D. Harlan Wilson
Trade paperback, 111 pp., $7.99; eBook, $2.99
The Kyoto Man
D. Harlan Wilson
Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2013
Trade paperback, 234 pp., $14.95; eBook, $4.99
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Perhaps the best way to introduce readers to two recent books by D. Harlan Wilson—Diegeses, a collection of two novelettes; and The Kyoto Man: A Pulp Science Fiction Novel, the third in his Scikungfi trilogy—is to quote a passage from an early chapter, “the 10001st time I turned into Kyoto—Diagnostic Prose.” After the eponymous character has been threatened, he responds:
–Last chance. Last chance for what? What will you do to me? Molest me? Murder me? Swallow my soul? You don’t even know. You’re simply enacting the motions. Dionysian motions. Entropic motions. You’re enslaved by a narrative that you can’t see. You’re characters in a trashy pulp novel. It ticks and it tocks—you can’t stop the lynched pendulum from swinging back and forth like a dogtongue. You can enter it from infinite orifices. You can go backwards and forwards. You can put a bookmark in it, pause it. But unless you understand it, it means nothing. And yet this narrative is God and Guide. I am not the author. There is no author. There is Cause. There is Effekt. I roost on the Precipice and perceive the geographies of Dogshit. Through the vehicle of my body, you will learn the meaning of ragged storytelling. I am the Podium on which you may stand tall and pose questions with lethal answers. Interrogation is contingent upon desire, you Unholy Fuckers. Crack open my person like an egg and my fuming essence will flow into the gutters and drown all of the impersonators. These are mere snippets of my plagiarized word horde. My horde is fractal and true. But in the end it will ring false. Mind you, Gentlemen Cunts: the scope of my assholery knows no bounds. (21)
Most readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror approach books with a number of clearly defined expectations. There will be well-rounded characters, as opposed to flat caricatures designed to be manipulated at will by the author. There will be a plot, with a nicely Aristotelian, discernible beginning, middle, and end, even if the book itself begins in medias res, “in the middle of things.” There will be a setting that amplifies and in part defines plot and character. There will be a degree of coherence, allowing readers to follow specific paths of causality and consequence. There will be a sense of words used as tools to create story rather than words as art, superior to and at times divorced from story.
Occasionally, writers on the edges of the genres choose to abrogate these expectations as a means of exploring not simply a fictional world but the boundaries of language, structure, conventions, even meaning. Such stories may be difficult and discomfiting for many readers; for others, they may become exciting, stimulating, energizing forays into possibilities.
Such are Wilson’s books. Diegeses (which refers to a kind of narrative-with-commentary) consists of “The Bureau of Me” and “The Idaho Reality,” linked by a common character, Curd. The books begins with two black-suited, otherwise anonymous men carrying invitations to The Bureau of Me, and from that point on, things become elliptical, confusing, chaotic, bizarre, futuristic, and eminently surrealistic. In The Kyoto Man, perhaps the easiest thing to understand is that throughout the novel, the main character transforms some 10001 times (more or less) into the Japanese city of Kyoto. Chapters include stream-of-consciousness narrative, a photograph unaccompanied by text or explanation, a comic-book panel (which looks suspiciously like the aforementioned photograph), scripts for sitcom episodes, and occasional “Infodump(s), or Thy Piles.”
In other words, conventional expectations for characterization, plot, setting, and development are subverted, inverted, possibly perverted (depending upon how readers like their narratives), all for the sake of linguistic experimentation. Recommended for traditional readers? No. For readers willing to dedicate time, energy, and imagination into re-constructing a de-constructed narrative, however, the books can be both a challenge and a pleasure.