Berzerkoids are here! And this book is here to stay. If you love weird, intelligent, and entertaining short fiction, than this book should feature prominently on your bookshelf.
Loosely centered around the antics of toys–as a sort of anti-Toy Story–this collection also features several stories only tangentially connected to its titular themes. It’s thematic in the way Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is conceptual: some stories follow the overall theme and some could fit into any collection. But one thing is certain: every story in this collection is entertaining.
Say what you want about MP Johnson–and why the hell would you say anything negative, you prick?–but he has a wicked, pop-culture-infused, and, at times, minimalist imagination and sense of humor. His approach to the short form reminded me–as improbable as some readers might find this–of the best short works of Hemingway, as well as Joyce’s stories in Dubliners. Some are only a couple pages long; some build slowly, then hit you like a freight train; but none overstay their welcome, which is, to my mind, the strength of this collection.
The stories hit hard and fast. Realized worlds are developed within the matter of a few pages, characters are presented and developed well, situations go from weird to weirder, and the stories end, often without resolution, often without explanation–a sign of a confident writer.
Johnson doesn’t waste paragraphs or pages justifying the worlds he’s creating; instead, he drops you into them, creates weird or funny or intense situations, and leaves you wanting more. But there’s little confusion. You’re never dropped into a world in which you are confused or lost. You’re always viewing the worlds through the eyes of characters you care about, or through characters or high concepts so weird or funny or clever that you assent to take the trip, and oftentimes you can’t anticipate where you’re headed.
This is a great collection of stories by a strong and confident writer.