Title: Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Published: 05 March 2012
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genre: science fiction, fantasy, comedy, space opera,
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Emperor Mollusk – the genius octopus from Neptune, home of the smartest, squishiest beings in the galaxy – has done it all. He’s destroyed worlds and conquered others. He’s pushed the boundaries of science and invented bizarre and dangerous things. He’s defeated every one of his enemies, including himself (a rogue clone). He even conquered Earth – a planet that had always resisted alien invasion – using global mind-control. He settled down to become the Terra Sapiens’ benevolent dictator, ending all Earth’s wars, solving the energy crisis and repelling the invasion of the Saturnites. No big deal for someone as smart as Emperor Mollusk.
But now it seems there might be a brain even more brilliant than his. Someone is out to get him…. Well, actually beings from all over the galaxy are out to get him, but this seems to be the plot of an evil megalomaniac and Mollusk will have to come out of retirement to stop him. At his side is Zala, his unwanted Venusian bodyguard. The Venusians want Mollusk dead too, but they want to be the ones to bring him to justice, so for the moment they’re trying to keep him alive. Together Mollusk, Zala, and Mollusk’s invincible pet cyborg ultrapede thingy, Snarg, travel across Earth and around the solar system, following the clues that they hope will lead them to the Sinister Brain behind it all. On their adventure they encounter such things as mutant dinosaurs, a giant blob monster and an immortal mummy Queen.
Good words for describing this book include “whacky”, “zany” and “preposterous”. It’s a totally tongue-in-cheek sci-fi caper, composed of equal parts action, humour and ridiculousness. It’s full of kooky sci fi tropes like death rays, giant bugs, and evil geniuses. The characters have names like “Blug”, “Kreegah” and “Snarg”.
It’s also intentionally, amusingly narrow-minded. Pretty much all the aliens come from the moons or planets in our solar system, and can speak English. They might look outlandish, but they’re still mostly based on stuff you could find on Earth – Mollusk is an octopus, the Saturnites are some kind of rock-people, the Venusians are reptiles with feathers. As you can imagine, the book is full of wonderfully silly lines like this:
The south wall disintegrated and a squad of jetpack assassins flew into the room.
Mutant insects were eating Kansas. Again.
Relations between Terra and Luna had been strained since the Lunans had eaten Neil Armstrong in 1960.
In the middle of all this craziness, are some rather good characters who you can take seriously even though everything else is a joke. I really liked Mollusk, who is the nicest intergalactic villain you could ever hope to meet. He might have conquered Earth by brainwashing all the humans, but he also stopped all the wars and prevented environmental catastrophe. Despite the terrible things he’s done in the past, his many experiences have made him a much more considerate being. He’s even making a serious effort not to kill people just for annoying him. The thing with Mollusk is that he’s not exactly evil, but rather far too smart. He’s in constant need of something to keep his mind occupied, so he goes around conquering planets, inventing things and, inevitably, taking on all the enemies he makes along the way. The only enemy he can’t defeat is boredom itself.
I also came to appreciate Zala, the Venusian soldier whose job it is to protect Mollusk so that her own species can take revenge on him. In many ways Zala is trapped by her race’s codes of honour and obedience and she finds it difficult to break out of her fearless soldier mould. However, she has a talent for unnerving Mollusk with insights into his personality:
“It must be irritating,” she continued. “To have that great intellect at your disposal and yet you’re not sure what to do with it. I’d imagine it must be quite a burden finding challenges worthy of it.
It’s amazing that someone who claims to be as intelligent as you are has spent more time designing doomsday machines and time radios than contemplating his own motivations.
Although Mollusk and Zala become reluctant allies in this adventure, I like that they remain enemies who can’t quite trust each other. It adds a bit of fizz to their relationship. Mollusk in particular is always keeping important information from Zala, with amusing results. Their banter is fun, especially with Zala’s tendency to make snarky remarks. That said, one of the downsides to the novel is that it didn’t find it quite as funny as I’d hoped. It’s a source of constant amusement but few laugh-out-loud moments. But then again, humour is a very subjective thing and I think I’m a tougher audience than most. Either way, Emperor Mollusk is a wonderfully ludicrous sci fi adventure and I’d recommend it to genre fans looking for a light read and a bit of a laugh.