Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Bill, the Little Steam Shovel" by Joe R. Lansdale

We have a new champion in the category of "weirdest story!" And, boy, this one is a doozy (that's right, a "doozy." I like odd words. So sue me."

In "Bill, the Little Steam Shovel," Lansdale takes the well-known children's story trope of anthropomorphic machinery and rewrites it for adults. Think Cars, or Thomas the Tank Engine, except that it hasn't been written for six-year-olds. Just like any number of these types of children's stories, Bill, the titular Steam Shovel, is new to the construction crew, and smaller than all the other steam shovels. Unsurprisingly, he's bullied by the local thug steam shovel, is befriended by the old coot steam shovel, falls for the girl steam shovel, and ultimately proves his heroism despite his small stature. However, unlike other stories of this type, Lansdale's story is filled with crude language, psychoanalysis, some musings on the Steam Shovel God (and Jaysus, "the Steam Shovel Who Had Died for [Bill's] Sins and all Steam Shovel's sins by allowing himself to be worked to a frazzle and run off a cliff by a lot of uncaring machines of the old religion"), and graphic violence. Oh, and graphic steam shovel on steam shovel sex. Yep, steam shovel sex. That's not an image I'm going to get rid of soon.

Despite the weird machinery sex (can you tell I'm a little bit traumatized?), this is actually a pretty good coming of age story with overtones of heroism in the face of adversity. And it can be pretty funny, too (see "Jaysus"). In the end, it's definitely worth a read.

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