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They Had Goat Heads

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Author: 
D. Harlan Wilson
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Publication Date: 
2010
Publisher: 
ATLATL
Bottom Line: 
4

Mechanical flaneurs goosestep across the prairie.

Thus reads “6 Word Scifi”, the opening salvo of D. Harlan Wilson’s They Had Goat Heads, a mind-altering collection of surrealistic sci-fi punk prose that reads like a mash-up of Palahniuk, Vonnegut, and G.G. Allin. Actually, I take that back. It would be a disservice to try and draw any sort of parallel to Wilson’s writing as, quite honestly, I’ve never read anything like it before.

At first blush, I wasn’t sure what to make of Wilson’s work, but the further I got into it, the more I found myself hopelessly enraptured by what, on the surface, anyway, seems like stream of consciousness ranting of a talented madman. And much of it is madness, but make no mistake; there is indeed a method.

Take, for example, the opening paragraph of the title story, “They Had Goat Heads”:

They had goat heads…

I could see down the hallway from the bed. It stretched two miles into the forest. My mother served me a bowl of vegetable soup. The door was open. I wanted to close it.

The TV turned on. A goat walked back and forth across the screen. A tall, thin man entered the picture and slaughtered the goat with an axe. The camera zoomed into the man’s face. He gazed down at the carcass, eyes wide with terror, mouth creaking open into a chemical scream…

Here we have a very gifted wordsmith; one who puts as much emphasis on tempo as he does lucidity,  and while, oftentimes, Wilson’s stories (forty in all, many of which aren’t much longer than a few paragraphs, some as short as a single line) veer off into the absurd, they never failed to register some sort of response in me. It’s like the written equivalent of an abstract painting, where almost everything is left open to interpretation. It goes against everything I’ve ever learned as a writer, but that’s precisely the point. This is bold, experimental stuff, here. It’s schizophrenic sci-fi wrapped in nightmare logic, where deadbeat dads abscond in hovercrafts, killer chimpanzees run wild, and machines launch monks like stones from a trebuchet.

The opening lines of "Strongmen & Motorcycles (& Monkey’s, Too)" :

Well-mannered strongmen are hideous anomalies. Don’t believe their polite handshakes. Their nods of friendly affirmation…

I edit the sound of the daily news with a synthesizer and a bottle of nitroglycerine. Nobody minds. The lights flicker. The night retreats into a bellhop’s expectant gaze.

Like most of the stories here, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but, man, does it ever paint a vivid picture. These words – the beautiful words – strike a chord within me and resonate like good poetry. It sets a scene and creates a mood – all hallmarks of good, effective writing, yet the story, as a whole, leaves the reader (well, at least this reader) scratching their head, bemused.  Reading Wilson is equal parts infuriating and inspiring, and, while I’m still not sure if that’s good or bad, I do know this; I want more, and I want it now.

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