Ginger Nuts of Horror
Tales from the Flip-Side: The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool and the Bombshell Kittens Written by John Pyka, narrated by J. Scott Bennett
Honestly, I’ve never struggled more with a review.
See, here’s the thing - for me, there were a lot of flaws in the writing. For example, there was an opening scene where an entire extended cast of characters is introduced, complete with exposition, backstory, and digressions, such that by the end of it I honestly couldn’t remember who all these people were, what room they were in, or why. Similarly, the narrative voice for the entire first section of the story is prone to narrative ticks of repetition and digression - you never meet a new character without an immediate digression containing a physical description, explaining how they first met, and their current relationship, and these digressions are often lengthy, again leading to frequent confusion for me about the main narrative. This was clearly intentional, and to add to the confusion, sometimes it worked well---
- there’s a folksy chatty quality to it which was at times charming - but at times it grated, especially when physical descriptions were repeated verbatim, which happened at least once. Additionally, what I thought was the main narrative ended abruptly, and without a resolution I found satisfying, before pivoting to another character who became the narrative voice for the remainder of the book. This narrator went on to tell the story of what had been happening ‘off camera’ with a separate group.
So, structurally strange, some frustrating writing tics, odd resolution - so far, so not great. So this is where it gets odd: I really enjoyed it.
I think a lot of that had to do with the setting - it’s pulp steampunk 30’s Chicago (and later the world) where basically every turn of the century fictional narrative actually happened. So we have nazi vampires led by Dracula, giant robots that guard the cities, powered by technology captured during the earth/martian war, rayguns as well as tommy guns, bootleggers, masked superheroes and villains, and good time girls. Oh, and Cthulhu is real too. Some of these ideas become central to the narrative, but many are only referred to fleetingly, as the background noise of the world’s history. I found I instinctively understood this setting, and was really excited by the possibilities it offered. Some of these were delivered, some not, but it was an incredibly rich and vibrant backdrop, and one I was enchanted by.
I also have to give huge props to the narrator - J. Scott Bennett did an exceptional job on this audiobook, his gentle southern lilt a perfect match for the 30’s material. His performance of both the main narrators is brilliant, as is his work on the supporting cast. His delivery adds a wry humour to the story. A good audiobook narrator will elevate the source material, and Bennett offers a prime example of this with his work here. It’s a canny, intelligent, skilled performance.
In conclusion, I can’t fairly recommend this, I don’t think - there's just too many flaws in the writing itself, for me. That said, if you find the subject matter and setting intriguing, I wouldn’t actually want to dissuade you either. Bottom line: I enjoyed this a heck of a lot more than I feel I should have. At least some of that is down to a barn burning narration, for sure, but I do also think there’s a superbly rich story environment here that, technical issues aside, really sparked my own imagination.
Maybe this is what they mean by a guilty pleasure.
Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary.
In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo, www.disciplesofgonzo.com