Kill Bill (and Convention) – a review of D. Harlan Wilson’s Battle Without Honor or Humanity Volume 1

Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press

Available at RDSP and Amazon

A lot of people say they write weird fiction. D. Harlan Wilson means it.

His latest collection, Battle Without Honor or Humanity Volume 1 doesn’t fit into any neat categories, but weird it most certainly is. The book collects fifteen stories whose only relation is the absurdity and zaniness of the proceedings, along with Wilson’s signature slip-stream-of-consciousness narration. To get into the specifics would be somewhat pointless, as these stories of academia, writing, filmmaking, celebrity culture, politics, and ultraviolence are less vehicles for coherent narrative, characters, or plot, and more de-structured examinations of thought, literature, and media.

That’s not to say there isn’t any coherence here—there certainly is, in fits and starts—but the themes and impressions as communicated through Wilson’s irrealist imagery is what is important. If you’ve read any of his previous short fiction work, you’ll know what you’re in for: thought/word experiments dressed up in the ruined, blood-soaked tatters of short story costumes. This book’s selections rest, certainly not firmly, somewhere between short stories, flash fiction, and poetry.

The writing is, admittedly, occasionally frustrating—it’s hard to wrap your head around what exactly is being communicated when the worlds, characters, and voices changes mid-page. But it’s in that frustration that lies the point, if there is a point, of Wilson’s one man war on conventionality: we’ve been programmed to accept certain tropes, ideas, styles, and editorial preferences as normative. Wilson takes a samurai sword dripping with LSD through our assumptions of what fiction can and should be, directly and indirectly skewering literary criticism, the artist’s ridiculous sense of self-importance, and audience expectations and entitlement.

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This may come across as pretentious if it weren’t for the humor. And humor there is, as found in the disjointed satire of Wilson’s rambling-yet-arresting prose. There aren’t any jokes, at least in the traditional sense—the jokes are in the over-seriousness of absurdist proceedings; in the volcanic anger of an academic-critic, in the ritual of apology and forgiveness overseen by a Kennedy without a Name (KwN), in a narrator that gives a speech on political biodiversity by shouting into a microphone, in a sitcom/commercial for weight lifters called “Shit Calories”, in a macabre and sociopathic analysis of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Each story reads like a car wreck, with GMAT-prep vocabulary words, broken glass images of Hollywood films, and Polaroid flipbooks of human degradation all thrown into the air and re-assembled, sometimes for a point, sometimes not.

It’s books like Battle Without Honor or Humanity Volume 1 that prove that no, you haven’t seen everything, and maybe your assumptions about what fiction can be need to be shaken up a bit. That doesn’t mean this is always an enjoyable book—you have to be in the right mindset, to be prepared for something truly weird to get your money’s worth. If you’re expecting a swords-and-samurai acid-action adventure, as implied by the cover and back copy, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re ready to get weird, and read something challenging, you’ll find a lot to enjoy.

It can get exhausting reading more than a story or two in a sitting, and I recommend that readers wanting to take this literary mind-trip enter the waters cautiously, one selection at a time. There’s so much going on in each story, it’s hard to digest if you move from one to the next without a break.

Give it time, let it simmer and seep, like a French Press filled with Starbucks coffee and high-grade DMT … then poured into your mug by a man wielding a flamethrower and riding in a dirigible.

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