This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien – a beguiling, unique collection of poetry which merges together a hybrid mix of contemporary hip-hop and folklorian Lovecraft monsters in a fun fusion of science-fiction and poetry. On the surface, it offers an entertaining, comedic chronicle; however, between the lines it offers something much more meaningful and profound.
Thank you to the publishers Interstellar Flight Press and the author Brandon O’Brien for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book: Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien
Genre: Science Fiction / Horror / Poetry
Publication Date: 20th August 2021
Publisher: Interstellar Flight Press
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Cthulhu meets hip-hop in this book of horror poems that flips the eldritch genre upside down. Lovecraftian-inspired nightmares are reversed as O’Brien asks readers to see Blackness as radically significant. Can You Sign My Tentacle? explores the monsters we know and the ones that hide behind racism, sexism, and violence, resulting in poems that are both comic and cosmic.
What initially drew me to read Can You Sign My Tentacle?
Well first off, the title alone piqued my curiosity; then to discover that this was the work of a Caribbean author who has composed a strange blend of SFF, horror and poetry, I just had to open that cover and dive straight in.
Despite being a self-proclaimed SFF fan, I’ve never read any Lovecraft so I had no idea of the meaning behind the Cthulhu references until much later on. That being said, I feel this enabled me to approach O’Brien’s collection with a wholly open-mind.
O’Brien does not shy away from tackling some of the big themes of racism, sexism and violence, but through this unusual mix of varying genres, his messages tend to pop out and command your attention in a way that may be much less fun or remarkable in traditional prose.
There are some wonderful phrases and language. As a bit of a logophile, I was struck by the beautiful and bizarre range of vocabulary that Brandon utilised across his writing.
Notably in The Metaphysics of a Wine, In Theory and Practice, the concoction of academia-style concepts mixed with the celestial, paranormal-esque commentary of being lost in the throes of dancing captivated me. Other poems such as The One, Lovecraft Thesis #3 and Time, and Time Again were particular favourites.
The Author’s Note at the end (along with a little help from Google) helped me to understand how O’Brien’s use of the eldritch genre brought Can You Sign My Tentacle? to life. It tied together some of the loose connections that I hadn’t grasped from my initial reading and clarified the Lovecraft references along with the author’s influences and inspiration for writing this collection of poems.
I really, really like this book. It’s different, it’s highly entertaining yet meaningful at the same time. The poems are curious and provocative. The whole theme of the collection and ideas behind the Cthulhu/Lovecraft mix are totally original and have taught me something new; not just about the medley of Science-Fiction and Poetry as genres, but about the over-inflated concept of self-importance and that nobody or nothing is infallible.
In a world where cancel culture seems to be increasingly (somewhat shockingly) normalised, O’Brien’s narrative seems to challenge this notion and turn it on its head. Just as Lovecraft was undoubtedly a talented writer who has done much to shape the SFF genre, O’Brien shows that rather than ‘cancelling’ or criticising his creative legacy, we can turn his prejudices into a weapon and opportunity for education and awareness. He shows that we can learn from past denigrations and champions how today’s society can shift away from the attitudes, mistakes and short-sightedness of those who came before us.
I went into Can You Sign My Tentacle? looking for something a bit on the offbeat, peculiar side – I came out of it with something undoubtedly more meaningful. O’Brien is truly a voice to be celebrated. He has written such a thought-provoking, original masterpiece with a trailblazing message which will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
About the Author
Brandon O’Brien is a writer, performance poet, teaching artist and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing, the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and the inaugural Ignyte Award for Best Speculative Poetry. His work is published in Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is the former Poetry editor of FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.
Virtual Book Launch
Interstellar Flight Press are holding their first ever Virtual Book Launch for Can You Sign My Tentacle? It’s a free event on Zoom so check out the details below if you’re interested!
Here’s the details! Sign up via Eventbrite to join us.
Date: August 20th at 6:00pm EST / 5:00 PM CDT
Online via Zoom/Eventbrite
You will receive info from Eventbrite on how to access the event after you register. This event is FREE to attend.