Book Review : Christoph Paul - Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks (2015)
"I believe from your profile you have great promise to take many lives. Your sense of empathy and feelings of loyalty can be perverted and turned into great rage. Yet, you are blocked by some serious Slasher Anxiety."
I am a supporter of determinism in philosophical debates. I believe people should bear responsibility for their choices, but never the entire load. Take the school system for example. Putting so many different people through the same rigid and unforgiving process expecting the same result for everybody is absurd to me. Christoph Paul's novella Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks isn't exactly a determinist work of fiction, but it's a sneaky and clever cautionary tale about the dangers of label culture and systematic thinking. It was rough around the edges at times, but I've enjoyed it a lot.
Set in a horror movie-inspired alternate reality where society is divided between Slashers and Finals (the final survivor in slasher movies, typically a well-groomed youth with conservative views on sex), Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks is the story of Jason Voorheesberg, a young Jewish-American Slasher sent to Slasher Camp for Nebulous Youth #987 in order to deal with his severe attacks of Slasher Anxiety. It doesn't go over very well for Jason, who is pathologically looking for the good in people. Will Jason survive this Darwinian ordeal? Will the camp be enough to destroy these positive feelings that make him such a unique and interesting Slasher?
It took me a couple chapters to get the drift of what Christoph Paul was trying to do with Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks. Although the book radiates with an obvious love for Slasher movies, the proto-class warfare of Slashers and Finals at camp for nebulous youth #987 is almost incidental. It could've been Jocks and ¨Preppies in a non-bizarro universe. Athletes and Goths. Artists and Nerds. Christoph Paul settled on silly labels to illustrates that labels are silly and incredibly limiting to a youth full of possibilities.
I said the choice of labels was "almost" incidental because I don't think the choice of Slashers and Finals was made on a whim. I'm freestyling here, but I think Christoph Paul picked these two concept in particular because of how deceitful they are, which he illustrates throughout Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks. Everybody's a murderer in the book. Murder is the cornerstone of society. Slashers happen to be a very heterogeneous bunch of murderers. They are "different" and ostracized. Jason Vorheesberg of all people sure doesn't fit in this rigid system that condemns him to be a killing machine. So labels are in Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks not only silly and limiting, but also quite deceitful.
So, I loved the depth of Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks, which kept me on my toes. Christoph Paul deliberately chose stereotypical images to deconstruct in order to show the inherent complexity of human beings we're hardwired to ignore, especially in stories. Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks was a very ambitious project, but it felt frustrating at times. It could've went much further. Take for example the character of Head Pred, the head counsellor at camp for Nebulous Youth #987. He has an off-putting vernacular and an undying love for banalities. It's part of his character to do so because he looks to mold youth into a boring sterotype he himself embodies, but I would've loved to see Head Pred being challenged more. He begged to be challenged.
Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks was a cartoon-y, irreverent and deceptively cerebral novella about the inherent problems of fostering an homogeneous culture by putting labels on everybody. Christoph Paul's prose never feels intrusive or didactic, yet clearly and efficiently carries a strong message to whoever gives Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks a shot. Not sure the novella format was suited to such ambitious and challenging ideas, but at the end of the day Christoph Paul's talent spoke louder than any concerns over the form or the length of the book. Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks is fun, deep and oddly graceful. It won't be everybody's cup of tea for sure (no Bizarro ever is) but it's a fun and challenging little transgressive volume.