The democratization of the internet allows us all to find our own niches. It is easier than it has ever been in human history to bury oneself in only like opinions to oneself or to indulge in the types of art and leisure that the greater populace at large would never even think twice of to such an extent that you might never get through it all. There’s an absolute glut of content for all stripes. Pop culture is Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse, and today we all get to drink from the firehose. One of the best results of this is finding modern products with a decidedly old fashioned bent, whether they be movies like House of the Devil that offer a striking verisimilitude to 1980’s horror films, music movements like electro-swing, or entire steam catalogues worth of retro-fashioned games. Combine the ease of distribution with a potential worldwide audience, and formerly niche products suddenly have a way to get noticed. Even ten years ago, I probably never would have heard of a book like Porn Gnomes and Other Strange Tales, and the world may have been a poorer place for it.
Porn Gnomes is pulp to the very core. Had it been published closer to the turn of the century (that is, the last century) it would have been dime store filler to be read and tossed. It is absolutely lurid with purple prose, containing stories of violence and horror and ill-humor, with dramatic ironies abound for each of its eleven short stories. If it had had the fortune to be published closer to the mid 1900’s, we could have looked forward to a monthly installment through EC Comics. If you ever enjoyed Tales from the Crypt, there’s a good chance you’ll find something to like in this breezy anthology of the strange. The titular Porn Gnomes inform of the late night wars that fantasy creatures go through to properly bring ruin to public restrooms, while in Day of the Night of the Night of the Living dead we get the truest picture of how the South would react to a zombie invasion. Killing Princess Petunia tweaks the kidnapped princess trope in amusing ways, while Time Immemorial feels like an urgent Twilight Zone or Outer Limits yarn. The settings and characterization and tone in each of the eleven shorts are wildly divergent, so it’s fairly likely most people won’t like every story contained inside. While I absolutely loved the fanciful world of Poppet Empire, the story it told left me with a shrug,
Furthermore, working on a tried and true pulp anthology format means that some of the stories are little more than one long set-up for the punchline at the end. In some of them, it’s fairly amusing, but others fall flat. I wasn’t particularly enamored with Midnight at the Crossroads for that reason, whereas the preceding Ordinary Man felt grotesquely perfect. One’s sense of humor is likely the deciding factor in how effective the more comical stories are, but that’s a wishy-washy assessment. I do think the humor is a little stronger than the face value of the words “porn” and “gnomes” being used together as a representation of the kind of jokes in the book, but overall the funnier stories are the ones I found personally weaker. The dramatic stories occasionally knock it out of the park, on the other hand. In fact, I thought the one-two punch of Always, the Red of Reckoning and A Companion of Dust Devils to be a particularly strong finish to the anthology for the former’s mythological dirge and the latter’s simple joy in the telling of the fairy tale of a girl outsmarting the clever monster of the woods, encapsulating both the best dramatic work and a deft, human humor to end out the book.
One more boon to the internet spreading such potentially difficult to market material goes beyond being able to get a fun pulp-horror-humor anthology into someone’s hands in the first place. In order to be heard above the din of noise of the ocean of content that awaits us, authors often need to take a different track in getting their vision in front of their audience. Many of the stories in Porn Gnomes and Other Strange Tales were written for one more anachronistic format, that of the radio drama presented via podcast. The author posted seven of these eleven stories originally as spoken stories at his podcast The Silicon Chickens Project, and they work quite well as bite-sized audio books. (I’ll use this opportunity to also give free publicity to the author’s movie podcast at The Greatest Movie Ever, as while Porn Gnomes was the first of his written projects I’ve ever read I’ve been a fan of this podcast for years). Some of the other tales in the podcast archive have been collected into two further anthologies, which I’ll likely be getting to before the end of the year.
In the end, the book is a little messy, and not every story is perfect. In fact, few of them are. Breezing so swiftly along however, you’re only a few page turns away from the next yarn and the next world to briefly explore. It’s just as easy to read the entire book in one sitting as it is to parcel it out story by story in between longer reads. And of course, the greatest benefit of its existence as a self-published eBook isn’t that a humble pulp anthology could find its ways into the hands of an appreciative modern audience at a more than reasonable price: it’s that you’ll never have to flash a gnome in a speedo at anyone while cracking it open on a park bench.