FIONA MAEVE GEIST
Because ethics are such a conundrum in reviewing: it is probably unprofessional for me to review the first New Bizarro Author Series (NBAS) release of this year, F4. Probably because I did editing work on it and got a dedication; however, Larissa wants responses from trans women and I am a trans woman so my opinion should count for something. Because it is the sort of thing that people are quick to jump on otherwise: I met Larissa at Necronomicon 2017 where she did a reading and we ended up talking a bit and she eventually asked me to look at a working draft of F4 and maybe give some feedback and I read the whole manuscript in about 24 hours and provided an absurd amount of notes and eventually ended up editing for her. Larissa wanted my input because I’m another trans woman and, in her estimation, I was helpful. I don’t gain anything from sales of F4, so I don’t see myself as having a conflict of interest in reviewing it.
Why You Should Read F4
Firstly, you should be reading F4 because you should be reading all of the NBAS releases. Eraserhead is a pioneering Bizarro press and reading NBAS publications is a great way to find new writers. I feel like this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway? If you want to read good, new writing you should pay attention to new things coming out and this year has a great lineup—Caleb Wilson, Katy Michelle Quinn, Farah Rose Smith, Leigham Shardlow, and Shawn Koch. Anyway, that is more-or-less a pitch for the series not this particular entry so:
Why You Should Read F4, In Particular
It’s trans lit that isn’t sad and torturous. I guess this is a slightly awkward confession but I’m not generally a fan of trans literature—even though I’m probably supposed to be—because it’s usually about the everyday aggravations of being trans. Instead F4 takes place on a cruise ship welded to a kaiju (the titular F4) and has an action plot straight from the 1980s which is fucking awesome. I’m a total mark for cruise ships—whether its professional sadboy footnote fetishist David Foster Wallace having a miserable time on a cruise ship or Drew Magary’s reportage from Kid Rock’s cruise—cruise ships are a fundamentally weird liminal space that provide a venue for binge drinking, drama, cultural imperialism and casual sex. Basically, they’re a great place for Bizarro stories because they’re already completely absurd so the baseline for a plot is already in the thick of great material. Throwing in a mutating crew, a sadistic captain, a partially awake kaiju and a harassment cult and topping it with breakneck action plot for good measure keeps you really engaged.
I’d honestly be happy with a plot that just involves pretty generic characters on a totally absurd cruise ship—specifically the part of me that has watched Commando, Predator, Running Man, The Thing, etc. hundreds of times would be more than content. Well defined characters aren’t strictly necessary if their ultimate fate is to mutate and be splattered on a bulkhead. However, and I think this is a strength to Larissa’s writing, there is a substantial investment in the characters. Carol, the bartender/trans version of Bruce Willis in a demented Die Hard, is a strongly drawn character who anchors an over-the-top plot in very human emotions. Which is what really makes the story to some extent: Carol has some pretty mundane wants filtered through the particularity of being trans. She wants to be accepted and her actions are rooted in concrete motivations that make the escalating absurdity around her more palpable. She’s trans and has a set of particularly trans experiences but they aren’t the singular focus of the narrative and it’s nice to spend a more tranquil second act really getting to understand who she is.
Which circles back to the unavoidable fact that for all the love lavished on characters in the narrative—and they are very sharply drawn—the story is also happy to unleash lovingly detailed kaiju (characters in their own right) on major cities and have them stomped to dust, shoot mutating people in the face and lean into body horror at times. There’s a sort of power metal aesthetic to the whole enterprise: there’s big emotional hooks throughout the text counterbalanced with furious action and gross out sequences as a sort of riffage that holds everything together and it’s capped off with some pretty racy erotica. Which fits in perfectly with the 80s action feel—breasts, guns, explosions and gore shots really define the genre—but with the unflinching willingness on the part of the author to write graphically about trans sexuality in ways that are anything but conventional. Did I mention it’s funny? There are some really good comedy beats thrown in for good measure.
I’m undeniably biased—although there is no such thing as an objective or disinterested review, except for maybe pedantically diagramming sentence structure and grammar to try to derive some ‘objective’ measure of value—but F4 is exactly the sort of unwholesome, lavish fun that I read Bizarro for. It’s gross, violent, erotic, boisterous fun for a pretty non-traditional family unit. It feels like the sort of movie you could cut together from the best of the ‘Action’ and ‘Adult’ sections from the right sort of seedy video store with some undeniable heart holding the whole thing together.
Oh, I rate it 5/5 but I’m completely biased.
Fiona Maeve Geist resides in WXXT country with her cat and has a PhD in interdisciplinary philosophy she hasn’t figured out a use for or how to bring up without sounding like a pretentious bitch. Her work has appeared in Lamplight and Trans Studies Quarterly and she can be contacted on twitter @coilingoracle. She would like to thank her sweethearts (tallest to shortest) Daphne, Nihils, Beck, and Hannah for accepting all of the weird shit she won’t shut up about.