I have a fondness for pulpy sci-fi tropes. I love giant monsters and death rays and super science and all that popcorn. This prediliction of mine made it almost a certainty that I would read A. Lee Martinez’s Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain, the only thing that could have made it more inevitable would have been a lurid cover painting. Though the cover isn’t as painterly as I might hope for, the contents are every bit as technicolor as my appetite could desire.
The set up is pretty great: Emperor Mollusk as conquered Earth, gotten bored of conquest and retired. One day while returning home from the grocery store he is informed of an impending attempt on his life. Soon the assassins attack and are handily dispatched by the Emperor’s cohorts. Then the merry chase to get to the bottom of the attack begins. Quickly it is revealed that his nemesis is a Sinister Brain, literally a brain in a jar.
Now we have our strangely heroic alien conquerer cum-anti-hero and his nemesis, an anonymous brain floating in a jar of nutrients. They engage in a series of deadly traps, ambushes and battles, leading up to a defeat that makes the Emperor doubt his self-assured genius. Interspersed are vignettes from Emperor’s past as a conquerer that help to give context to his varying relationships as hero to some and genocidal murderer to others.
In classic form the setting is chock full of strange aliens and exotic locales. Martinez is great at painting these brightly colored settings. They don’t hold up to scrutiny, like the hasty set dressing of a b-movie, but they are perfect for this fast moving pulp. The fights are kinetic and fun, rarely concerning themselves with angst or grit, as the heroes generally start each new scene fully healed/repaired/reequipped from the last regardless of whether they won or lost. But as I said before, a constant stream of bizarre foes and exotic pseudo-science easily distracts.
I can’t help in retrospect but to see a lot of Futurama in this book. Maybe it’s just the head in the jar or the giant gelatinous cyborg, but I can’t help but think of Farnsworth’s absurd science or Bender’s casual mayhem. Far from a criticism, I think that this is a fine complement as Martinez is in no way stealing from Futurama, in fact the similarity comes more from the deep sci-fi tropes that are being skewered/lauded in both. A fine comparison that should make you want to read this book even more.
A fine little book, a great romp of goofy sci-fi nostalgia. I can’t say that I’ve loved everything that A. Lee Martinez has written, but this book struck the perfect chord for me and I would gladly hand it to anyone that was looking for the same kind of campy fun.