Ninja versus Pirate featuring Zombies Archive

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Book Review: Zombie versus Fairy featuring Albinos

Last summer I read and reviewed the first entry in James Marshall’s How to End Human Suffering series. Upon finishing the book I thought to myself, “Where does he go from here?” How does a sequel keep the momentum and tone of Ninja versus Pirate Featuring Zombies when the original already turns it up to eleven in terms of a no-holds-barred allegorical experience? Thus it was with some level of reservation that I cracked the spine on Zombie versus Fairy featuring Albinos; it would either be the Empire Strikes Back of book sequels or the Highlander 2. Oh me of little faith, but I’ll get to that.

Before I continue, a word or two on context. When I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Marshall last summer I incorrectly cited his series as horror for want of any other easily named genre. James instead offered that the How to End Human Suffering series is more aptly described as “Geek literary.” When I pressed him for a definition of the term, he responded with this,

Literary is synonymous with quality. Unfortunately, it’s also synonymous with boring. “Geek literary” combines everything you expect from high quality writing with everything you expect from pop culture entertainment. For example, a lot of times, especially in Canadian lit, you get a bored lonely woman remarking on how the fields in winter are not unlike her soul. In “geek lit,” you’d have the same bored lonely woman remarking on how the fields in winter are not unlike her soul, but then a ninja would drop down from the ceiling and cut off her head. Everybody is happy.

So if NvPfZ was an experiment in geek lit, and a highly successful one at that, then ZvFfA is proof positive of what can emerge out of this fully realized approach to high concept genre writing.

Rather than focusing on Guy Boy Man, the eponymous Pirate of the first novel, ZvFfA’s protagonist is a zombie named Buck Burger. Unlike most of the other zombies in the world, who are content to revel in the consumption of human flesh and generally make a mess of the planet, Buck is depressed. It’s a deeply rooted existential malaise that sees Buck longing for something grander as he gradually comes to understand his depression is the result of the world being very depressing, and not a chemical imbalance in his head. Naturally, this makes Buck well suited for senior management within the Zombie hierarchy.

Where Mr. Marshall drew heavily upon Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in NvPfZ, this installment draws upon modern sources for its controlling metaphors. When Buck is promoted to Zombie senior management, my thoughts turned to Mustapha Mond explaining to Bernard Marx that those who truly understand the world must either live apart from it or embrace a role in managing it. Moreover, the rampant consumerism which personifies Zombie culture rings quite true as both an allusion to Huxley’s “Fordism” and a critique of our own society.

The true strength of Marshall’s style, as witnessed in this novel, is that he doesn’t limit himself to a single realm of exploration. It would be enough if ZvFfA was simply a commentary on a knowing individual’s relationship with an alienating society. Instead the story is as artistic as it is efficient in its ability to peel back the layers on Zombie/contemporary Human culture. Through Buck’s depression it then explores what it means to be a part of the metaphorical undead/great unwashed. This includes a scathing criticism of the entertainment industry, as personified by the novel’s Albinos, and a surprisingly honest examination of modern marriage that blends together the ideas of Franz Kafka and Woody Allen.

Perhaps this commitment to the reality of the setting is one of the great improvements of this book over its predecessor. NvPfZ, for all its brilliance, is bat shit crazy – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The central question of said book emerges as, “Is this really happening?” Is Guy Boy Man actually a pirate who stole the Pope’s hat and trillions of dollars thus precipitating a global economic meltdown? Or is he just a very disturbed teenager who has constructed a fallacy as an attempt to reclaim agency in a cruel and unfair world? ZvFfA only ever flirts with this first question. After a mere three or four chapters I took it for granted that the world, as told by Buck, is how it is. After all, why would a depressed Zombie lie about the world? If Buck was capable of dissembling on an internal level, he wouldn’t be depressed. And because the Zombie world is layered over of our world, hidden from everyday sight by magical creatures, ZvFfA invites the reader to ask not if the events of the story are true to the internal narrative, but how they as an observer would place themselves within this world. Are you contributing, like Guy Boy Man and the other devotees of Awesomeism, or you consuming, like a Zombie?

With Buck’s story, and all the subtext therein, framed by the decline and fall of his Zombie marriage, ZvFfA is wholly effective as both a stand-alone novel and the second entry in what is rapidly becoming my favourite subversively literary series. Zombie versus Fairy featuring Albinos proves that James Marshall doesn’t turn it up to 11, 11 is where he lives.

Zombie versus Fairy Featuring Albinos

Written by: James Marshall

Published by: ChiZine Publications


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An Interview With James Marshall, Author of Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies

As part of the blog tour for his new novel, Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies published by Toronto’s ChiZine Publications, Canadian author James Marshall took some time to chat with me about his book, his artistic vision, and what he perceives as art’s relationship with the larger world.

James Marshall

Hi James. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. For the benefit of anybody who isn’t familiar with this novel, how do you think Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies compares with your work in Let’s Not Let a Little Thing Like the End of the World Come Between Us?

 

JM: They’re in the same family. Let’s Not Let A Little Thing Like The End Of The World Come Between Us was a “literary” short story collection. Technically, Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies is a genre novel. I guess I’m supposed to say, they’re really different. But I consider NVPFZ more a “geek literary” novel than a traditional “horror” novel. I mean, for a genre book, NVPFZ is pretty “arty.”

Geek Literary, I like the sound of that. Care to expand on the idea a little?

JM: Literary is synonymous with quality. Unfortunately, it’s also synonymous with boring. “Geek literary” combines everything you expect from high quality writing with everything you expect from pop culture entertainment. For example, a lot of times, especially in Canadian lit, you get a bored lonely woman remarking on how the fields in winter are not unlike her soul. In “geek lit,” you’d have the same bored lonely woman remarking on how the fields in winter are not unlike her soul, but then a ninja would drop down from the ceiling and cut off her head. Everybody is happy.

Dreary Canadian landscapes in winter could do with more ninjas now that I hink about it. So let’s explore this Geek Literary idea a little. The satire within NVPFZ taps into some very serious issues within our world: global warming, resource scarcity, and economic turmoil to name a few. Yet all of your central characters are teenagers and the story is set in and about a high school. Was this an intentional contrast?

JM: I dealt with teenagers and high school for a few reasons. Firstly, I never grew up and I’m very juvenile. Secondly, teenagers have to cope with the monumental problems facing us and high school is the place where they’re supposed to receive the tools and training to address those problems. Since the school in my novel is completely crumbling and filled with zombies, you can guess what I think the chances of success are. Thirdly, it’s when you’re in your teenage years that you start thinking about sex. I think we need to have a serious discussion about whether or not population planning is a way to address many of the problems facing us. Obviously, I think it is.

Now I want to take issue with something you said in your review: NVPFZ might be “the most flippant and offensive thing [you've] ever read.” Please, ask me if I think NVPFZ is offensive!

*Clears his throat and puts on his most professional voice* Mr. Marshall, do you think there’s anything offensive in NVPFZ? And as an immediate follow up to that question, do you think there’s anything in your novel that some readers might find particularly objectionable?

JM: Some people might not like the scene in which Guy Boy Man and a few of his hot young female followers throw lifeless babies at each other, for fun, but people are so sensitive these days. (In ”reality”, the babies might have actually been heads of lettuce.)

For the most part, no, I don’t think NVPFZ is offensive. But I do think the things to which I draw attention are offensive. For example, when Guy Boy Man uses overweight kids, special ed kids, and a disabled girl in a fight with the zombies, you could say that’s horrible, and it is. But is it horrible of me? Or is it something that’s horrible with the world. I mean, that’s the way high school is. It’s social Darwinism. The strong thrive at the expense of the weak. I think it’s horrible too. Nobody really seems to be doing anything about it, so I thought I’d draw attention to it using metaphor and (what I hope passes as) entertainment.

When Guy Boy Man proposes a solution, tasteless as it is, to the problem of kids starving in Africa, is that really offensive, or is what’s really offensive the fact that so many kids really do starve to death every day in Africa, and no one talks about it?

When Guy Boy Man takes Baby Doll15 on a date to a prison wherein the prisoners are amusements, is that offensive, or is the fact that our prisons are filled with the poor, the mentally ill, and our ethnic minorities? And how many TV shows would go off the air if we didn’t use ”crime” as entertainment?

Some people might find NVPFZ offensive, but “art” is supposed to serve a purpose, and I try to use satire and metaphor to raise issues that are important to me. For examples of my satire, I hope your readers will check out my website: www.howtoendhumansuffering.com

While we’re on the subject of howtoendhumansuffering.com, can we expect more sermons from Guy Boy Man in the future?

JM: Yes, that’s definitely on the agenda for the not-so-distant future.

Excellent. For the record, I found the one on pregnancy camps to be particularly apropos given current “debates” on reproductive rights. I hope the danger quotes appropriately denote the low regard in which I hold said “debates”.

On another note, you mentioned BabyDoll15, Guy Boy Man’s paramour, in one of your previous answers. Her name as well as Centaur111’s struck me something that resonated with online culture. Was that an attempt on your part to skew these characters toward a certain audience?

JM: The prologue to NVPFZ is the key to unlocking the whole thing; it’s intended to be a modern-day retelling of Plato’s Parable of the Cave. The basic idea is that there are different layers of reality. The characters of NVPFZ are meant to inhabit one of these layers where everything is sort of a mash-up of the real world and the online world. Guy Boy Man has insight into an even higher level of reality than the other characters because he can see zombies everywhere, controlling everything, and they can’t. So I guess it wasn’t so much that I was targeting a specific demographic as I wanted to explore a mash-up of the real and online worlds.

So if the narrative mirrors Plato’s Cave, does that make Guy Boy Man a philosopher king as well as a pirate?

JM: Yes, but it gets complicated, because the utopia in Guy’s vision doesn’t include people. Obviously, his desire for everyone to stop reproducing is ludicrous; it’s designed to bring population control into the debate regarding all the problems facing us. But if you took it at face value, Guy would return the planet to the animals, and I suppose there’s a certain appeal to that. There wouldn’t be any need for philosopher kings though. And Guy is meant to represent mankind. Sure, he’s funny and charming, but he’s violent, selfish, and probably completely irredeemable, so he’s far from an ideal leader.

He wants to destroy himself. I.e./ Mankind wants to destroy itself.

If that’s the case, what’s the third way between Zombies, who are a slow burn destruction of the Earth (corporate personhood, outsourcing, consumerism) and Guy’s all-in inferno of self-destruction? Or is that a question better examined in subsequent novels within the series?

JM: To be honest, I wrote NVPFZ because I’d given up on the world. I mean, population planning is a “possible” solution to “some” of the problems facing us, but it’s fraught with peril. All in all, I’m pretty pessimistic. I think we’re past the tipping point on a lot of things. I try to be indifferent, but it’s not easy. I wish I was like Guy Boy Man. It’d be nice to sit back, relax, and watch everything go up in flames with a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I find it all rather stressful and depressing.

Let me ask you one more thing then. If we’ve crossed the Rubicon on issues like population control, doesn’t that change our relationship with art? Doesn’t that make the entirety of the artistic community akin to Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burns around us?

JM: In NVPFZ, I suggest that artists should stop creating beautiful works of art and force zombies to face the mess they’ve made. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work, because just about anybody can entertain a mindless idiot, but it’s an interesting thought: even in railing against the status quo, the artist supports it, whenever he or she produces a work of art that makes the status quo a little more tolerable. I guess I consider the artist complicit in the destruction of everything. I’m complicit in the destruction of everything. I thought I’d found a job that let me be removed from it, but when I really thought about it, I realized I hadn’t, and I was involved in it too.

A complex answer to a complicated situation. James, thank you so much for your time, and best of luck with the novel; it truly is a fantastic read.

JM: My pleasure and thank you. If any of your readers would like to keep up to date with me, please invite them to follow me on Twitter: @james_marshall

Ninja Versus Pirates Featuring Zombies is now available in print and e-book editions from ChiZine Publications. Learn more about the book at howtoendhumansuffering.com


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Book Review: Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies

Summary Judgement: The novel’s satire runs so perfectly parallel to the zeitgeist of contemporary culture that it’s either the most flippant and offensive thing I’ve ever read, or the most concise allegory on post-industrial culture to ever to be constructed.

Where the hell does a book reviewer start when the protagonist of the novel in question is a teenage trillionaire who is also the founder of the world’s most popular religion as well as the self-appointed saviour of humanity? Did I mention that Guy Boy Man, the eponymous pirate of Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies wants to save humanity by destroying it?

NVPFZ is set in a world, very much like this world, quite possibly this world, where zombies control everything. Upon realizing that life is a prison meant to entertain human teenagers until such time as they can become infected with “The Strain” and turn into zombies, Guy Boy Man kills his parents. It’s okay, they were zombies, probably. He then meets a centaur named Centaur111 who gifts him with all the money in the world on the condition he can never tell a girl that he loves her. Therein, Guy Boy Man, demagogue, messiah, and teenager begins his quest to save humanity by purging his school of all zombie influences.

Eradicating Scare City High School of its zombie control means that Guy Boy Man has to confront the unseen foe that dominates all aspects of school life, The Principal. Along the way he meets Babydoll15, the love of his life, even though he can’t tell her, Sweetie Honey, the most bad-ass ninja to ever grace the Earth, and a quartet of impossibly perfect looking Eastern European girls who are the result of an abandoned KGB project to spy on America.

It’s absurd, nihilistic, narcissistic, and bitingly funny – no pun intended, and that’s just the first chapter. The only other thing I’ve read that is this measured in its planned insanity is Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five.

Yet the satire that drives the story is a complicated thing. There’s a very real chance that everything that Guy Boy Man sees as reality is just a twisted acid trip, or some similar demarcation from reality – case in point, throughout the book Guy Boy Man imbibes enough whiskey as to kill a full grown Rhinoceros. There are enough clues in the text to suggest that when confronted with the uncaring tedium of the world, Guy Boy Man adopted a perceptual filter that allows him to cope with Western civilization through the tropes of 70s genre movies. Perhaps Guy Boy Man, and the world that Marshall has created, embodies the perceived, if not essential, cynicism that was Generation X’s ethos. Then again, it could be a bad acid trip, who’s to say.

That’s where things get potentially alienating. Guy Boy Man, who is also the narrator of the text, has some rather unusual ideas about the world. For example, he employs a very clever sort of sophistry to explain how religion, specifically Catholicism and Christianity, is a form of piracy. He considers obese people as well as the disabled, both mentally and physically, apt human shields during a gun fight with some “troubled teens”. Also, the aforementioned festively plump factor into Guy Boy Man’s plans to harness human bio-fuel as a means of ending America’s dependence on foreign oil.

One level, it’s quite obvious that Guy Boy Man is echoing the absurd notions of certain fringe minorities were their ideas taken to the extreme. In doing so, the narrator’s voice becomes a way of subverting harebrained politics and policies. A deeper reading of the text reveals a character who perfectly channels the teenage desire to root out hypocrisy in all its forms. But where most teenagers could well be expected to default into outrage and “damn the man” philosophy, Guy Boy Man is The Man. His reactions to the world are that of a fully empowered Stephen Colbert.

So there can be little doubt that this is a highly political and socially aware novel. But hardly anything therein is scared. In so much as I laughed at the one-liners, the deep satire, and the semiotics as foreplay to the most awkward sex scene ever, I can imagine a great many people who won’t be able to get past Swiftian discourses on eating babies under the age of three, or one of Guy Boy Man’s sermons on howtoendhumansuffering.com that is anchored around the idea that killing the unemployed would be the best way to stimulate the economy. It’s not enough to say that some people won’t like this book. Some people won’t like any book. NvPfZ goes out of its way to make light of a great many things that are very important to a great many people. In doing so, the novel offers a powerfully didactic relationship with its readers in that it uses absurdity to comment on existing self-destructive trends within society.

Make no mistake, Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies might have all the trappings of a light hearted genre romp, but it would be folly to assume it is a frivolous piece of writing. This is a tremendous literary work that draws together a teenage voice of outrage with the various “adult” problems of our world. Like all novels by ChiZine Publications, it’s probably not for everybody, but who wants to live in a world where everything is?


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Podcast Episode 20-1: Adam Shaftoe in the Morning!

Here’s what happens when I work through the night, and I’m left to my own highly caffeinated devices at five-thirty in the morning.

With my compliments to J.M. Frey, Matt Moore, James Marshall, Adrienne Kress, Bunny, Jason, and Sam (even though he’s on hiatus) at Imperial Trouble Podcast, and Candice and Nick at Limited Release Podcast.