Pros: Strong & unique authorial voice; wild and creative stories
Cons: Strong language and unflinching use of sex and violence won’t appeal to all; I have trouble reading stories where a person hurts an animal; “Radioactive Monkey” used some trite horror ideas
Rating: 4 out of 5
Disclaimer: I consider Chuck an “internet friend”, so I might be biased. But I try not to be. Also, this is a review of a self-published Kindle e-book.
Chuck Wendig’s Irregular Creatures includes nine stories (about 45,000 words) of bizarre beasties of the horrific, fantastical, science fictional, and psychological varieties. It’s a self-published Kindle e-book, but while yes, it has a few more typos than your average book off of a bookstore shelf, it has few enough that it’s actually pretty hard to tell that it’s self-published. And it has a way-cool cover illustration.
The urban fantasy/paranormal tale of Dog-Man and Cat-Bird (a Flying Cat Story), the first story of the book, sucked me right in. It’s a great example of Chuck’s visceral and strong writing voice (check out Terrible Minds for examples), and the story itself is quite unique and fascinating. One of the characters started out feeling rather stereotyped, but despite the short length of the piece that had been dealt with by the end. Some of the wacky details are the kinds of things I can’t imagine anyone but Chuck coming up with, particularly toward the end of the tale.
A Radioactive Monkey is a fun little piece, but while the window dressing is definitely Chuck’s own style, the basic plot is fairly well-trodden, and with few surprises. In this one, a bartender convinces the man who’s head over heels for her to drink a weird mix of her own devising. And you just know that won’t end well.
Product Placement is a seriously original sci-fi treat that shows what happens when marketing goes inter-dimensional.
This Guy is a twisty tale of madness and horror that I just loved. It’s one of those things where you’re half along for the ride and half trying to figure out how to get one step ahead and figure out exactly what’s going on. In it, a man kills the same homeless guy every day on his way to work—and every day the homeless guy is back again.
The next story is a fantastical and horrific tale of a very unusual Thai sex show (I’ll skip the title since this is a relatively kid-friendly blog). It could have gone in some predictable directions, but the ending definitely brought it together.
Lethe and Mnemosyne is a spot of wacky flash fiction that acts as the literary equivalent of a palate cleanser between heavier fare.
In The Auction, Benjamin’s father takes him along to a very special auction of magical and forbidden fare. There, a religious man seeks to win the auction for a sickly mermaid, with less than honorable intent. Can young Benjamin save her from her fate? The details brought this one to life. I felt as though I could see, hear, and smell the place and its dubious wonders.
Beware of Owner is the tale that I rather wish I hadn’t read, just because I find human mistreatment of animals an extremely depressing subject—I guess it just happens so much that it feels too real. That said, it was definitely well-written.
Finally, Do-Overs and Take-Backs connects two disparate characters (a rich man who doesn’t enjoy life and a poor boy who wishes for something better) through the machinations of a mysterious figure in rags. There were a few spots in this one where I got a tad confused as to what person was being discussed when, but the story itself is a very original and creative variation on some normally-trite basics.
More than most books, whether you’re likely to enjoy Irregular Creatures is highly dependent on how you take the writing style. The sex and gore felt appropriate to the stories rather than tacked-on for its own sake, but they’re also perfectly in-your-face and unapologetic. The language is frank and salty, which again is appropriate to the characters, but not everyone will want to read it. If all of the above sounds interesting to you, then definitely give Irregular Creatures a try. It displays an originality that’s hard to find these days and a strong and delightful authorial voice.