BlackRabbit’s CBR5 Review #12 Emperor Mollusk Vs The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

 

I’ve stated before that I like villains. A solid bad guy will make the whole story better, filling in the atmosphere and setting the stone. They’re the proactive players, usually, the ones the good guy has to best to keep the story going and the innocents safe. Their motivations are usually easier to understand than the hero, for better or for worse as well.  That’s why I love books about bad guys. I’ve read Soon I Will Be Invincible, and Goblin Corps, and a few others (I call this the “black hat genre”). I enjoyed the sections narrated by the title villain in IT and Eyes of the Dragon the best. This book, which  I’ll call EMVTSB for short, falls well in this neighborhood.

The protagonist is a Neptunon spacesquid who has recently retired from conquering the Earth. He soon falls into a complex scheme against a mysterious enemy, all the while trading barbs and stories with his unwilling associate who was ordered to kill him for his past crimes. While he tracks down his shadowy foe, we learn a little about his past and why he behaves this way.

It doesn’t sound like it would fit in the “bad guy” section, but it does. Mollusk is unrepentant about his past crimes, openly admitting them. He does it because it stops him from getting bored, since his immense intellect keeps on buzzing away. He’s not as twisted as Doctor Impossible from “Invincible”, but the same seed is there, the same ruthlessness.

Sadly though, I can’t give the story the A+ it deserves. Mollusk, err sorry EMPEROR Mollusk is a funny and clever character, but he’s so smart and well-prepared that there’s rarely any suspense. He has an answer and a plan for EVERYTHING, and while that does underline his intelligence and his argument that things would be better under his rule, it detracts from the story. Think Batman with fewer scruples, a robotic body and a soft squishy head and you have it. By all means read it, enjoy it, and recommend it to your friends, but it’s a light read without much thought or meat, and you won’t remember much about it afterwards. Except for the

spoiler

Radioactive Brain of Madame Curie!

 

 

The Last Story

They fell from the sky in their thousands, the soldier-slaves of an empire. The first wave had easily wiped out the planet’s defenses without a scratch. The fact that hundreds of stories had been told about aliens, visitors from the sky, and an invasion only added to the terror; many later survivors left tales of a helplessness, waiting for “someone” to save them. No one did. The world’s military forces, banded together in the face of the common enemy, were quickly crushed.

The Queen was pleased. She had never walked across a battlefield after a cleansing. She had been concerned that it would not meet her dreams, but She need not have worried; the blood was exquisite. Everywhere She looked there were heaps of the human dead and Her own fodder. She’d been mildly perturbed that Hers had not been enough, and precious additional troops had been needed. Their blood was not as beautiful, though. She’d seen so much of it that the humans’ red was a delight. Her golden robes had been carefully chosen to complement that shade, based on the few captives they’d taken. Of course, the odds of anyone besides Her own admiring it was remote, but she had turned on Her personal cameras anyway, to allow Her subjects to gaze at her beauty.

There hadn’t been that many worlds in their path. Most of the inhabited ones were either too simple to warrant wiping out. One or two looked too close to their own level to risk any attack; she was on a pleasure cruise, not a warpath. If she came home with significant losses, there would be real trouble. Oh, they could clone any losses well enough that their clusterfolk would never know the difference (or dare to tell), but the skill lay in domination, not overwhelming with muscle.

A sudden noise made Her glance over. Four of Hers were approaching, holding between them the arms of a lone human. She noted with distaste that they themselves were reddened, though their dull gray armor did not set it off as well as Her own clothes. The human seemed to be unharmed, though.

The human was dragged and thrown into a heap at her feet, though he struggled to his feet with remarkable quickness. She saw no blood on his body, either human or Hers. His clothes were plain, but were not the armor of a soldier. Why had they spared him? Who was he?

The human glanced at Her. “I am a storyman. Your face makes your thoughts obvious.” She raised a hand to smite him. For no good reason, She hesitated.

“What is a storyman? Is it a kind of soldier? You do not look like a fighter.”

The human shook his head. “I am a vessel. I remember what has happened and think about what will and may happen. We’ve been called bards, historians, futurists, and philosophers.” When She didn’t respond, he asked “Surely your own people have legends, myths, tales of your past and future?”

She paused. “Some. They all concern the erasure of other life, since We are perfect. From the beginning, all other life has been secondary to Us, as it should be. Tales of particular daring or-” She stared at the human. “You speak the Tongue! How?”

He blinked slowly. “I tell stories. It would be silly to tell them if my audience couldn’t understand them, wouldn’t it? Your arrival was not in a vacuum. We knew of you long before you came here.”

“And what stories would you have told me? It is a sadness that you live. You have nothing to teach Us, nothing to give Us. Perhaps in a million years the next rulers of this planet will be useful to Us, but you are a waste. Some few thousand of you still live, but that is only temporary.”

His gaze hardened. “So that’s the only reason you came. Simple bloodlust.”

The Queen smiled. “What is the purpose in being the best if you cannot show it? I will take some small part of your world with me back home as a trophy. You will yourself…” She paused, then her grin widened. “You will yourself become one of our stories. Surely that would please you?”

The storyman dropped his eyes. “I had hoped…..that we could discuss your reasons. That perhaps there was some deeper purpose behind your actions, something that we could use to make peace.”

She laughed. It was cool and amused and light. Behind the human, She saw Her soldiers looking on nervously, and a question occurred to Her. “How is it that you are still alive? My troops have orders to kill any human on sight.”

He shook his head, still not looking up. “I am a special case, in that I am…not precisely human. I am designed to record and display information, so I have been altered somewhat, to take advantage of my gifts. Your killers must have sensed that.”

“Gifts? What gifts?”

“When I tell a story to someone, they can see it as clearly as if it was happening in front of them. The places, the characters, all of it…becomes real for them.”

“If this is true, then you most be the ruler of this world, its king. You were the master here.”

“No. I guarded my power. I was their friend, the person who made the days pleasant and I kept them entertained. I could have made servants or weapons for them, but that would have made them weaker. Yes, weapons. So much of our history and the stories of humans were about war and how it never changes. Even a fraction of them would have saved the planet.”

The Queen laughed again. “And yet, here you are, the last person alive on a dead world. All of your stories are useless without the humans you coddled.”

He slowly raised his eyes to meet Hers, and the Queen saw something terrible in their depths: a relief, and lessening of some great pressure. “You misunderstand. My stories work for whoever  hears them, as I wish it. You understand me, and can hear me. And your slaves are recording this as we speak, so all of them can see me and hear my voice.” He gave her a slight smile. “It will be my last story, just one creation to pay you back for everything you have done. My first favorite character, from the first story I fell in love reading. He is not kind, or good, or a hero to my people. He is greedy, and vicious, and cunning, and evil. You are much alike.” He closed his eyes and began to chant, blood suddenly running from his nose, ears and mouth.

“I call you, Mighty One, Golden One, Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities. Your armor is like tenfold shields, our teeth are swords, your claws spears, the shock of your tail is a thunderbolt, your wings a hurricane, and your breath death! I call you and make you real to take and ravage this world as you wish!”

The Queen fell back, screaming at her soldiers to fire, her slaves to protect her, but it was too late. The human’s soft, pleasant voice kept going as he collapsed, laughing through blood, and a shadow spread across them, and great heat as from from a furnace. And they began to die, and the world, and at the same time on a thousand other worlds, became a Desolation.

BlackRabbit CBR5 Review #11 Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

Being a late bloomer is sometimes challenging. I’ve always been a little behind when it comes to what’s the “cool” new thing, and not good at them when I do catch up. Baggy pants? Check, enormous red jeans. Kingdom Come, Watchmen and Game of Thrones? Yeah, five-to-ten years after everyone else had already absorbed them. So why not a zombie book, well after the massive shambling wave of popularity has subsided? And not just any zombie book, but a Star Wars zombie book?

The nice part about huge pre-made universes, as any fan in any world knows, is that it’s pretty easy to slide in your own ideas and characters, whether they work or not. I’ve read a decent amount of fanfiction. The good is very good, so much so that it might make the original material better, and the bad is hopefully entertaining. Death Troopers is an odd case in between the two extremes.

It’s set mainly on a prison ship, an extremely wretched hive of scum and villainy. The descriptions of the inmates and their condition is bleak and pretty chilling. Two of the protagonists are Trig and Kale Londo, young “apprentices” to their conman father who have been locked up as his accomplices. Guardsman Jareth Sartoris, doctor Zahara Cody are apparently the only survivors of a gruesome plague that sweeps the ship, killing all of the crew and prisoners. Then the fun begins.

My main issue with this book is that it doesn’t HAVE to be set in Star Wars. It’s a zombie story that could easily be plopped into a jail anywhere else. The zombies are the selling point, not the universe in which they are set. That’s fine, it’s the point of the story, but it doesn’t make the book any better. Significant characters and locations from the movies are mentioned, but it only served to reinforce the place, not make it feel like part of a wider universe.

Zombies themselves are a tough subject, simply because they’ve been used so many times that wringing something new out of the idea is probably a grueling task. Schreiber does a good job in painting the setting and making the dead disgusting and scary, but not to a degree that they’re too much different from any other example of the genre. There are some clever changes to the standard “risen dead” zombies though, such as the learning curve of the formerly-dead. His characters are fairly sold (though I have to nitpick about one name: “Jareth Sartoris”? Has he never seen Final Sacrifice on MST3k?). The story is likewise decent, but has some parts that just feel like padding as the cast moves through the ship. Perhaps I’m too jaded to appreciate the horror of the situation he creates for them.

As with anything I review here, I’d encourage you to try it for yourself. It’s not terrible by any means and has some memorable scenes and ideas. Joe Schreiber clearly has talent, given that this is not his first book, but I just can’t shake the feeling that he built a zombie story and plugged in Star Wars elements (especially a few that made me roll my eyes somewhat-I am firmly anti-spoiler, so go look it up yourself if you want to know.) I’d try his other books, but Death Troopers can be lost in space.