A. Lee Martinez – Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain (2012)

emperor mollusk

6/10

He came, he squirmed, he conquered. Emperor Mollusk – an octopus who once conquered planet Earth – meets his new match in a new maniac named The Sinister Brain, and Mollusk needs to dust off his old death rays to protect the planet.

Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain reads like a cartoon. Think movies like Despicable Me and Megamind, but in written form, and you’ll get the idea. Emperor Mollusk is an octopus from Neptune who once conquered planet Earth, after which he was worshipped as a god by humanity and then he retired. During the day he walks around in a machine that looks like a human, while he resides in a watery bowl inside the head. When assassins arrive, a new adventure awaits.

Mollusk is the first-person narrator, and we get an intimate understanding of how much he admires himself. For the sake of being funny, writer Martinez makes his squishy character always have the last word. At times, though, Emperor Mollusk sounds more like an annoying teenager than a world-conquering alien. The book relies on a quick plot with witty dialogue and lots of action, and that too reminds me of the hyperactive visuals of cartoons. The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Lab also come to mind as influences on Martinez.

Actually, a cartoon might do this story more justice. That way, we would see the expressions of the characters, since Martinez relies a lot on posturing, sarcastic dialogue. And at moments when Mollusk for example says “I’d had my face carved in Mount Rushmore”, we could see a little visual image of it.

Martinez’s ideas are pretty great, but he’s no Terry Pratchett when it comes to writing. Pratchett not only has a deft hand at drily comical description and good characterizations, but his books are also about something. All this could have been added to Martinez’s story, but since it isn’t, Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain feels empty.

I hoped Mollusk would grow in character… but he doesn’t change, not really. The problem with Emperor Mollusk is that he is an insufferable bore who always needs to have the last word. It’s hard having him as the first person narrator. What’s worse, sometimes he talked in a sort of nerdy lingo that references movies, saying things like “I find you lack of faith disturbing”, and I’m not sure Martinez is aware of it or just remembered that he used to say these things as a teenager.

What’s good is that you never know what is going to happen next. It’s a madcap sequence of set-pieces, of the kind you would expect in these stories, such as space ships, volcano islands, giant monsters… It’s just… that’s all there is to it.

Verdict: Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain is like eating fast food. It gives you a rush, but leaves you tired and hungry.

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