Occasionally timing is simply not on our side. Shortly after posting my review for Paul Chapman’s Porn Gnomes and Other Strange Tales, the author had a twenty four hour giveaway of his three collections, free to anyone who might have liked to download them from Amazon. Though I would have liked to have spread the good word, it was only at the very end of that day that I saw the announcement, and the price shortly thereafter returned to normal.
Then again, maybe that’s for the best. The two dollar asking price for these anthologies is a trifle for how entertaining they can be, and the author well deserves the pittance for which he asks. Much of what I said of Porn Gnomes remains true here. Chapman has a gift for purple prose along with a pulp sensibility that meanders from tale to tale and tone to tone with a deftness that sometimes leaves the stories too slight to sustain themselves but never lingers too much on any one aspect. This means that the best of the stories in this anthology of ten feel as though they leave you far too soon, but the lesser entries are little more than bumps in the road that can be quickly moved past. The tales that resonate with any given reader will no doubt vary. For my money, the titular Sasquatch Rides a Harley is good enough to raise my grade of the entire book an entire notch, and coming as late as it does in the anthology, lets the entire thing crescendo on an awfully high note.
Before we reach the biking Bigfoot however, we traipse through tales of the newly animated dead pontificating on the difficulties of their recent reanimation in The Dead Are Never Brave, which once again begs me to bust out a comparison to EC Comics with its brief, grim tale of revenge and desire. It’s a strong start that is buoyed by its immediate successor showcasing why I can more readily recommend Sasquatch over Porn Gnomes. In the second story, Rendezvous with the Llama, Chapman manages to use a much more deft touch with the absurdist humor that sometimes got away from the stories in the first anthology. It grounds the sudden appearance of an implacable llama into a man’s life as a catalyst for madness in a way that is almost as much a parody of old pulp horror as The Dead Are Never Brave is a celebration of the same.
Make Way For The Ice Cream Man occasionally goes too far with its absurdism, but offers a slice of hellish Americana with a few lingering images offered up by the prose, while Belladonna is likely the nadir of the anthology in terms of holding my interest. It’s a fun story, but so slight as to drift away in a stiff breeze if something like “ninja koalas” isn’t prone to immediately make you sit up and pay attention. The Annunciation of Sir Arthur James-Herman Moustache finds us once again on the right side of silly, in a tale of whisked away whiskers that lovingly sends up drawing room mysteries and rollicking globetrotting adventures that builds up to one of the more successful punchlines in the collection, while its follow-up in dabbles shallowly in questions of integration and racism in an intriguing world that never quite gets its due in Boogieman Among the Apes.
With North Pole, Zero Hour the anthology revisits a wacky trope that has been done far too many times already when horrible things begin afflicting Santa’s Workshop, but Chapman’s prose saves what could have been entirely trite with surgically precise deployment of cheery Christmas cliches within the chaos. If it’s still a bit trite, well, originality alone does not entertainment make, and North Pole, Zero Hour is very entertaining. Pteranodonophobia has perhaps the best punchline between both anthologies, while the final story, No Place Like Gnome, feels like what North Pole, Zero Hour threatened to be. A simple, straightforward zombie story where the undead are replaced by garden gnomes, it never really transcends that single sentence, and is a sadly weak note to end the anthology on.
But sandwiched between Pteranodonophobia and No Place Like Gnome, Sasquatch Rides a Harley delivers something magical. A contemplative, exciting, melancholy, heartfelt road trip of a story that delves into American mythology with a gentle humor and a creeping sadness, I can find little fault at all with this story. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to oversell it, but I feel it almost transcends all of the other material in these two anthologies. It marries the funeral march of Always, the Red of Reckoning with the joy of A Companion of Dust Devils (my two favorite stories from Porn Gnomes) into something wholly its own. The humor comes far more naturally from the story, rather than being a joke in the text itself, and by the end of it I was feeling particularly sentimental.
Much of what I wrote of Porn Gnomes applies to Sasquatch Rides a Harley as a complete work. It’s messy. The tone doesn’t always work. There are stories with worlds that beg to be explored which end too soon, and a few tales that simply leave me cold in their entirety. But it’s the high marks that you remember from an anthology rather than the low ones, and Sasquatch’s road trip across the country is something I won’t be forgetting soon. As one of the longer stories in the anthologies, I can understand why it’s not one of the audiobook podcasts available at The Silicon Chickens Project, but it strongly deserves its place as the titular yarn for this particular collection. If there were any story that I’d like to see Chapman expand into a standalone novel, it’s this one. In a book full of misfits, outcasts, the weird and the macabre, he turns the subject matter into something noble and beautiful, stinky fur and all.