Sunset with a Beard PDF

by Carlton Mellick III 3.5 stars. Ehh, make that 3.6274. Final answer.

(slight spoiler alert)

Contained within this entertaining collection of short stories is an abundance of memorable sci-fi/surrealistic worlds, scenarios, happenings, and characters. The book starts off with “The Earwig Flesh Factory,” a sort of re-creation myth story in which an Eve-type character repopulates an earth decimated by “black toxic snot,” where many of her offspring must be harvested to produce the protective flesh-coating that people need to survive in the toxic atmosphere. From there on, readers are treated to stories concerning shadow-possessing aliens, New Yorkers turned into featureless balls of flesh and bone, humans who must carry their souls in jars, arm tattoos that double as actual two-dimensional worlds inhabited by living two-dimensional people, a planet where time moves so slowly that its denizens appear to be frozen in place, a half-alien girl who can animate inanimate objects with her tongue, multiple personalities arguing about what food their shared host body should eat for lunch, and various other manifestations of The Strange.

A good number of these tales are peopled with characters who fail to find romantic love or sex, their efforts usually thwarted by some external force, as well as characters who experience the loss of such companionship outright. It’s interesting to see these themes explored in the outlandish worlds/contexts of these stories. For example, the main character in “A Soulless Man” is just about to get himself some tail when his would-be female lover discovers he has no soul in his soul-jar; unfortunately for our antihero, no soul in your soul-jar equals no tail. The protag in “The City of New York” attempts to get back at a cold wife by cheating on her, only to be literally cock-blocked when his mistress’s vagina seals shut just prior to his entry. Then there’s the truck driver girl in the story “Fist World,” to whom the main character is attracted but who gets turned into a tentacled fish-thing long before he ever gets a chance to make a move on her. And although the love is there, the tattooed woman in “The Third Planet From My Shoulder” and the man she desires (a 2-D fellow who lives in one of her arm tattoos) find themselves unable to make things work in the end. And the theme of lost or hindered love/companionship at the hands of death and disease is seen in the stories “Plastic Storming,” “An Era of Liquid Streets,” “Venus’ Triangle,” and “Riverboat.”Yes, there's definitely some sadness mixed in with the weirdness here.

In crafting these tales, Mellick employs an imaginative, idiosyncratic, rebellious writing style that makes frequent use of fancifully conjoined, hyphenated compound nouns, verbs, and adjectives. At times, I found that the presence of these hyphenated constructions slowed down the flow of the narrative, at least in some of the stories, lending a distracting choppiness to the otherwise smooth-sluicing prose. Probably needless to say, this observation is not intended as an objective criticism (if there is such a thing) of Mellick’s use of said device. Rather, this observation is a completely subjective opinion based on my entirely subjective experience of reading the book, “me” being a subjective subject in a subjective universe subjectively comprised of other subjects, all of whom perceive subjective stimuli in a manner that is inherently subjective, and who, during our schooling years, are required to study many subjects.

As with any short story collection, I found some of the stories to be stronger and more memorable than others. My favorites include “Riverboat,” “An Era of Liquid Streets,” “City of New York,” “Plastic Storming,” and “The Third Planet From My Shoulder.” Recommended to anyone who's a fan of short form bizarro, surreal lit, and quirky sci-fi.

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