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Zod Wallop

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Rock yawned. "Gotta get moving," Rock said. A couple of hundred million years went by. A rock is always slow to take action. A rock watches an oak grow from a sapling to a towering tree, and it's a flash and a dazzle in the mind of a rock. What was that? Rock thinks. Or maybe, Huh?

That's how Zod Wallop starts. Harry Gainesborough wrote and drew the story three years ago, before his daughter drowned. Now he writes nothing. Raymond Story read Zod Wallop while he was a patient at Harwood Psychiatric. Now the book means everything to him - so much so that he'd like to meet its author and live out its events. In fact, Zod Wallop means so much to Raymond that he has taken great pains to escape the institution and is now journeying to Harry Gainesborough's house with his young wife, Emily, in tow.

These odd doings alone would be enough to unsettle Harry, but they're compounded by other coincidences. Bizarre coincidences. Occurrences that lead Harry to believe that Zod Wallop is actually happening.

360 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1995

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About the author

William Browning Spencer

43 books61 followers
William Browning Spencer is an award-winning American novelist and short story writer living in Austin, Texas. His science fiction and horror stories are often darkly and surreally humorous. His novel Resume With Monsters conflates soul-destroying H. P. Lovecraftian horrors with soul-destroying lousy jobs.
His story "The Death of the Novel" was a 1995 Bram Stoker Award nominee for Best Short Story.

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5 stars
216 (40%)
4 stars
201 (37%)
3 stars
89 (16%)
2 stars
23 (4%)
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8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 70 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
February 16, 2019

Author Harry Gainsborough, institutionalized at the Harwood Psychiatric Institute after the death of his young daughter, writes "Zod Wallop," a children's book to end all children's books--a sad, bitter work full of evil and death, ending with the destruction of the world. Although Harry later recovers (sort of) and revises the original into something cheery and marketable, he becomes aware that he has a strange psychic bond with four patients who have escaped from Harwood, and that--in some mysterious way--the five of them together are bringing the original version of Zod Wallop to life--and the world itself is in danger.

A fantasy for people weary of all the Tolkien clones, Zod Wallop is a strange dark book that nevertheless contains real goodness and real heroes. Although the book seems arbitrary and formless at times, the ending is completely satisfying and very moving.
Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews277 followers
September 23, 2017
The main character in this book is named Harry Gainesborough, in William Browning Spencer's book within a book "Zod Wallop", who has gone through the horror of having his daughter drowned a few years ago. Harry also happens to be a children's book author. Harry has settled into a life of quiet desperation. Harry hasn't written a word, and though his agent is badgering him to turn out another book, or at least to sell the film rights to "Zod Wallop" the novel he wrote just prior to his daughter Amy's death.

I can only say that this book is amazing. At times lovely, strange,funny, macabre and lives somewhere between fantasy and science fiction. And as with much of Mr. Spencer's work, there is a nod to Lovecraft's mythos.

How can one go wrong reading this work ?
Profile Image for Jenna.
Author 10 books332 followers
February 23, 2018
According to all the other Goodreads reviews, Zod Wallop is something of a cult classic, but I never heard of it until yesterday, when I stumbled on a Goodreads friend's rave about it. It's exactly what I was in the market for: a plotty page-turner that's as well-written as your average "literary" novel. The plot concerns a children's book author who, in an attempt to purge the despair in his soul after his daughter's tragic death, writes a hideously dark work of fantasy fiction not intended for public consumption...and all seems well (at least on the surface) until the events in the book uncannily start to come true. At its heart, Zod Wallop is a sensitive meditation on grief and bereavement and depression: what's miraculous about it is that it's simultaneously a funny book, consistently outrageously zany in fact, masterfully balancing humor and compassion and deep emotion. And Spencer is a talented stylist, his witty sculpted sentences making one think at times of the men who must have numbered among his major influences, writers like Wodehouse and Waugh.

My two main worries when I picked up this book were: (1) that it might be too scary for me (I have no stomach for horror), and (2) that it might botch its admittedly very ambitious goal of portraying characters with a wide range of mental illnesses in a way that is, on the one hand, empathetic and sensitive and, on the other hand, comic. I also worried that this might be one of those myriad disappointing fictions out there that wind their way toward a deflating conclusion of the "it was all a dream" variety or the "was it real or a delusional fantasy? I guess we'll never find out!" variety. Fortunately, this book exceeded my expectations, and I agree with all the Goodreads reviewers who say the ending is at once surprising and resoundingly satisfying.
Profile Image for Phillip Stephens.
Author 12 books31 followers
June 23, 2016
One of the Best Five Books of Which You've Never Heard
Add this book to your shelf or Kindle library now.

Before Indie Authors, writers like William Browning Spencer hawked their books at readings, conventions, open mikes and over the radio trying to build an audience face-to-face. The Internet was barely out of diapers and AOL was the king of social media ("you've got mail"). Publishers like St. Martin's Press would recognize their talent, release their book in hard cover, and abandon them to market their work without a platform.

I knew Bill, and other Austin writers Neal Barrett Jr., Don Webb (and occasionally ran across Texas writer Joe Lonsdale). I watched them cart their books to readings and conventions, invited myself to dinner after to listen to the mysteries of becoming published. Instead I heard them discuss how their publishers basically left them to buy their own books and hawk them anywhere they could. Their main marketing tools were their voices and their faces. If they were, lucky, they would sell enough copies to get the book into paperback where they could earn a real profit. Zod Wallop did that. (Lonsdale sold a couple of his for movies).

I mention their names now to Indie Authors, and few know who they are, or of any of the other backlist authors who paved the future for indie writing. Which is a shame because they paved the way to our success, and, in many cases, their books were as good or better than the books sold on Amazon for Kindle today.

Finally, they're finding their way to Kindle.

Zod Wallop was, in my opinion, the best of that lot, the only book I still pick up and read over and over. I used to teach it in my literature classes along with Huck Finn and Love in the Ruins (two more books I return to time and again).

He can't craft finely spun prose like Percy or Hemingway, but he does weave vivid imagery. In fact, his images grapple with the psyche, compelling readers to read on and follow the story of a man who lost his child, his wife, his mind and possibly the fabric of reality.

Original dust jacket
original dust jacket

And now, the Book
I must confess, writers who invoke the trope of families torn apart by the death of a child, whether in fiction or film, usually drown their work in melodrama or triteness. Only Anne Tyler, in The Accidental Tourist, and Spencer, in Zod Wallop, transcended that trap. Spenser drags his readers easily back and forth between the borders of reason and Boschian fantasy.

Harry Gainesborough, children's author and illustrator, wrote his bestseller Zod Wallop after his daughter Amy drowned, his wife Jeanne left him and he suffered a mental breakdown. Few readers know, however, that before he wrote the bestselling version—a version in which the world and it's child heroine are saved —he wrote a darker version with no redemption for anyone. That version contained demonic overlords, frost giants and flying soul-sucking manta rays called Ralewings.
Fellow inmate Raymond Story found that manuscript and decided it depicted the secret lives of the inmates who would eventually rebel against the overlords who ran the institution. Years later, after the success of the candy-coated version, Raymond and friends escape the institution and want Harry to join them on a road trip to Florida to prevent the escape of the overlords into the world. One problem, however. The Ralewings escaped the institution with them.

For real.

From this premise, Spencer weaves a world of increasing complexity, almost like the fractal images that were popular at the time he wrote—generating more and more detail with each iteration of the story. He drafts a pool of vivid characters (Raymond Story, the grotesque clown; Emily, comatose since childhood yet somehow married to Raymond, Dr. Peake, who crossed between reams where he serves as Lord Draining, evil overlord). Spencer ties them together with an experimental drug Ecknazine, originally designed to heal the patients until the corporation that owns the institution discovers its military applications.

Spenser serves up more twists than a complete volume of O'Henry stories, more fantastic creatures than a Tim Burton marathon, and enough imagery to keep your psyche on the analyst's couch for weeks. Ironically, this would have been a children's book when I was a kid, the great kind, like Huck Finn, that adults love too. But the people freak at your children hearing Huck call Jim the "n" word would suffer an Ecknazine meltdown if your kids saw a copy of Zod Wallop.

I hope I live long enough to read this book a couple more times because it's that good. Spencer delivers everything an author should deliver, imaginative prose, vivid imagery, memorable characters and a mind-blowing plot. If only St. Martin's had the balls to spend money on a real marketing campaign, this book could have been the Catch-22, or even the Wizard of Oz of my generation.

Rating system:
5 = Delicious dialogue, crisp prose, clever characters & compelling plot
4 = Great read, won't want to stop
3 = Worth buying but…
2 = I will tell you what audience will like this, but other readers might want to look elsewhere
1 = If I review a book this bad I felt seriously compelled to warn you
Phillip T. Stephens is the author of Cigerets, Guns & Beer, Raising Hell and the new release Seeing Jesus. You can follow him @stephens_pt.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,378 reviews139 followers
December 6, 2011
A bizarre and frightening dark fantasy, startlingly original and unpredictable. The book that a children's author wrote after his daughter drowned becomes real as his life intertwines with mental patients who have been gives a drug with ESP effects. And it goes on from there. Written in a fast-paced, economical style, it is equal parts modern paranoia and resignation, satire, and moral lesson. I was pleasantly surprised with the happy ending: life, as the author, Harry, learns, must go on. This book is highly entertaining as well as touching.
Profile Image for Peggy.
267 reviews66 followers
August 14, 2007
Fans of Jonathan Carroll should really do their best to track this one down. Echoes of Carroll’s style abound, but this book is pure Bill Spencer. It came out before Gaiman, Carroll and DeLint got popular and sank without a trace despite nominations for numerous awards. I like all of Spencer’s stuff, but this one really deserves more attention.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books764 followers
August 15, 2012
This is a really weird book. I mean it. The competing-realities plot isn't unusual--in this case, is the world of Zod Wallop real, or is it a psychosis?--but in most fantasy novels with this plot, the point is that the fantasy is real and eventually everyone knows it. Zod Wallop is different because even though parts of the fantasy turn out to be true, they may only be true because of a shared hallucination thanks to experimental drug testing. And is it an alternate reality, or a twisted version of our own? Part of the beauty of Zod Wallop is this indeterminacy, in itself. There's a moment where Harry Gainesborough, grieving over his dead daughter, imagines that he's in the wrong world--that there's a world in which his daughter is still alive, and his not being there is a cosmic mistake. In the end, this turns out to be both true and false, which is a good description of the book as a whole. With elegant prose and exquisite characterization, Zod Wallop is both strange and beautiful.
90 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2008
Achieves moments of sublime surreality with the premise of a children's fantasy book affecting real life, escaped mental patients, and moments of morbid humor. There were moments where I was swept into the mad logic of the story, and then there were moments where the story dragged and meandered. The dialogue came across as stiff in some places.

I think one of my problems is that the story ends up centering on Harry, the author who couldn't get over the death of his daughter, but Harry is such a passive character. He never really acts; he gets swept into things. Harry's loss permeates the book, but I never got a sense of who the daughter was as a person, so she remained an abstraction instead of anything concrete.

I have no idea if the book would have been better if the climax rested on Raymond, the escaped mental patient/big fan, whose delusions were a big driving force of the plot.
Profile Image for Steve.
53 reviews
December 29, 2008
This is one of my favorite books. The story is about a children's book author had gone through severe depression following the death of his only child. While institutionalized he wrote 2 versions of his latest children's book Zod Wallop. The published version had a happy ending as any children's story should. The earlier unpublished version was written during the worst of his depression and features the end of world. The only problem is his dark fantasy world is becoming real and the only ones that can stop the end of the world are the author and his fellow mental patients.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
90 reviews4 followers
December 22, 2017
If you have not read this and been converted, you must add it to your list! I love this book! This is one of the best books ever written. I, too, fear the moment when the Vile Contenders will clash at the Ocean of Responsibility.
402 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2018
"I wasn't asking you to write a happy-ever-after fable. But you are an artist, Harry, and art might still be your salvation. Write something dark, if that's what's required. Don't worry about what is expected of you. Don't look over your shoulder. Don't bother being a good boy. Get it out. Purge yourself through your gifts, your paintings, your writing.

Kill all the children, if you must."

Latest re-read: January 28, 2018

There's always great danger in returning to a book you loved exhaustively when you were younger. Perhaps because you've built it up in your mind to be a flawless paradigm. Perhaps because the person who would have most adored this book is no longer the person you are.

I first read this book in the early teens, and then re-read it and re-read it and recommended it and re-read it. I don't think I've picked it up since college, though. Re-reading it now was... interesting. A mix of validation and frustration.

First, what was frustrating:

1. Allan and Rene are barely characters. Honestly most of these characters lack any real depth or nuance; Spencer is primarily a short story writer, and it shows here. His characters are more ideas or scaffolding to hand his humor on than fleshed-out people. Which is okay, mostly, because this is meant to be a dark satire and not a character-driven novel. But Allan and Rene are kind of awful. Maybe that's the point? Maybe Spencer was being really bitter about the roles of good-looking young people whose romance forms the center of most stories?

But I still felt like they deserved more. Rene especially -- Allan, at least, has a very specific plot point to perform. Rene's entire purpose in the narrative is to first fuel and then prevent that plot point. And the scene where Allan beats her up, only to stop because he realized he was tricked -- as if that is the reason he shouldn't beat her -- has not aged well. I understand they're both people with severe emotional and mental problems, and that's never treated lightly or given an easy fix, but... again, if only there had been more to them.

2. Narrative drive is another place where Spencer falls down, again perhaps a symptom of being more used to short stories. There's very few active choices made my his cast; they more often react passively and move from set piece to set piece. The parts of the book which don't fall into this pattern are the stand-outs, like Raymond and Emily's marriage in the beginning, or the Storys driving to and talking with Helen, or almost any scene with Gabriel.

It sounds like such a minor thing, but it really turns the book into more of a performance than something to get mentally and emotionally lost in. There is, uh, a lot of less-than-plausible escape scenes to assist the plot along, sometimes through sheer deus ex machina that Spencer barely bothers to lampshade. And even when I loved the book I couldn't tell you the plot, which is at best, meandering and unfocused, with questions abound. (Why is Rene at Harwood? What is Simtec and Raymond's powers? Etc and so on.)

The strengths of this book don't lie in characters or plot, which is... saying something. So what are its strengths?

1. This book is so fucking creepy.

I think it's creepier now that I'm older. When I was younger I didn't engage with the subplot about experimental drug testing as deeply -- I was there for the fantasy and meta-concept -- but now? YIKES? The idea of drug companies given access to psychological patients, or Emily's uncle so selfishly desperate for connection he allows her to be experimented on... Andrew Blaine and Gloria Gill are cartoon villains (albeit pretty funny ones, even if "evil people like kinky sex" is a trope as old as this book... older...) compared to the "acceptable" human evil demonstrated by Peake, Max, Thurgood, and even Harry.

And Spencer knows just where to place his fingers on he pulse of that bruise, and press down. The convenience store scene with the lifeguard? Left a mark, man, I might not have remembered whether Allan lived or died, but I remembered almost every detail of that scene. And it still works. Even when I knew it was coming, it worked. Because Spencer is that good: all the little touches of Amy throughout, the Politer, Marlin vomiting dimes... Spencer's imagery is unparalleled and will make your flesh fucking creep.

2. And his language matches it. This book is filled with the kind of language people tear their hair out to create in creative writing workshops (again with the air of short storydom): seemingly effortless turns of phrase which are evocative and delightful by turn. But it's never piled on -- Spencer's prose is spare to the point of, if not leaving the reader in the dark necessarily, sometimes requiring them to put a few of the pieces together on their own because the energy is driving on, on, on with no time to stop and explain.

And it's funny. This book is so incredibly, slyly funny, until you're not sure whether Spencer is primarily mocking the real world, his characters, or even himself more. This is a very twisted and dark sense of humor, however, and I do not use that word lightly -- as surreal and horrifying as the spectacular imagery. Put the two together, and I'm willing to bet you've never read anything quite like this book.

3. The ending.

This is what's preserving this book's five-star rating. If it weren't for the way this book ended, it might just be three stars. But it raises the entire book to something sublime. Not what happens, particularly, or even how it's executed, but the message it contains, the theme it encapsulates which ends up redeeming so much else about the book which is stumbling and flawed. In fact many of its flaws turn out to have been serving that theme all along.

Spencer spends a lot of time lampooning ideas or people he doesn't like, but the ending is not a mockery. It is... honest, in a way that feels painful and almost nakedly vulnerable. It elevates the book beyond technical flaws and virtues and becomes a necessary story to tell about grief, loss, and true redemption.
Profile Image for Dan.
465 reviews34 followers
April 6, 2022
I felt this book was okay. I enjoyed it in places, but certainly always knew what page I was on and was happy to reach its end.

The story is about people in a lunatic asylum being given an experimental drug called echnazine that causes them to live in a shared fantasy world that starts in another dimension but comes to be in ours, at least partially. It breaks over in St. Petersburg, Florida. The rules and parameters of how this other dimension does this is never clear. It's anchored somehow in an author's writing of a children's book.

There is a lot of whimsy in this novel. Those who like the work no doubt see the whimsy as humorous. For me, it undermines the stakes or potential gravity the book could offer. Not that the stakes are ever clearly defined. The book has over fifty characters, even after one pairs the two names most of them have for the two roles characters have in the two worlds described. This is simply too many. This novel had potential, but never quite achieves it. I think it needs a little less Kurt Vonnegut and a little more George R. R. Martin for it to work for me.
826 reviews21 followers
December 6, 2019
He just wanted the world to be bigger than it was, more fantastic. He wanted to believe in evil trolls and fairies and elves. Other children grew out of such fantasies. Raymond, alas, grew into them.

I suspect that many readers of Zod Wallop will see no reason for that "alas." One of the reasons we read is to get access to the worlds of fantasy, and parts of Zod Wallop are a beautiful gateway to some of those worlds.

I came to this book after reading a review of it by Charles de Lint in an old (January, 1996) issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. De Lint states:

Every so often a book comes along that deserves to be an instant classic, and this fourth book by William Spencer leaps immediately into that company. I got the same feeling reading Zod Wallop as I did when I first read Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs - a sense that here was something entirely original, a novel both serious and funny, beautifully written, a delight and a wonder, a true gift.

Zod Wallop is not only the title of this book by William Browning Spencer, it is also the title of the children's book by author Harry Gainesborough that is at the center of Spencer's book. The title is never explained. My guess is that Spencer simply liked the title and decided to use it for both his book and the book in his book. (Kate Wilhelm once did something similar when she named a book Seven Kinds of Death, taking that never explained title from the name of a work of sculpture in her book.)

Harry Gainesborough is a very successful author of books for children. His own child, a young daughter, died by drowning. Gainesborough, mad with grief, was institutionalized. In the hospital, he meets a young man obsessed with Gainesborough's books. While in that hospital, Gainesborough writes and illustrates another book, which he titles Zod Wallop. Gainesborough's first version of this is horrific; the drawings are of hospital staff and parents, not all of whom Gainesborough had met at that point. Gainesborough rewrites the book, making it more cheerful; that is the version that is published and becomes acclaimed.

The hospital is being used for testing an experimental drug, Ecknazine,
one effect of which seems to be setting up a psychic connection among those who have been given the drug. This establishes "a sort of gestalt...which seems independent of physical contact." (I think that readers familiar with Theodore Sturgeon's science fiction novel More Than Human may be reminded of the "homo gestalt" group portrayed in that book.)

Gainesborough, whose marriage has broken up after his daughter's death, comes out of the hospital and is living alone. However, the young man obsessed with Gainesborough's work and three other patients escape from the hospital and find Gainesborough. They are some of the people to whom he is linked by the drug which they had all taken. And now they all (and the monkey accompanying them) find themselves falling into the world of Zod Wallop - the first, sinister and potentially deadly version.

Spencer's book is for the most part well-written. As Charles De Lint stated, it is both serious and funny. The opening lines show that:

The wedding was held outdoors. An April sky darkened and gusts of wind, like large, unruly hounds, knocked over folding chairs and made off with hats and handkerchiefs. A bright yellow hat went sailing over the lake, cheered on by two small children.

However, the children's book in it seems less good. The quoted material from Gainesborough's book, which is said to be hugely popular, seems very poor to me. The following is a section of Gainesborough's children's book:

Henry Bottle was guided by Love and Hate. Either will serve as a guide in Zod Wallop, and only the Duke of Flatbend had ever been able to sort them out, and then only for a moment, only long enough for a small girl named Lydia to walk, foolishly, through the door of that moment with a purity and innocence that changed the balance forever, sent the two Vile Contenders into final conflict, and awakened the Cold One and his terrible, inevitable companion, the Abyss Dweller.

Henry Bottle had come across the long Desert of Academics, across the burned-out flats of Elite Despond, through the Forest of Burning Trees and, finally, to the dying ocean where Lord Draining reigned at Grimfast. He had come to tell a lady of the court that he loved her and, for her sake, to perform great deeds. In the journey, a dark spell had fallen upon him, and he had come to hate the lady, and so he arrived just as quickly and just as passionately with a will to destroy anything at hand that might remind him of his folly.

He was in the underground labyrinth of Grimfast Castle and, as luck would gave it, he had stumbled into the lair of the Midnight Machines...

Are there really hordes of children who would love this? I think that it is dreadful, confusing and clichéd.

Characterizations are usually thin. Gainsborough, his friend and agent Helen, his former wife Jeanne, and the murderous, pitiful Gabriel come to some sort of reality; most of the others do not.

Most of the commentary about Zod Wallop here on Goodreads is extremely positive. I like it but do not think it is a masterpiece; I wish that I could share in that opinion.

Profile Image for Mindy Haig.
Author 16 books61 followers
April 27, 2013
I have a hard cover autographed copy of this book. I read it in January of 1997. It was snowing in Austin, Texas (strange, but that's what makes the memory so vivid) and I sat and read the whole book in one sitting. It was so good I immediately read it again!
Profile Image for Nicholas Kaufmann.
Author 34 books189 followers
December 24, 2021
Years ago, after the tragic death of his daughter, popular children's author Harry Gainesborough spent time in a mental institution, where he wrote his most popular children's fantasy novel, ZOD WALLOP. Now, his friends from the hospital, convinced everything in the novel is real, have broken out to search for Harry and drag him along on their quest. At first, Harry assumes it's just their mental illness at work, but soon he's seeing creatures and settings from his novel in the real world and doubting his own sanity.

I loved this novel! Like Spencer's previous novel, RESUMÉ WITH MONSTERS, this one bursts with madcap energy and unbridled creativity. An audacious examination of reality, fiction, and the space in-between where imagination fills limitless bounds, ZOD WALLOP astonishes on every page. Wildly inventive with tons of heart, I consider it a must-read!
Profile Image for Michael.
189 reviews30 followers
October 13, 2018
The Paranormal Romance genre absorbed 'Dark Fantasy' like an amoeba in the 21st century, but there was a period of time when Dark Fantasy meant what it said on the label instead of being shorthand for 'angsty, hard-knock-life women falling in love with angsty, hard-knock-life werewolves, vampires, mermen, or other things designed to stretch local bestiality ordinances to the ripping point'. Those were the days of Wagner, of Lovecraft, of Poe and Gaiman and Smith and Grant, where the real world was besieged by forces man was not meant to know, and man fought back, bravely, often futilely, against things beyond comprehension because capitulation was not an option. William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop resides in this realm of instability, where reality is refracted through a cracked prism, and characters know it, but we a readers keep thinking that maybe, if they can just find the right viewing angle, suddenly everything will make sense and go back to normal.

We're fooling ourselves and we know it, but we keep reading anyway.

'Zod Wallop' is a book. Obviously it's a book, I'm writing about it, but it really is a book. Or rather, a book within a book. Harry Gainsborough should know--he's the one who wrote it, after all. He's 1995's equivalent of J. K. Rowling, the most popular author of children's fantasy literature in the world. Everyone reads Gainsborough, and everyone loves 'Zod Wallop'. What they don't know is the 'Zod Wallop' they've fallen in love with is a fake, a fraud, a counterfeit painted over by its own artist, dipped in saccharine, rolled in chocolate, and served up on a tray of Happily Ever Afters so sweet you can taste the diabetes. It's all bullshit, and the public ate it up like pigs at a trough. It made Harry Gainsborough a very wealthy man, which has only brought him further ruin, as money cannot replace the two gaping holes in his heart.

The real 'Zod Wallop' was penned by Harry at the suggestion of one of his doctors during his stay at the Harwood Psychiatric Institute. The stay was prompted by the accidental drowning death of his only daughter, and subsequent separation from his wife. Now back on his own two feet, the heavy-drinking author is (dis)content to live out the remainder of his days in utter solitude while his agent routinely badgers him about writing a sequel or, at the very least, selling the film rights. There he would remain if it wasn't for another Story, this one named Raymond.

A fellow patient at Harwood, Raymond Story is the dictionary definition of the mental man-child: a grown-up who has refused to grow up, a man who still tilts at windmills, believes in happily-ever-afters, and is convinced Harry Gainsborough is a prophet who will lead them all on the biggest, most important, most epic quest since a couple of hairy-footed men clung to one another at the foot of a volcano after disposing of the world's worst piece of jewelry. The biggest problem with Raymond Story, in Harry's mind, is that he's seen the original 'Zod Wallop'. He found it, he read it, and he hated it. While the published 'Zod Wallop' is all about redemption and finding the power within, the original is nothing like it: a dark, disturbing world where no one will be saved, filled with glacial-dwelling frost giants, shadowy demonic entities, and their minions: the flying, manta ray-like, soul-devouring Ralewings.

Harry left the old 'Zod Wallop' behind, but Raymond never could. Now Raymond has broken out of Harwood with his 'bride' Emily (a wheelchair-bound young woman, comatose since childhood), the ox-like Allen, the tragically-depressive Rene, and Lord Arbus, Raymond's trained monkey. They're on a cross-country trip to find Harry, because Raymond isn't sure what to do next, but Harry will have the answers. He's got to. After all, he invented the Ralewings, and they're currently chasing Raymond's group, along with the vile Lord Draining who has plans for all five of them, but especially for poor, defenseless(?) Emily.

Have the five patients from Harwood all cashed in their sanity chips, or has Harry Gainsborough actually penned a story so powerful that it's ripped through the fabric of reality like the creatures from Stephen King's The Mist, to reshape our world to its specifications?

Zod Wallop is like nothing I have ever read, and even now, twenty-two years after my first encounter with it, I've been unable to get it out of my mind. Spencer's writing is dramatic, impactful, and dream-like. Cross Alice in Wonderland with H. P. Lovecraft, throw in a liberal dose of mind-altering/expanding drugs, and you'd get something akin to this novel. This is Dark Fantasy of the O.G. variety, not the drippy, love-triangle-laden bullshit that crowds the shelves today.

Find this book. Read this book. Treasure and love it. Harry's world will never be the same again...and neither will yours.
Profile Image for Glen Engel-Cox.
Author 4 books54 followers
November 11, 2019
The inevitable comparison that Zod Wallop brings to mind is to Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs. Both novels revolve around a children’s book that is directly affecting the lives of the other characters. The approach that the two authors take to the subject is quite different–Carroll, even in his first novel, drifts around the fantastic, never quite making it real, preferring to define his characters by the world of which we know. Spencer embraces the fantastic, so much so that it is hard sometimes to tell where the “real” world and the fantastic world come together. If one thinks of this balance between the real and the fantastic as a see-saw, in Carroll’s world the heavier child is the real world, and vice versa in Spencer.

Harry Gainsborough wrote books for his daughter, Amy. His books were so good that they were published and became well-loved children’s books across the world. But when his daughter drowns in a freak accident, he enters into a depression so severe that his agent checks him into a psychiatric ward. In the hospital, the therapist suggests that he write another book–hoping that the creative process will lift him out of despair. Instead, the book that he writes, Zod Wallop, is a bleak, dark novel–the kind of children’s book that the Wicked Witch of the West would have written.

Zod Wallop is also Harry Gainsborough’s most popular novel, more popular even than Bocky and the Moon Weasels or The Bathtub Wars. Children the world over love Zod Wallop, but none more so than Raymond Story, who read it while a patient at the Harwood Psychiatric Hospital. Raymond, who almost drowned when he was 8, sees his near-death experience as a link to the author of Zod Wallop. Raymond, who when he came across the first draft of Zod Wallop, destroyed the dark, original version that Harry had written. Or had he just hidden the book?

Lastly, William Browning Spencer’s Zod Wallop is about the drug, Ecknazine, administered by Marlin Tate to a group of patients at the Harwood Psychiatric who had extremely rich imaginative lives. The goal of Tate’s experiment was to enable telepathic communication, but the drug did something else, something much more strange than telepathy. The drug enabled Zod Wallop to come to life.

Spencer’s novel is a complex knot of these three stories, moving at a reckless pace towards the conclusion. Zod Wallop is not a predictable book–it steadfastly refuses to toe the line of any one genre, going through thriller, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mainstream in the course of its pages. I would not call it slipstream either, because it doesn’t have a singular consistency of vision. The point is that it works, and in straight comparison to The Land of Laughs, it works better, because it works towards a resolution–one much more rewarding than Carroll’s first effort. Spencer still has some honing before his prose is as sharp as Carroll’s, specifically the Carroll of Bones of the Moon or After Silence, but Zod Wallop shows that he has the imagination and skills to be in the same league.
Profile Image for Sam.
16 reviews1 follower
February 5, 2012
This is a book with a strange plot that is sometimes difficult to follow (which, I think, is part of the point since it deals with grief, mental illness, and hallucination). The story is poignant and fantastical, with many surprises along the way, culminating in an intense and hopeful ending.
Profile Image for Jason Lundberg.
Author 71 books155 followers
July 17, 2012
WOW. Loved this book from start to finish. It reminded me of the best books by Jonathan Carroll and Tim Powers. I'm quite keen to find the rest of Spencer's books now. Why on earth did it take me so long to finally read this novel?
5 reviews
September 11, 2008
Oh my. This is probably my favorite book. Not a lot of people have read it, and I only got it randomly to read from a stranger. Really good and fast read. Please find this book and read it.
Profile Image for R Heath Foxlee.
13 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2014
One of several great books by William Browning Spencer. Recursion, writing, sorrow, and amazing images combine in this deeply moving fantasy. I wish he would write more books.
666 reviews14 followers
April 13, 2020
"Zod Wallop" is a nice example of the inverse portal fantasy, in which rather than the heroes going through a portal to the fantasy world, the fantasy world infiltrates the real world in which the heroes live. In this case, it does so via a gestalt entity formed by several current and former mental patients who were all exposed to an experimental drug intended to create such a state as part of a trial. "Zod Wallop" is also the name of the book written by Harry, our hero, while he was in the asylum, undergoing treatment (and, unbeknownst to him, participating in this experiment) following the death of his daughter: the patients in the trial, having been taking the drug at the same time, in some way participated in writing the book. This pseudoscientific explanation is rather undermined by the fact that Raymond, the patient who is the most enthusiastic about melding the world of Zod Wallop with our world, has (and had prior to the trial) exhibited psychic powers: one bit of ridiculous pseudoscience is acceptable, but two is pushing it a bit. Plus, the emphasis is heavily on the “pseudo” here: although two rival pharmaceutical companies are supposedly desperate to get their hands on Ecknazine, the experimental drug in question, it’s not clear what use it has other than its ability to fill an important hole in the plot (and to allow pharmaceutical corporations to be depicted as vicious and rapacious), and the description of the drug trial itself is utterly unscientific. Still, it’s unusual and creative, as is the book as a whole, if not quite the acid trip with Dr. Seuss that the enthusiastic cover blurb promises. The book-within-the-book is pretty well done, if fairly bleak: both it and the book itself start out on a fairly lighthearted note and go downhill from there. The characters are also well done, in particular Raymond, Alan, and Rene, who, despite having spent much of their lives in and out of institutions, appear to be no less sane than anybody else in the book. The way that the fictional world of Zod Wallop slides into the real one is handled fairly well too — I particularly enjoyed Dr. Peake’s embrace of his transformation into the book’s chief villain, Lord Draining — and Spencer manages to keep a fair degree of suspense in the plot. If the ending is a bit heavy-handed it also effectively subverts the reader’s expectations of where the book was heading (and without using my least favorite ending, in which the story turns out to be the ravings of a madman). Spencer even displays the occasional flash of humor. Still, in some way the book didn’t quite add up: maybe it was the sketchy central mechanism, maybe a slightly too-neat ending, but I feel like it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts.
Profile Image for Molly Quinn.
79 reviews4 followers
May 24, 2021
Firstly, this book has maybe the worst name that a book has ever been named. Do not let that prevent you from reading the book, it is much better than the title suggests. I try not to judge books by their covers (or names) but if I hadn't been recommended this book I would have never picked this book up in a million years. That's me being judgmental, I know, but it's the truth.

This book was a bit all over the place. It is very funny and heartfelt, and the best parts of the book were the parts where it felt real. Little legitimate observations that Spencer seemed to truly make about humanity and depression and the loss of a child. I laughed out loud at some of the things that Spencer came up with (like for instance, in the second chapter, where the main character Harry is looking around his room trying to figure out if he's depression has made him look like "a lunatic.") I would describe the book's genre as magical realism. It gets really wacky and zany, which is not a bad thing at all, just that the vibe isn't quite what I was expecting going into the book (but what can you expect from a book with a title like Zod Wallop??). Despite that I really did like the book quite a bit and I am glad that I read it!
Profile Image for Trisha.
813 reviews28 followers
March 22, 2020
It took me a very long time to first, start reading this, and secondly, actually finish it. It was a hard book to get through, but not because it was bad. It was actually hilarious, and wacky - reminding me of the few other books I've shelved here over the years on the "absurd" shelf. I've made public some of my Kindle comments that might give you an idea of what you'd be in for if you read this one.

I'm still not really sure what happened here, to be honest. I just know that I cackled with laughter quite often while reading, but also felt sympathy for the characters I was reading about - assuming the things I thought I knew about them really were true.

You'll know what I mean if you read it. ;)

Given how long it took me to read this (I started on Sept 11 last year), this seems like not enough of a review. But oh well, that's that.
Profile Image for Ryan Croke.
120 reviews2 followers
April 21, 2018
Loved this book! It's in the realm of "weird" fiction - somewhere between fantasy and horror. Hell of an opening scene and hell of a finish. Filled with fantastic prose and some mind boggling imagery, the story begs the questions of what's real and what's not. For a good time, read Zod Wallop.
Profile Image for Dayna.
251 reviews
May 4, 2018
Mental hospitals, strange books, and unreliable realities? Yes, sign me up! This was a page-turner dark fantasy with more heart than I expected, and I’m glad I found it.
Profile Image for Donyae Coles.
Author 20 books10 followers
May 26, 2019
I read this book way back in 1998 and still think about it.
14 reviews
September 14, 2020
A really fantastic blend of the mundane and the fantastical. Hilarious with a touch of heartbreak around the edges, which is mostly what I look for in a good book.
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