Author: David W Barbee
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
My thanks to Lori (@tnbbc) for sending me my copy of Jimbo and giving me the opportunity to review it 🙂
From the green, sticky slime that oozes down from the tree above your head a small, blue frog plops onto the ground in front of you. It looks at you with it’s huge green eyes, opens its mouth and emits a strident and ear piercing….Bluuuurrrrbbb!!!!
“From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.
A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo’s sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.
JIMBO YOJIMBO is fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.”
You see that blurb above? Yes, that one. No, you haven’t banged your head and lost the ability to read, recognise or understand English. This book really is as bonkers as it says above, but it is also ridiculously good. Jimbo Yjimbo is my first foray into what is charmingly named Bizarro fiction. If you need me to explain what that may be to you then this book probably isn’t for you. You see, although the story is utterly frogshit crazy (to use the parlance of the time), it is so well written it all makes perfect sense and at no point was I thinking, what in the actual blazes is going on here?
So, what’s it all about then? Um, well, you see, a millenia ago a flood of frogs, yes that is what I said, a flood. of. frogs, destroyed civilisation as we know it. Tsunamis of slime destroyed cities, turning them into mountains, valleys and wastelands. How this all happened and why is never explained, but it isn’t necessary anyway. It just did, right? Cool. And then, and then, one man rose above the others and turned the frogs into food to feed humanity, creating the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company, and slowly rebuilt it into his own vision to become the Ruler of the World. His name? Why, Bushido Budnick of course. 1000 years later he is still the King of the World, having rebuilt himself over and over again to become more robot than human, but still creating more and more elaborate dishes with which to feed his idolising subjects across the world. However, not everyone is happy with the way things are and with the way he treats his people. You see he has a habit of experimenting on them; modifying them to suit his whims, for punishment or just because he can. This is where our hero Jimbo Yojimbo comes in. The latest in a long ass line of Jimbo Yojimos, he took part in a rebellion with his father, Jimbo Yojimbo, to overthrow The Buddha Gump Shrimp Co and Budnick, but it failed, resulting in the death of his father and the imprisonment of Jimbo the younger.
Oh, and as punishment he had his face removed and a cuttlefish grafted in its place. As you do.
All of the above sounds utterly ridiculous and crazy, but the beauty of this book lies in David W Barbee‘s writing. He describes every detail so well that none of the above seems ridiculous at all. At least it didn’t to me. Imagine the most bizarre manga/anime you may know (let’s face it, that’s almost all of them), mixed with a healthy dollop of Bladerunner, with a dash of Judge Dredd, and a soupçon of early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and you don’t even begin to describe what we have here. There’s a strong Japanese theme throughout, obviously, with Samurai influenced modified crawfish, known as Crawdads or Crawds, that act as the soldiers of the Buddha Gump Shrimp Co, and in the clothing and general architecture of the buildings and city. But despite the obvious post-apocalyptic feel everywhere there is also high technology available, handed down through the ages by the scholars of the Thesaurus Rex order who study ancient texts left behind after the flood. This is a world rich and deep in detail, the surface of which we only scratch here. But David hasn’t created a world that is just full of crazy and outlandish ideas and concepts, he has also created characters with real depth and emotion, people who live in this world. Jimbo, with his cuttlefish face, cannot speak and has to communicate through sign language wherever possible. Unfortunately for him he’s spent the last 5 years locked away in Budnick’s dungeons with only the ghost of his dead father for company, so he’s started to lose it ever so slightly and wants nothing more than to avenge the death of his father and of his people. After he escapes we meet Liza, the woman who pretty much brought him up and who understands his signing; the bitter, lethal leader of the Northern Jethromoto Clan, the 10 year old Joshido Jethromoto; Gwendolyn Grifter, ex-wife of Jimbo and Budnick’s best delivery driver with her rocket powered delivery bike; the surprisingly sympathetic engineered assassin Toadlicker, so named because he is addicted to licking frog ass (no, serioulsy), Budnick’s most deadly and uncompromising killer; the Holy Quackers, gun worshipping, duck billed human cultists on a jihad, and that’s just for starters.
David’s dialogue is fantastic, sparkling with wit, profanity and wisdom. There is definitely a message in this book. I suspect there’s also allegory. There’s always allegory in this kind of fucked up story, but me, I’m usually just along for the ride and fail to notice it. But it is there. Probably something about large corporations controlling society, its people blindly following their every whim and new release, lapping up the latest New Thing, and of dictators, the all ruling individual acting on their own pleasures and doing whatever they like without come back and any real retribution on their adoring and gullible subjects. There’s probably also something about the price that that arrogance and greed exacts on the people and of rebellion and revenge when not everyone agrees with the dogmatic regime and want to rise up against it. Also the futility of doing so, and what goes around comes around. Stuff like that. Probably.
At its heart Jimbo Yojimbo is a good old story of revenge painted against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world dominated by frogs of the most random and bizarre kind (there are shark like frogs; frogs with wings; frogs made from lava; giant elephant sized frogs – you name it, there’s probably a frog like it), ruled by an all controlling Company created and led by a 1000 year old crazy, narcissistic dictator who just happens to be a fantastic chef.
What’s not to like?
I really hope that there will be a sequel to this book. The ending certainly looks like there could be. This is such a rich, detailed, living breathing, slime encrusted world that it would be a shame never to see it again, and I most definitely want to return. You just know that here’s a lot more to be told here yet.
Frogtastic bizzaro fiction and highly recommended.