Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Bizarro Author Reviews I: Placenta of Love by Spike Marlowe

I'm going to do reviews of all eight of 2011's books by the New Bizarro Author series. Mainly I am doing this because I hope to join their ranks in 2012. But also because the books are all damn good and deserve as much publicity as can be mustered (mustard?).

We begin with Placenta of Love by Spike Marlowe. This is the tale of a Robo Pirate who goes in search of love, creating for himself a lover that goes all Frankenstein and causes major problems for the dude. On it's face a fairly simple but weird fantasy romance with thrilling resolve. But on further examination the story is anything but simple.

Spike Marlowe (who is a woman, despite the masculine ring of the fictitious first name) brings a uniquely feminine voice to the Bizarro movement without being in any way girly. I find that many male readers are turned off by 'feminine' writing because they assume it is girly lit, which is hardly the case with Placenta of Love. Little girls in their pink princess gowns aren't going to be sitting at tea party tables, a star tipped wand in one hand, a copy of Placenta in the other, reading it and doing all the various voices (cat, pirate, placenta, et al) in hilarious tones that their mothers can video and submit to a show that rewards hilarious video moments. Ironically, the color pink and faeries do figure into the story prominently.

For those of you wondering what the story is about, I guess a short synopsis is in order. The blurb on amazon goes:

Step right up! Captain Carl the robo-pirate is one of the few Artificial Intelligences living on Venus-the amusement park planet. When Carl is given the spark of intelligence by his creator, he becomes a creator himself. No longer just an automaton from a pirate ride, Captain Carl creates the love of his life and searches for her perfect body. He thinks he's found it in a big placenta. But programming is everything.

When the placenta's desire to reproduce kicks in, the whole park is endangered as the organ grows to monster size, spreading placenta babies across the planet and eating all the rides (and the people riding them!). Captain Carl must band together with a cat, a creator, and the Pope of The Church of Transubstantial Birth Fear to stop his love from killing everyone and destroying the park.

That's a pretty good plot summary, I must admit, so to redo it in my own words would be a waste of time. It tells you exactly what happens without revealing the exciting finish (Spoiler: the good guys win!). But again, don't mistake this relatively simple story as just sheer light entertainment. There are several truly profound philosophical angles to explore.

i. The Male Protagonist as Portrayed by the Female Author
Dealt with both in a very straight-forward way--we can easily understand Capt. Carl's motivations and weaknesses--and in more subtle terms, the penning of a male protagonist by a female author always brings with it certain philosophical underpinnings, most notably that she believes her audience is predominately male and that males will not read feminine writing because they think it is girly, as I mentioned above. This could be the case with Spike, or it could be that she wishes to dissect the overused male protag to shed a postmodern light on his ridiculous innards. For instance, Capt. Carl desires to create, and he tries to do this by taking the non-sentient automatons of Venus and creating from them sapient AI-driven Robos. The age old notion that men create things because they cannot bear children is well-trod territory. Does Marlowe intend us to suspend our disbelief and swallow this nugget without a grain of salt, or should we see it as a lampooning of a cliched (and frankly, unfounded) notion perpetuated in the patriarchal society we find ourselves in? Viewed honestly, doesn't this notion reduce women to nothing more than baby-makers who are completely satisfied in chasing their biological destiny? More on this in the next section.

ii. The Portrayal of Biological Purpose as Ultimately Destructive
So, Capt. Carl fashions for himself what he believes will be a perfect lover: a living placenta with an implanted AI. His new creation/lover names herself Helen. Now, Helen consists of two (contradictory)natures: the rational and sympathetic AI, the carnal and self-serving biological nature. In contrast, Carl is motivated by his AI without the hindrances of the flesh. Helen can't wait to have sex, which Carl doesn't seem to really comprehend, and once Helen becomes pregnant for the first time with Carl's progeny she desires the feeling of 'fullness' that this experience gives her, despite her pregnancies only seeming to last for a few minutes. So, her thirst to produce more and more offspring is unslakeable. She has seemingly no concern for all these placenta-babies that she is creating, only caring that she can remain pregnant for as much of the time as possible. Is this a metaphor? It's hard to see it as anything but.

iii. Inconsequential Offspring

In the course of her rampage, Helen creates hundreds of placenta-babies, which she immediately abandons. Carl is only concerned with stopping Helen's path of mayhem; in order for Helen to become "pregnant" she must absorb an object or person to impregnate her. Carl is not concerned with the offspring, all of which he orders destroyed by fire, except for the original offspring he and Helen created together, which he damns to a life of slavery in a side-show exhibit. Another prominent character is the female Pope Natzo Innocent, who creates her own army of Robo servants for the sole purpose of worshiping her. Is this new generation simply to provide new consumers for the corporate machine that is Venus? One may take the guess that Marlowe's attitudes to toward parents is somewhat negative, and that leads us to the next section.

iv. Parental Roles
There are two creative forces on the amusement park planet Venus: Zampanò, the male force that instills intelligence, will, and emotion; and The Lady Fey, who gives all automatons their physical (read as: carnal) form. Are we to understand that the feminine creative force does not elevate and enlighten the souls of her children, but relies on the male for that guidance? I should turn this work over to an expert in feminist theory, because I'm afraid I'm getting out of my depths. Which brings me to:

V. The Stereotypical Presentation of Pirates

Much of cinema and literature has served to degrade the multifaceted and sometimes even noble pirate into a flat, cardboard clown that is often made the subject of fun. Capt. Carl can't abide his pirate nature because it is so restrictive, being confined to cliched lines like, "Avast, me hardies!" and "Shiver me timbers!" He is also portrayed with a hook and a pegleg, the combination of which was relatively rare when piratical history is truly examined. Marlowe seems to be saying it is okay to forget about the generally ecumenical and democratic nature of service aboard pirate ships. We must focus only on the eye-patches. Am I digging too deep here for meaning? I feel that we are not digging nearly deep enough. Because I haven't even touched the fact that she equates cats with femininity, and includes the Japanese picture snapping tourists, and her trivialization of religious institutions as the cults of self-important self-appointed pontificators. If I was a Republican, I would suggest we burn the book, but since I don't believe these Bizarro books can be destroyed by anything less than Hellfire, I shall resist the urge to vote for Mitt Romney.

All in all, a very entertaining book. And yes, it is a first novel, so I did a cut a bit of slack--you can tell it was a bit rushed, but damned if it wasn't thoroughly entertaining. I look forward to her next release and I'm sure it will be even better than this one. Marlowe is going places. If we could only get her to remove her mask and show us her true face...

Next up: Gigantic Death Worm by Vince Kramer.

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