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Posted July 11, 2011
REPOSTED REVIEW: On "ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF HELL" by Michael Yank
Review: Encyclopædia of Hell: An Invasion Manual for Demons by Martin Olson. Feral House. Spring, 2011. By Michael Yank
Purported to be authored by the greatest critic humanity has ever dreamed up, Satan himself, Encyclopædia pushes satire to a new, ferocious level. While the text might not actually originate from another dimension as alleged, it may as well have, so surreal and inspired is Olson's wit.
At its core a twisted Twain-ian takedown of modern society, Encyclopædia approaches our culture from the perspective of Satan and his demon associates, who try to make sense of mankind in preparation for a full scale invasion of Earth. Olson meticulously constructs an entire new (and highly blasphemous) mythological framework to satirize human folly. Money and television are plagues conceived and engineered by demons to weaken the population of "human livestock." 23 percent of all people, it is claimed, are actually Demons in disguise, setting the stage for Satan's invasion of earth.
Olson delivers his barbs through an impressively intricate meta-narrative representing one of the fresher approaches to storytelling structures. The sprawling "Encyclopædia" is replete with countless introductions, publisher's notes, weird secret codes and "invisible messages" from God. The treatise itself is peppered with footnotes and commentaries from Satan and no fewer than nine distinct infernal "executives," each with a unique background and personality. The result is a dense, multi-layered assault on the mind exceptionally well-tailored to the deranged subject matter.
The text consists of two "Books." The first is an Invasion Manual, with instructions for an unholy takeover of Earth by Satan's fleets of "pentagonal hellcrafts." Annexing earth's land-mass to hell is necessary, it is explained in Voltairean deadpan, because Hell has become too crowded. The nuts and bolts of the invasion are relayed in precise, detailed fashion, from the Mapquest-esque directions through space-time to Earth from the City of Hell. The second Book dissects earth through the lenses of Satan and his minions. Here Olson is at his best in channeling Twain, at no point shying away from any topic or taboo in his mission of cultural subversion.
The rich, macabre illustrations of Tony Millionaire and Mahendra Singh (with contributions from other artists) are the perfect backdrop for this impressive work. Their elaborate classical illustrations create an air of authority to the Encyclopædia's descriptions of fantastical entities and cosmos-turning Wheels.
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Posted September 21, 2012
Demonic Comedy, Cosmic Despair
There is so much joy in reading something you aren't supposed to read and Encyclopaedia of Hell is strictly off-limits, not only for you but for the entire human race.
What do demons think about us and our world? Terrible, truthful, hilarious things. So, read at your own risk. If you must, what will surprise is the invisible depth of author Martin Olson's affection for humanity, the mad love in taking a thing apart completely.
Though one may enjoy the book lightly for the clever encyclopaedic entries- reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce but reeking with a demon’s disgust for pathetic, stinking human “gore bags”- deeper delight can be found in the steady rumble of bickering demon editors- Mephis Tophiel, Lilith, and the rest- in the footnotes, where each stubbornly imposes his or her unique perspective on the subject matter, swiping at each other tirelessly, undermining and enriching the ostensible encyclopaedia at once in a brilliant parody of humans’ creative collaborations with one another. This subterranean countermelody slyly cuts to the quick while the catchier melody plays more prominently above. I laughed quicker at the entries and deeper at the footnotes.
Not to be missed, also, is the astonishing poem by Zyk, Poet Laureate of Hell, supposing it was confusion and loneliness which drove the solitary cosmos to divide infinitely into amnesiac life forms whose purpose is continual self-discovery but who, instead of ameliorating despair, only experience and express the same individually and in ever-complexifying variety.
Fearlessly weird but strenuously logical, depraved but not mean, Encyclopedia of Hell is insult comedy at its metapocalyptic finest, deftly marbled with existential wonder. And it has pictures.
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