Welcome to the Weirdathon's Weekly Weird-off! Here your word gladiators will be fighting to the death (did I forget to mention that part?) to determine which weird book is the weirdest. The first battle proved to be intense, and the second battle carried on that tradition. This debate features Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins. Each contestant is allowed to rebut their opponent's answer before moving on to their answer. Ding ding ding, let the fight begin!
Heather: In Atomik Aztex, the Azteks rule the world after beating back the attempted Spanish conquest of Mexico. Zenzontli, an Aztek warrior on his way to Saint Petersburg in World War II is having visions of himself living in an alternate reality where the Spanish beat the Azteks and he works in a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles.
Whitney: Even Cowgirls Get The Blues is an epic adventure story starring Sissy Hankshaw, a woman born with abnormally large thumbs. She pursues a career as a professional hitchhiker and travels the United States. In the process of traveling, she encounters a pretty promiscuous group of cowgirls managing a ranch under the leadership of Bonanza Jellybean and an escapee from a Japanese internment camp. the migratory patterns of whooping cranes are disrupted by the cowgirls, and chaos ensues.
WHAT ARE SOME STRANGE THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THE PLOT?
Heather - Answer: The Azteks think that all time is cyclical. Everything that is happening or has happened or will happen is occurring at the same time. There are multiple universes that can be moved into easily. That leads to lines in a book set in the 1940s like, “..we exist simultaneously in all the happiest moments of our lives and these go on shining forever like the stars, as Mayan pop singer Juan Lennon put it, “Instant Karma’s gonna get you. We all shine on. I wanna hold your hand. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Whitney - Answer: Everything is strange!! The entire plot centers on the premise that a young woman with abnormally large thumbs could reasonably make a career out of hitchhiking back and forth across the United States. Somehow this makes her famous, and she becomes the muse/inspiration for the eccentric billionaire head of a women’s hygiene product company. Seriously. At the same time that you’re reading about the Legendary Sissy Hankshaw, you’re following the cowgirls on the ranch - a motley crew lead by a woman called - seriously - Bonanza Jelly Bean.
The cowgirls end up in a war with the FBI because they “kidnap” a massive group of migratory Whooping Cranes!! There’s just nothing here that is reasonable and normal.
IS THE FORMAT OF THE BOOK WEIRD?
Heather - Rebuttal: Going to war over Whooping Cranes seems as good a reason as any to me! It is at least slightly better than going to war just to collect human sacrifices by the thousands and then complaining that your priests are just going through the motions and not doing it with style.
Heather - Answer: The format of the book is straightforward but there are huge paragraphs full of run on sentences with minimal punctuation. The Azteks also use a strange form of spelling. They never met a word that they couldn’t work a K into. “Cyklikal konceptions” is a common spelling in this book.
Whitney - Rebuttal: Psh, run on sentences sounds like Steinbeck to me. Nothing particularly weird there. And if we can applaud Tolkein for making up a whole series of complex languages in one of the greatest series EVER, then I’m pretty sure that some wonKy spellings are acceptable!
Whitney - Answer: The novel is designed in a series of 121 short sections, including a whole lot of random segments. I'm a particular fan of how Robbins incorporates jokes, puns, metaphors and some literary trickery basically designed to confuse the reader.
He even includes a bonus (made up? IDK) parable in which Confucius, Buddha, and Christ fail to find the sweetness in a jar of vinegar, but Pan and his harem of fertile women find sweetness. Why we needed a parable in the middle of a novel that didn’t really involved any characters mentioned anywhere else in the book? Who knows? Tom Robbins knows.
Also have to note - the book is told from the perspective of a character who is NOT IDENTIFIED UNTIL THE LAST THREE PAGES. The perspective is "Dr. Robbins", and is told both from the person omniscient and first person, which is further confusing. You get both the perspective of a distant overseer and the perspective of the characters most intimate feelings, thoughts and perspectives. Also, Tom Robbings (author, not narrator) interjects in a first person perspective WHENEVER HE FEELS LIKE IT. Breaking the fourth wall all over the place.
ARE THERE ANY INTERESTING CHARACTERS?
Heather - Rebuttal: Speaking of made up things in the middle of a novel that didn’t really need to be there, in this book there is a long and graphic and detailed description of the death of the narrator of the book on page 150 of a 200 page book that ends with the explanation that it probably didn’t happen. It might have, but probably not. Then he goes on narrating.
Heather - Answer: All of the characters in this book exist in both timelines. Zenzontli narrates and keeps the focus mainly on himself because he is self-absorbed like that. He is The Keeper of the House of Darkness of the Aztek Socialist party. He is a warrior. He keeps European Christian slaves but considers himself enlightened because he enjoys paella occasionally and lets his slaves ramble about their God without killing them immediately. He considers himself to have been assassinated when someone steals his soul by taking his picture so he volunteers for high risk duty since he is fundamentally already dead.
Whitney - Rebuttal: I must say, I enjoy some paella occasionally… I also think that the killing your supervisor and making him into sausage was the plotline for an episode of the X Files I watched last week (you’d have to sub chicken for hogs). And there were something like eight other things happening in that episode of the X Files! Sounds pretty straightforward to me…
Whitney - Answer: Before we talk character descriptions, let's just talk character names: Sissy Hankshaw, The Chink, The Countess, Bonanza Jellybean, Madame Zoe... I could go on. This is the motherload when it comes to creative and wacky (and WEIRD) character names.
I’ve mentioned the thumb thing right? The entire character of Sissy Hankshaw is defined by how the her thumbs gave her the freedom to come and go as she pleases via hitchhiking! She then becomes a model! And then the muse of another wacky character, and finally a cowgirl… and a mystic.
But first, an aside with Bonanza Jellybean… This is a woman whose entire life has centered on a goal of becoming a cowgirl. She got in trouble as a child for shooting a pair of sneakers - “Self-defense, she pleaded…”It was a out-law tennis shoe. Billy the Ked.”
And then there is the Countess. How exactly this person came to be in charge of a multi-million dollar feminine hygiene product company is very unclear, when he’s basically a very old gay man is unclear. What his interest is in those particular products? Unknown. His interest in Sissy? Unknown. Seems to be something about the thumbs.
The whole cast of characters here is insane… I could go on, but I’ll save something for y’all later on when you pick up the book.
Heather - Rebuttal: I applaud Bonanza Jellybean for having a dream and following through. It takes practice to be a cowgirl. There is all that shooting and riding and roping. Studying from childhood is just smart career planning - not weird at all.Sissy Hankshaw is just making the most of her assets, her thumbs. Again, it is a good career choice.
IN ONE NONSPOILER-Y SENTENCE, DESCRIBE A "WHAT THE FUCK" MOMENT
Heather: After the whole story of Zenzontli’s multiple existences, the book ends with a story about how monkeys mess with your interior life and that isn’t a spoiler because the ending of this book has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything that has come before it.
Whitney: Had heartless you forgotten all about those poor kidnapped Whooping Cranes?
Heather: Atomik Aztex combines multiple universes, alternative realities, human sacrifices, suicidial military missions, trepanation, union organizing, slave collecting trips, taco trucks, slaughterhouses, the Warren Commission, Cokie Roberts, and the Beatles into a World War II story that may or may not have happened in the way it was described. Maybe it was the just the monkeys messing in his brain.
Whitney: With an excess of self-awareness, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is chock full of ridiculous characters, bizarre and dangling plot lines, and nonsensical asides. Dealing with everything from free love, drug use, animal rights, the benefits of feminine body odor, religion, and more, there’s very little you would find in Cowgirls that isn’t weird. While you might find the plot to Atomik Aztex sprinkled over a handful of Sci-Fi specials, I don’t think you would find any piece of Cowgirls anywhere... unless perhaps you’ve done quite a few more drugs than I’ve ever been exposed to.
The rebuttals!! My young heart can hardly take the ferocity! Even Cowgirls Get The Blues sounds ridiculous and delightful and oh so readable. But Atomik Aztex covers so many weird bases all in one books and sounds like no book I've ever heard of before. Wow, they both sound weird. Regardless, Heather wins the weird e-book bundle this round! Thank you both so much for playing!
Who would you declare winner in this battle of wits and words?