Salmonella Men on Planet Porno by Yasutaka Tsutsui: Review.

salmonella_menAn unremarkable man followed by the media. A planet infested with weirdly sexual animals. A tree that gives you sex dreams, and a financial adviser who doesn’t know when to quit. These are all subjects of the many stories within this collection, which flits between macabre, emotional, pornographic and hilarious at the turn of a page.

Perhaps best known in the west for writing the novel which the excellent anime Paprika was based on, Tsutsui is a hugely prolific Japanese author whose first novel 48 Oku no Mōsō was published in 1965. However, very few of his works have been translated into English, and this short story collection was the first, translated by Andrew Driver and published in 2006.

Some of the stories presented read like fables – ‘The Last Smoker’ is about the last person in Japan to smoke, and ‘The Dabba Dabba Tree’, is about a tree that gives endless erotic dreams to people in the vicinity. Presented with bizarro elements and Kafkaesque situations, they seem to be an attempt at teaching a lesson, or at least making the reader think. The combination of the ridiculous and amusing ingredients with the ability to make someone think is a strange one, but a really interesting style that is rarely seen in Western literature.

The stand-out piece of the collection is ‘Rumours About Me’, which tells the story of a man who works a normal office job, but suddenly finds himself the star of the media. Newspapers report on his love life, how many times he masturbates, what he eats for dinner. The idea that the media chooses what is popular or interesting to the public is really well explored and what holds the story together. When he’s no longer reported on, his girlfriend breaks up with him.

There are duds here though. ‘Bravo Herr Mozart!’ appears to be a weird fake biography of Mozart with the humour coming from the inaccuracies and placing him in different times, but it just didn’t work. Similarly ‘Don’t Laugh’ is just really weird, about two people who can’t stop laughing when one of them builds a time machine.

The story the collection takes its name from is about scientists exploring a new planet, inhabited by humanoids who walk around naked and animals like the penisparrow – a bird with a head that is particularly phallic. Plants grow all over the place that, when touched, bring a person to orgasm. One of the crew is impregnated by one of these bizarre plants and the other members of the crew have to find a way to abort it before it reaches full term.

Basically it’s a really fucking weird book. But many of the stories are absolutely brilliant. A few are perhaps padding, but there’s enough here that is just the right level of mental, and on the whole the collection does show a fantastically individual author. The recent bizarro literary scene could maybe take something from it – it never feels weird for weird’s sake, and the strangeness is accepted where the narrative and world works.

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