We all know that Cleanliness is next to Godliness, but what’s Godliness next to?
If you answered “bacon,” well, you might want to have a word with the Library of Horror Press, publishers of Baconology: Sizzling Strips of Horror, an anthology of…ah heck, do I really need to spell it out? The point being that you’ll find your fill (and then some) of porcine belly-fat within the pages of Baconology. (If you’re feeling particularly thematic, you can even try sticking a strip–crispy or soft, the choice is yours–between the pages. You know, as a bookmark. The kind that makes librarians really anxious.)
Godliness…well, that’ll be harder to come by, unless you’re willing to settle for the brain-addling Outer Gods variety a la “Beelzebacon!” (a tongue-in-cheek offering–not exactly a rare beast in this anthology–courtesy of Jezzy Wolfe). Actually, while pork is not given USDA quality grades–as the meat is generally more uniform and tender–the spiritual quality of the breakfast meat encountered in Baconology is best summed up by Leonardo Medici, the arch-bacon’s answer to Abraham Van Helsing. What we’re looking at here is not, as it should be, always grayish-pink and well-marbled; it’s “Evil bacon. Bacon so black that the bowels of hell are rays of golden sunshine in comparison.”
Besides the Dark Pork Overlord, you’ll find as many flavors or horror in Baconology as there are of the meat that inspired it…i.e. not a whole lot. I know there are some people who love bacon enough to…um…or even…ehhhh…but for most of us, it goes more like this: the best thing in the world for the first few strips (or as much as it takes to share a sandwich with some watery leaves and bulbous red nightshade), but when we’re done, we’re done. On that note, it’s a crying shame there were no horrific BLT stories in Baconology–although bacon bits made a few appearances, as did an Elvis-friendly peanut butter, banana, and bacon fried sandwich. Even if you really love bacon, you’ve probably reached your limit by, oh, twenty-seven slices. There are twenty-seven stories in Baconology, with a minimum of twelve slices of bacon per story…and that’s the conservative number for a figure that can reach into the hundreds. I’m telling you, there’s a lot of bacon here. And it all tastes pretty much the same.
Which is, in a nutshell, the problem with an anthology of this nature. There’s only so much bacon you can ingest in one sitting, whether it’s through your mouth or your eyes (i.e. reading, although now I’m wondering: were there any stories about people being force-fed bacon through their eye sockets? Have to check). One bacon-themed horror story, or horror-themed bacon story, whatever you want to call it: that’s fantastic. One could argue that it’s necessary for the continued function of the universe. Two, it’s still pretty enjoyable. By the third one, however, the novelty’s already worn thin, and you’re left with the literary equivalent of that bacon bikini linked earlier. I mean, how functional do you think that thing really is after the first few hours?
You can open this book to pretty much any story at random (I suggest p. 85, “Home Cured,” by a remarkably good-natured chap, name of Byron Alexander Campbell), and you’ll definitely get your dollar’s worth. You can even continue doing so, whenever the mood strikes you, until you’ve read them all. Sit with it for any significant period altogether, however, and everything starts to blend into a sort of uniform greyish-pink paste that’s not always as appetizing as it should be.
Oh wait, there was a BLT story in Baconology. The second entry, “BLT Summer,” about a serial killer named for his unusual technique (“Burn.Ligature.Torture.”). I just blocked it out of my mind, because…well, you’d have to read it to find out. I’ll say this: it wasn’t the worst story in the anthology. It wasn’t even the most poorly edited, despite the perplexingly total lack of spacing between sentences. But it wasn’t the best, either.
It renders down to this: how many horror stories can you realistically tell with bacon as the central component? Let’s discard the stories that were clearly already completed (and most likely rejected) before the author got the bright idea to slap the “secret ingredient” over the top and re-submit it to what promised to be a low-volume, high-cholesterol theme anthology–“Elk Stones” by Stephen A. North is the most obvious offender, but even S.A. Kats’ “Baconboy Bob and the Alien Invasion” has me suspicious. You aren’t missing much by gutting these, anyway.
Now, aside from a few flashes of creativity in the form of Sasquatch stories (Don Newberry’s “Everybody Love Bacon”), vampire stories (Jessica Brown’s intriguingly-titled “Porn and the First-Person Shooter”), a weird, not-sure-if-serious entry involving Korean bacon and octopi, and Paul A. Freeman’s brilliantly schlocky/creepy, if racially insensitive, voodoo-tapeworm yarn, “The Smell of Bacon,” every story in the anthology falls in one of two frying pans, thematically: there’s the Sentient/Killer Bacon stories, and there are the Human Bacon stories. Talu Briar’s “This Little Pig,” a weirdly successful amalgamation of the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale and the popular toe-counting rhyme, has both, when you really stop to think about it. And that’s pretty much it, thematically. I’m convinced that that’s close to all there can be.
If that has you thinking that Baconology is nothing but ends and pieces, however, you’re wrong. OK, so the quality of writing, on the whole, is about what you’d expect from an anthology that promises “meat-filled salty strips of bacony stories that will feed your mind with gut filling horror.” Yeah, so the editing is essentially nonexistent, with some stories bursting out of their casings with errors so blatant, so consistent, and so idiosyncratic that bacon asphyxiation might start to sound like a good way out. But still, in a weird way, the anthology works at least as often as it doesn’t. By about the midpoint (which is also where most of the best-written stories are located), the endless sheets of pink pork-meat start to pull away, to reveal something not often associated with meat-fixated B-grade horror: characters. It’s as though the writers realized that they didn’t have a lot of leeway in the plot apartment, so they had to search deep in their writerly bag of tricks for something, anything else to make their story stand out. That’s how something as quiet and classically Modern as Dave McEachern’s “Makin’ Bacon,” about a young boy equally eager and apprehensive to pick up the tricks of the butchering trade from his father, ended up being one of the creepiest stories in the collection, despite being slightly spoiled by its placement in a bacon horror anthology. Teresa Bergen’s “The Quitter,” though it is yet another evil killer bacon story, succeeds on similar merits: Bergen’s protagonist is just slightly more interesting than the competition. Even the less inspired entries are just varied enough to make you think there might be more to bacon beneath its marbled exterior.
Also, and perhaps a first for bacon: the packaging looks really, really good. There’s even a clever set of “nutrition facts” on the back. Trans Frights? 100%, baby!
Oh, and there is a story about a person being smothered to death by bacon. If that doesn’t show up in Saw VIII, I’ll be sorely disappointed.