"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Four stories from The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius (2013) Edited by John Joseph Adam

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius (2013)

Edited by John Joseph Adam 

* * *

"Mofongo Knows" by Grady Hendrix recalls some of Kim Newman's early stories: "Famous Monsters" (1988), "The Original Dr Shade" (1990), and "The Pierce Arrow Stalled, And... " (1995). It's an elegant exercise in poignant belatedness, coolly clocking the afterlives of adventurers.

      It's been thirty years without a whiff of Theresa Savage, yet here's her smell again like a golden oldie.    "We need to talk," she says, standing outside Mofongo's cage with three men in dark suits.

    "Let me guess," Mofongo says, sitting up. He is excited to have some new playmates, especially ones who wear suits. None of his visitors ever wear suits, and he hasn't seen a human being in forty hours. He can mentally dampen his hunger and thirst but his boredom knows no bounds. He points to them in order. "CIA, FBI, NSA."

    "CIA, FBI, and Animal Control," the youngest suit man says to him.

    "I am not an animal," Mofongo says.

    "You're not exactly human, either," the man says.

    Mofongo's nostrils flare.

    "What is this, Theresa?" he asks. "Why did you come back?"

    "Dad's dead," she says.


    "He's dead," she repeats.

    "Who did it?"

    "A bottle of Southern Comfort and a handful of Vicodin," she says. "Day before yesterday."

    "Wrong," Mofongo says. "One of his enemies, returned for revenge."

    "Mo, I appreciate that you're upset but this isn't part of you guys' soap opera. He killed himself."

    "No," Mofongo says, and he feels fear because he really does not know who did it. Old allies can turn into new enemies, old friends can become new foes. Men of Adventure are no stranger to psychosis. "One of his enemies is here. I may also be in danger. You must free me so I can defend myself."

    "I can't let you come to the funeral," she says, ignoring him. "People will want to know why a talking ape is there and you're kind of hard to explain."

    "I don't want to go to his funeral," Mofongo snarls. "I want to defend myself!"

    "I'm sorry," Theresa says. "I really am. On the plus side, we're getting you out of here."

    "Yes, free to defend myself. Free to destroy my enemies."

    "There's a Primate Refuge outside Austin," the Animal Control man says. "They've agreed to take you. You'll fit right in. That chimpanzee who did all those Geico ads is there."

    "Chimpanzees? Chimpanzees! Masturbating, shit-flinging, pants-wearing attention whores! I am Mofongo: Gorilla of the Mind. I am a threat to mankind! I'm on the UN watch list!"

    "You've been off that list for twenty-six years," the CIA agent says. "No one remembers you anymore."

    "If men do not still feel fear," Mofongo snarls, "why do they send the CIA? Why the FBI?"

    The FBI agent shrugs. "I just wanted to see a talking gorilla," he says.

* * *

"Blood & Stardust" by Laird Barron

     "Mary," he says. "You double-checked the array, I presume?" He scarcely acknowledges my answer; his mind is already three jumps ahead, and besides, my loyalty is unquestioned. "One of my specimens expired last night— but all is not lost. My revivification project awaits!"

    "Remember not to talk on the phone during the storm," I say. "I just saw an account of a woman who was fried doing dishes. Ball lightning exploded from the sink and set her on fire. It traveled through the pipes."

    Dr. Kob stares at me, his beady eyes narrowed. He rubs his temples as if experiencing a migraine. "You're watching the talk shows again. You know how I frown upon that, my dear. Less daydreaming, more physical exertion. Remind me to have Pelt assign you additional duties. Idle hands and all that."

    "Sure, gimme a pitchfork and I'll swamp out the stables."

    "Never mention pitchforks again!"

    "Or torches."

    "Out! Before I lose patience for your belligerence. And tomorrow, take the rod into our lovely village for quality-assurance testing. I've altered the design. It possesses more jolt than ever."

    "As you command," I say sweetly. After he wanders off, I chew my cup and swallow it piece by piece. It kind of frightens me that my Pavlovian dread of the Doctor has ebbed, replaced by an abiding irritation. This is very dangerous. He's a middle-aged megalomaniacal child— an L'enfant Terrible. We know what rotten children do with their toys, right?

    He gave me a puppy, once. I loved her, and often imagined how she had crept into the caves of my ancestors to escape the cold and the dark. I accidentally broke the puppy's neck. It's probably a good thing he didn't hand me the little brother I always wanted.

Lab assistant Mary turns the tables on her employer, then finds a circus to join. Barron is at his ease with the material, calm and in control, far away from Universal Studios clich├ęs. The tone is slangy, first-person, and assured.

Readers curious about subtle handling of sex and gender roles will appreciate the human sympathies the story portrays.

* * *

"Rural Singularity" by Alan Dean Foster is a droll story about a smalltown reporter following-up on a two-headed chicken story. He meets the farmer and the farmer's precocious daughter, Suzie.

     She showed him the antigravity projector the size of a cell phone, just like the one in her pocket that had kept the miniature solar system hovering above her palm. She showed him the homunculus Santa and elves that she only animated at Christmas. Showed him the robot cat that kept the barn free of rats and mice, and the extractor that drew water from the seemingly desiccated air, and the candy maker that spun elaborate gourmet treats out of plain sugar and simple flavorings. She showed him the small thermonuclear device.

     "But I can't get enough radium or tritium out of the old watches dad buys for me a flea markets so I'm gonna try and build my own centrifuges to concentrate enough U-235 to ninety percent from the ore in the hills around here." She eyed her father. "For my next birthday dad promised me enough lead to make some shielding."

     Gilcrease looked at his host. Parker shrugged. "It's harmless, I'm sure. Another one of her toys."

     "Yeah," Gilcrease mumbled. "Harmless." He was eyeing the girl not just out of curiosity now, but warily. "Suzie, some of these things, some of your toys— aren't you afraid they might be a little bit dangerous?"

* * *

"Ancient Equations" by L. A. Banks

Ernest Lassiter, engineering genius with access to the "Akashic records," gets ready to work a spell to save the world:

[....]There was nothing wrong with his mind and he was no extremist, no matter what the psychiatrists had said. He did not have a breakdown. Thinking differently than the zombified public did not mean he'd gone around the bend. He'd had an awakening on the job, is all . . . one that brought him clarity!

It's the usual mishmash of self-righteous social-misfit moralizing:

[....]The Bildebergers and the Illuminati still ran the entire fucking world. They were the devil, and they got regular people to buy into being blind consumers, suckered them into debt, poisoned them for profit, made them so unhappy with their lives, their looks, their bodies, their families that they had to spend money— somehow, somewhere in the food chain of greed— to make themselves feel better.

     Somebody needed to do something. Somebody really smart could fuck up their decadent Roman orgy party forever....

It's remarkable that a story by a professional writer,  selected for a professional anthology, cannot do more than spin its wheels for nineteen pages.


7 December 2021

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