Reading Pornography for the End of the World

Pornography for the End of the World, image by J. Rohr

Titles don’t get much better than Pornography for the End of the World. It’s guaranteed to hook any eye idly scrolling in search of a read. The implication of what awaits may seem obvious, yet there are notable surprises. The pages of this book often offer visceral depictions of various hideous horrors, though that strength can also be its weakness. What shines here is a dark mirror reflecting all too relatable nightmares.

Pornography for the End of the World is an anthology of short fiction by Brendan Vidito. This award-winning author of body horror delivers a collection of unsettling stories which range from the post-apocalyptic to cosmic nightmares of everyday existential dread. Populating these pages are a variety of characters most readers will find disturbingly familiar. From the desperate pilgrims in “Nostalgia Night at the Snuff Palace” to the lonely and depressed individuals leading “The Human Clay” and “The Living Column,” there’s a relatable element to many.

Cover art for the book "Pornography for the End of the World" featuring a nude woman's torso which several large worms are wrapping themselves around
Cover art for Pornography for the End of the World by Wieslaw Walkuski. Cover design by Ira Rat

One of the wonderfully unnerving aspects of this read is that sense of familiarity. It’s not hard to imagine being in certain characters’ shoes. This allows Pornography from the End of the World to play with things like nostalgia as it lures readers towards frights and grotesqueries. There’s little reason to doubt audiences wouldn’t do the same as the hapless individuals in these horror stories.

The biggest strength though is the imagery. Vidito does a splendid job courting the edge of splatterpunk without truly crossing the line. Where that subgenre easily slips into alienating excess, minimizing the audience likely to enjoy such reads, this author offers gore sure to fuel nightmares without becoming superfluous. Vidito delivers the right amount of detail to vividly paint gruesome images while knowing when to carry on. As such, audiences never become numb to the nightmares presented. Each arrives like fresh roadkill thrown through a window.

Make no mistake, there’s distinct gore of a degree likely to disturb. Pornography for the End of the World isn’t for the casual horror reader. Victims aren’t just shot and bleeding. Here flesh explodes open in a shower of blood and bone, while tongues wag wildly in the broken remains of a half skull. Vidito never shies away from detailed descriptions of oleaginous corpses or various fluids oozing from wrecked bodies. Sex is hardcore, though unlikely to stimulate any onanism. And when the body horror arrives in stories like “The Human Clay” it comes as unsubtle as a hammer trying to smash a smell into a nose.

Creepy doll head surrounded by horns, spiny quills, and human teeth
Doll head nightmare, designed by Stefanie Johnsen, photo by J. Rohr

That isn’t to say there’s nothing subtle about these stories. Several pieces also work on a distinctly metaphorical level. Spoiler warning—“The Chimera Session” features a couple endlessly transfiguring themselves so they can appear physically different while keeping their old personalities. This allows them to have a uniquely open relationship since there’s a chance they’ve never really stopped being with one another. Still, it speaks volumes to the notion of what romance is about, the connections that run deeper than skin.

“Walking in Ash” is another relationship story exploring similar connections, though here are the ties which strangle more than bind. In fact, romantic relationships are a recurring theme throughout Pornography for the End of the World, and it serves as a great jumping-off point for some of the best stories here. Characters are quickly introduced along with the horrors plaguing them. These nightmares help serve disturbing scenes, but they also operate as deeper symbolic notions. For instance, “Apate’s Children” explores the extent one will go in an act of penitence to make up for deceit.

A prevailing desire for human connection of any sort fuels a lot of the horror happening in Pornography for the End of the World and this can make for some tragically relatable scenarios. Characters often inflict terrible events on themselves seeking something deeper. Whether that’s the emotional peace of nostalgia sought by pilgrims in “Nostalgia Night at the Snuff Palace” or the desperate bid for meaning grasped at by believers in “Church of the Chronically Ill,” there’s something understandable about what drives people forward even when they’re barefoot on a path of broken glass.

Certain stories are also great examples of how even those benumbed by overexposure to horror media can get caught off-guard. Vidito does a good job of twisting predictable outcomes into things truly horrendous. Rest assured, if at some point, a reader starts to get drowsy thinking they know what’s about to happen, Pornography for the End of the World veers without warning into sharp imagery. It’s like shifting to avoid obvious boredom only to turn straight into an exposed nail, tearing the eye. Such an instance happens by page two, making “Walking in Ash” a strong opener.

abstract art offering the impression of infected flesh and bodily orifices. Art by J. Rohr
Abstract art by article author J. Rohr

Such strengths, however, do work against the anthology from time to time. Stories like “Mother’s Mark” feature stupendous visual descriptions but at best seem like the start of a story rather than a whole piece on their own. “Glitterati Guignol” is an equally visual treat, but the overall story is sort of horror 102. It’s better than average but still feels commonplace. That said, it mostly suffers in contrast to better stories preceding it in the anthology.

Though some might be tempted to criticize Pornography for the End of the World for its obvious influences, that would be unfair. This is a solid example of inspired by as opposed to ripping off. “The Living Clay” originally appeared in “The New Flesh: a literary tribute to David Cronenberg” which Vidito edited along with Sam Richards. So, it’s no secret where part of the inspiration came from, and the same could be said of pieces like “The Living Column” which seem to own no small thanks to Clive Barker. Still, even when familiar, these are unique takes on old notions.

Pornography for the End of the World is a collection of entertaining hideous horrors. Even its few stumbling points are overshadowed by marvelously gruesome depictions. Those looking to top off the tank can find nightmare fuel here.

Pornography for the End of the World by Brendan Vidito is currently available at Weirdpunk Books.

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Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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