn and grand guignol a la Angela Carter’s Passion of New Eve or Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, with a mix of the decadent adventures of Moorcock, and more than a hint of Ballard pushed through a vision where anima, 30’s pulp, and French Symbolism are of equal import. Strangely fun if you give it a chance and wade through the purple prose with lots of cruelty and outrageous gore and an overload of style. Set in version of world where an event called the Abortion forced another reality on our own with lots animal people, a weird mix of technology (airships and muskets, teleporter and one stomping robot), and divided into Afric, Europa, Cathay, and Atlantis who wages war on all with their air navy and robots and in a wonderful inverse are the last remaining humans (the others ruled by the tribes of the perverse). Romping through this world on their way to the Moon and mythical freedom are a goblin princess (half rat and human) who will die when she orgasms, a brain eating revenant, and their dwarf maid. Balloon rides, a birth from a corpse, squid weaponry, necromancers, a queen who has her brain transplanted in a freshly killed young girl every year, a mix of myth and technology add to the perverse thrills of this book. Edgar Allen Poe and Marquis de Sade would have loved this one.

The Twist

A surreal western evoking Henry Darger, Angela Carter, and Lucius Shepard(especially the Nazi fantasia of “The Spanish Lesson” and “Bound for Glory”(a chapter bears this title.). A mix of western, 50’s sci fi b-movies, dark fantasy, and an exploration of death. This is a mix of ridiculous and the sublime like all Calder. A 14 year old girl narrates the proceedings like a jaded post grad, people quote Schopenhauer during gunfights, but the hallucinatory imagery and beautiful prose makes this so weird you can’t help but love it a little bit.


Cynical, decadent adventure tale like Moorcock(including a living sword) or Vance(with a protagonist as arrogant and obnoxious as Cugel) that is remarkable straight forward for Calder with little of his baroque prose and density of weirdness. Set in the same future as his Frenzetta but set so far in advance of that book that its events have become a fable. This book has everything you would want from an adventure story: a world decaying with lost secrets, traps, narrow escapes, traveling carnivals, a hollow earth(or an underground hell or demon realm in its center), plenty of action, ancient technology, castles, ghosts, dimensional gateways, cruel experiments, and a quest. The place and character names are all taken from Milton, De Quincy, and the Old Testament which adds to the atmosphere. The protagonist is so arrogant and self centered I wonder if Calder is poking fun at his own notoriously solipsist protagonists. So this was a rip roaring adventure with plenty of pulpy and gothic wonders but a little to straightforward to be one of Calder’s better work. Maybe he wanted to see if he could restrain himself and actually write a book that kind of made sense? Fans of Moorcock, Vance, Wolfe, Rudy Rucker (Hollow Earth), Milton, Lucius Shepard’s Dragon Griaule stories, and E.R.Burroughs, will find this a fun addition to their bookshelf

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