What do you get when you cross everything from Invader Zim to Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter? You get Carnageland.
Written by Bizzaro author David W. Barbee, Carnageland follows an invader named 898 on his first planetary takeover. 898′s species lives to invade and strip planets of their natural and technological resources. His mission involves being sent to a planet filled with characters from more fantasy, science fiction, and lore than you can imagine. The planet’s economic system functions off the “pornoconomy”, using sexual favors to trade for goods and services. Will 898 successfully take over the planet, or will he succumb to his animalistic urges?
Despite the offbeat concept, Barbee somehow manages to make you care for 898. I felt genuinely worried for him whenever he seemed to make a bad decision or get in a bad situation. Considering his race massacres entire planets just to strip out the resources would lead you to believe that he is the bad guy…but this is not so. There isn’t really a protagonist or an antagonist in this story, at least not in the traditional sense. The inhabitants of the planet seem to be so preoccupied with sex that they either don’t notice 898′s horrible deeds, or simply don’t care. The reaction by the natives is what intrigued me the most about Carnageland; their indifference was puzzling and unexplained, yet at the same time it shouldn’t be explained. We only know as much as 898 knows, so the reasons behind most of the natives passively accepting his intention to take over the planet will always remain a mystery.
For myself, Carnageland started off the same way as 898′s invasion started off: the opening pages make this book seem like it is going to be something generic (or, in the case of 898, just another planet to conquer.) However, this serves its purpose, teeing up the story perfectly and allowing for a smooth transition from pre-invasion to invasion-in-progress. In a way, the generic styling of the opening makes sense from a literary standpoint; the sole purpose of the invader’s existence is to invade other planets, so even though this is 898′s first invasion, he would still likely see it as mostly normal (in my opinion, of course.)
I ended up reading Carnageland in a single sitting, start to finish…I didn’t want to stop. 898′s advanced technology, superior fighting skills, and lust for destruction seemingly take him all over the planet, providing for plenty of varied environments. Due to the way this book made me more interested as it went on, I have a feeling that my second time reading it will be even more enjoyable than the first.
Of everything Barbee accomplishes here, from crossing many different fantasy characters and storylines to intricately describing the fierce yet short battles, his descriptions of 898′s reactions and inner thoughts were the highlight for me; I truly felt like I knew 898 when this book was over. In the short, single-paragraph epilogue I was able to instantly see everything that 898 would do from that point on, all the way up to his death. While I doubt he would want to do this for the rest of his writing career, there are endless stories for Barbee to explore with this concept. Even though there are countless types of planets and natives to conquer, and countless invaders to do the conquering, I’m glad Barbee chose to go with 898 and his story for this installment, the first in what hopes to become a trilogy.
Carnageland is a fantastic addition to the Bizzaro world, and this book deserves a place on your bookshelf.
Special thanks to David W. Barbee for providing me with the copy of his book used in this review. Be sure to check out other novels by him and his fellow writers over at Eraserhead Press. There is some truly great stuff available from them.