Science Gone Too Far

madWe [heart] mad scientists. And we especially [heart] mad scientists who want to rule the world. What can we say? We’ve always had a thing for bad boys wearing white lab coats.

But only one of the 22 mad villains in this anthology actually achieves world dominance (a despot known simply as “C” in a story called “The Food Taster’s Boy”). As a “how-to” guide, the book is a complete and utter failure.

In all other ways, however, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is a terrific collection of stories featuring a motley assortment of mad geniuses, monster women, and talking gorillas. As such, the hubris of the book’s title can be easily forgiven.

A big chunk of the stories are told from the perspective of the villain. And that’s helpful. In most superhero fiction, the hero is the passive character. He is forever waiting for his adversary to set the plot in motion. Mad villains, on the other hand, may be hunchbacks, trolls, or robots but they’re always good at being the catalyst for an exciting adventure. Writes Seanan McGuire: “A mad mathematician can cripple a nation with an equation, a mad linguist can drive a city insane with a radio ad, and a mad musical theorist can control the world with a single Billboard hit.”

A lot of the stories in this collection are also a hoot. But that makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s always fun to poke holes in raging megalomania. Contributions from Harry Turtledove, David D. Levine, Heather Lindsley, L.A. Banks, Genevieve Valentine, Laird Barron, and Grady Hendrix are all wickedly funny. Of the bunch, “Ancient Equations” probably made us laugh the most. In Banks’ story, Ernest Lassiter is a horny fellow who hasn’t had a girlfriend in a long time (he refuses to “compromise himself with human drama” he says). Instead of trawling eHarmony for a date, he decides to resurrect the Hindu goddess Kali for a little intimate companionship. But when Kali materializes one night (lured by a Bose stereo and a pinch of sea salt), she quickly assesses the situation for what it is. Lassiter’s just a loser who wants to take over the world and get a little action on the side. “You motherfuckers are all the same,” she says before teaching the hapless villain some manners. Let that be a lesson to all the mad scientists reading this review: weird science is no substitute for love.

We only have one small complaint concerning this book. Most of the stories in The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination are short enough to finish in one sitting. They are perfect, say, for nightly bedtime reading. There is one story, however, that is flagrantly afoul of this template. “Space Between” by Diana Gabaldon is a million pages long and will take readers a few late nights to get through. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a fine story, but we question its inclusion here. For some reason the editor has decided to place it conspicuously in the middle of his book. But as a centerpiece, it is disruptive and a little bit annoying. Heck, at 53,000 words it is arguably not even a “short” story at all.

[The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination / Edited by John Joseph Adams / First Printing: February 2013 / ISBN: 9780765326447]

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