By Ryan Pike
Way back in 1966, a role in an obscure science fiction program called Star Trek catapulted a young man from Montreal to international superstardom. Since then, William Shatner has delighted audiences around the world with his starring roles in Star Trek and its assorted spin-offs and a litany of other roles. Now Portland-based author Jeff Burk is bringing Shatner to a whole new realm.
Burk’s new novel, Shatnerquake, sees a “reality bomb” go off at the first-ever ShatnerCon, pitting Shatner against members of a cult worshipping B-movie icon Bruce Campbell, as well as prior Shatner characters which the bomb draws into our reality.
If the story seems un-nervingly crazy, rest assured, it was designed that way by Burk, a member of the burgeoning “bizarro fiction” movement which is dedicated to works of ridiculousness for its own sake.
According to Burk, the genesis of Shatnerquake occurred at the BizarroCon event.
“There was a writing workshop run by another author, Carlton Mellick III,” recalls Burk. “The premise of the workshop was to come up with a high-concept idea, an idea that would be irresistible just based upon the title alone. I had been writing down a whole bunch of different titles. I believe my original title was ‘Section Death Camp’ for the workshop, but there was a title on my paper that was Shatnerquake and that just made me giggle so much. So I decided to pitch it and write up this one paragraph description of William Shatner fighting different versions of himself. I kind of meant it more as a joke than anything, but so many people responded to it positively at the workshop that I thought ‘this book has to happen.’”
Burk’s road to bizarro stardom began in his native Pennsylvania. Soon after graduation, in September, Burk escaped the state and his dead-end job for Portland, Oregon and the world of bizarro fiction. There he landed his current gig as editor of the soon-to-launch Magazine of Bizarro Fiction and his book deal for Shatnerquake.
Not resting on his laurels, Burk is already planning his next project.
“The next book is going to be Super Giant Monster Time, which will be a choose-your-own-adventure parody and it will also be my tribute to the Japanese giant monster movies,” reveals Burk. “It will also have aliens with ray-guns that will turn people into punks.”
While Shatnerquake was strongly influenced by both the actor’s extensive career and the recent bizarro-flavoured film, My Name is Bruce (starring cult icon Bruce Campbell), Burk reveals that Super Giant Monster Time takes cues from the ridiculousness found in the popular Toho Productions’ Japanese monster films.
“My favourite monster is Hedorah, which is this really obscure Godzilla villain,” says Burk. “It’s a pollution monster. I mostly like that monster so much because the movie he’s in [1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah] is this really weird, trippy, psychedelic movie with animation and go-go dancers and people wearing fish-heads.”
Burk seems to be taking his success in stride, noting how surprised he is by the media attention and planning for future projects in a genre defined by its excesses. When asked why he chose to devote his efforts to such an obscure and unabashedly over-the-top style of literature, Burk explained the appeal of bizarro fiction.
“I really believe that you find in bizarro authors much more willing[ness] to take chances,” he shares. “You have authors like Carlton Mellick telling stories about Baby Jesus Butt Plugs, which quite literally is baby Jesus turned into a butt plug, or Kevin L. Donihe’s House of Houses, a really sweet romance story about a man who is in love with his house. I just find [the genre] much more exciting and much more willing to take risks.”