Threepenny Thursday – “Emperor Mollusk Vs The Sinister Brain”

28 Jun

I am working at Chapters now, and part of being a person who is paid to recommend books is reading books, and having opinions about books. Even ones you haven’t read.

I did read this one, though.

Emperor Mollusk Vs The Sinister Brain is exactly what you think it is. If you read that title and thought, oh, it must be some silly comic book-style novel about supervillains and aliens and futuristic nonsense – congratulations, you’re perceptive on an average level!

Some of you may have also taken a peek at the above image, and the more astute (no doubt caffeine-fueled) ones may have even noted the subtitle: “With Great Power Comes Great Hilarity”. Absorbing this and concluding that this book must be very silly, you may have experienced a violent endorphin rush at your heretofore-untapped powers of observation. Take it easy, now. You’ve accomplished a lot today.

The titular Emperor Mollusk is a Neptunon, one of a race of superintelligent squid aliens from our very own Neptune, who sits comfortably in the head-domes of his personally-designed biomechanical “exo” suits in order to get around, give speeches, and perform experiments. Using his superior intelligence, he conquers Earth – then known as Terra – through the use of incredibly sophisticated mind-controlling chemicals. Instead of the inexorable all-consuming invasion fleet, or any form of shock and/or awe, in fact, this supervillain elects to subjugate Terra and its inhabitants the non-violent way. Mahatma would be so proud.

Hmm. All right, maybe not.

Mollusk soon finds himself bored, facing a problem I think we’ve all experienced once or twice: once you’ve conquered a world, what do you do with it?

This leads to some planet-hopping adventure, as Mollusk interacts with forms of intelligent life on nearly every body in our little solar system – from the rock-hewn golems of Saturn to the proud lizard warriors of Venus. His search for purpose, fun, and meaning in what should be a life of luxury and dictatorial peace takes him from the beautiful coral city of Atlantis to the Terran moon colonies, until he finally encounters an enemy worthy of his vast intellect – one whom he’s not sure he can beat.

Now listen – I’m no professional, and maybe I shouldn’t judge too harshly, but I’m close to a thousand percent sure I could write this story better than the author has. It’s a great premise, and the best part of the book is the boundless creativity he displays in crafting all these races and civilizations which have so long lain dormant in our cosmic neighbourhood. He comes up with wonderful explanations for numerous “mysteries” which have plagued humanity for ages – the Bermuda Triangle, for example, is actually a rip in space-time caused by nuclear testing which happened to coincide most unfortunately with Mollusk’s quantum experiments. He and some other characters travel through this tear in reality to visit a place he calls Dinosaur Island, which is exactly as full of ridiculously dangerous abominations of science and nature as you could want.

So it’s fun, and very ingenious. But despite the originality of the ideas, the execution is poor – the characters are very one-note and the writing is disappointingly flat. I think, based on the silliness of the subject matter, it’s smart that the book is kept economically short. The characters don’t really call for much fleshing out, either, but it would have been nice for their expression and interaction to sound genuine. It really feels like this book was written on the fly, with no prior planning or structure. Having done the same thing roughly a million times, I recognize the style. And I have to say it’s not very welcome in a new, high-profile hardcover.

The book was advertised to me as being appropriate for fans of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and I can tell you that’s an accurate appraisal. It’s got the humour and comic-booky sci-fi shenanigans – and the same “soul-searching supervillain” formula – but there are few on this Earth (or, ahem, Terra) who can stand up to the mighty Joss, and this one is no different. If you want my advice, give it a try. It’s fun, it’s an incredibly quick and easy read, but wait until the paperback hits, because it sure ain’t worth the 28 simoleons I slapped down like the overenthusiastic Chapters noob I am.

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