Go, Mutants! (2010) – By Duane L. Martin

Being a huge classic b-movie fan, when I was contacted and asked if I’d be interested in doing a book review of Go, Mutants!.  Of course I was intrigued by the idea since it involved all sorts of classic b-movie style beings, so I said yes even though I don’t normally do book reviews simply because of the amount of time they consume.  I also want to start off by stating here and now, that because I’m such an avid fan of classic b-movies, I’ll probably tend to come off as overly critical of various aspects of this book.  So those of you, like me, who are avid fans of classic b-movies can pretty much take my words to heart.  The casual readers among you can take some of these criticisms with a grain of salt, as the more casual readers may not care so much about some of the things I take issue with in this book.  That said, let me tell you what it’s about.

The story takes place in what is essentially an alternate reality, where in the early 50’s, a UFO came down to Earth in the middle of a baseball game, and after zapping what would have been a home run ball, it landed on the field at which time the alien stepped out and introduced himself to the world.  This alien, called Andy Ra, became the toast of society.  He hung out with celebrities and the intelligentsia of the day, did talk shows, and even did interviews in men’s magazines.  He supplied the Earth with some wonderful advanced technology, and he also gave the people of Earth some friendly advice too.  He told them to destroy all their nuclear weapons, because there were elements around the universe, especially the martians, who were growing concerned over their nuclear development.  They did, and the Earth was invaded anyway, leading to huge wars with the aliens, and Andy Ra was made the fall guy for all of it.  The lies about his involvement spread and grew with each passing year until it became ingrained into society.

Something else that became ingrained into society were a wide variety of aliens from other worlds as well as mutants created by man’s own hand.  After years of war, things calmed down and the aliens, mutants and humans learned to co-habitate together, even if the relationship was often strained.

Now, Andy Ra had a son with a cat woman.  This son’s name was J!m.  He looked much like his father.  He was blue with an enlarged brain and he could consume petroleum products through a proboscis that extended from his finger.  He was brilliant but physically weak (until later in the book), but unfortunately…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.  J!m had a variety of friends an enemies, including his human love interest Marie, his half ape best friend, Johnny, a teenage spawn of The Blob named Jelly and the sheriff’s daughter Rusty.  They all attended high school together, and as is typical with any school, there were some bullies that made their lives miserable.  The leader of the bullies was Russ, the sheriff’s son.  He and his friends Tubesteak, Tubesteak’s girlfriend and Marie’s friend Sandra Jane, Ice, Toad and others all did their best to make J!m’s life miserable.  The book mostly focuses on J!m’s depression, his desire to be with Marie, his search for the truth about his father and the bullying he receives in the process.  The whole story is too involved to get into in broad detail here, but that’s the jist of it.

Now, here’s the actual review part…

I wanted to like this book, I really did, and I did to a point.  I mean, it’s ok, and it’s got all kinds of great aliens and mutants and even cameos and mentions of a variety of different classic b-movie creatures of varying notoriety.  What’s not to like, right?  Well, quite a few things actually.  I’m going to go through all the things I didn’t like before getting to a few of the things I did like, so I can at least try to end this review on a bit of a positive note.

My biggest problem with this book is that it’s long on current events and short on back story.  There’s SO much going on in this book, and yet explanations about why things are happening, why things are the way they are, what various things are and where they came from, etc…, are either left to the imagination, or explained in minor detail as the story progresses.  This leads to a lot of not only confusion, but distraction while you’re trying to read the story, because part of your mind is busy trying to process the confusing aspects of the story while another part is busy trying to take in everything you’re reading.  Some additional details about various things like the Plex (an advanced form of internet) and a variety of other gadgets and creatures mentioned in the book would have gone a long way to coloring in the details of this alternate version of reality.

Another problem I had was that the main character J!m.  Even though he was a mutant teenager, mostly just had normal teenage problems and emotions.  His body was changing, he had relationship issues, and he was depressed all the time.  In fact, you could seriously even call him an emo kid.  It just got really tiresome reading over and over about how depressed he was and how he wanted a relationship with Marie so bad and how nothing in his life made sense and no one understood him.  Oh, and by the way, he also, in typical emo fashion, dreamed of being a film maker so he could bring his broodings to the screen.  Go figure.

Now, something I really love about classic b-movies is the innocent fun they always managed to deliver to delighted viewers of all ages.  You’ll find little of that here.  What you will find are a bunch of teenagers, both human and otherwise, who seem to care about little more than having sex as much as possible, with whoever or whatever they can have it with.  It’s also revealed at one point that the bulge in J!m’s pants that everyone thought was a huge penis for years, turned out to be a tail and that he didn’t really have any penis at all.  I’m not a prude in the least.  In fact, I’m very much anti-prudism, however, when dealing with a classic b-movie themed story, losing that sense of innocence and fun that the classic b-movies had was not only a huge disappointment, but it also just felt out of place.  I could understand a bit of the sexuality being played at here and there, but it’s simply pervasive throughout much of the book.

The book also jumps around from this to that to the other thing.  It wasn’t constantly jumping around, but it did it enough to become slightly frustrating.  I also found the ending to be rather weak.  After they find J!m’s father, the story shifts to his father’s first person perspective and narration without any real transition.  It was just suddenly being told by him rather than from an outside view, and it all felt rather thrown together without much thought.  I remember thinking when I finished the book, "What?  That’s it?"

Something else that didn’t often work (though it did sometimes) were the cameos and mentions of other famous b-movie aliens and monsters.  They felt out of place and unnecessary to the story.  It was sometimes fun to see them in there, but more often than not, they just simply didn’t seem to fit.  They’ll also be largely meaningless to those readers who aren’t familiar with the characters and monsters mentioned.  It would have been better to focus on the characters in this particular story and developing them really well rather than throwing in cameo references that many people are not likely to get or understand.

Oh, and Speaking of cameos, there are a variety of politicians named in the book.  John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, etc…, as well as some celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.  I know it’s an alternate reality and all, and it’s ok to throw these people in with a different history than what we’re familiar with in our reality, but I did notice that there was a definite slant toward painting the conservatives to be a bunch of idiots or douche bags, while the liberals or artsy types were painted in a much nicer way.  This was highly unnecessary and will likely irritate some of the more conservative readers of the book, at least to some small degree.  It would have probably been better to use made up leaders since it’s an alternate reality, and to not really specify if they were conservative or liberal.  They could have been neutral politicians who were ignorant or whatever without becoming a slight against any specific historical figures.

Lastly, while I’m a writer and I have a large vocabulary and didn’t have a problem with comprehending the wording, I did find some of the language in the book and the way certain things were expressed to be rather thick verbally.  Like, thick to point where it might affect your average, casual reader’s ability to understand exactly what’s being expressed.  Some of the ways things were worded and some of the words used here and there could have been simplified a bit to enhance the readability for the casual readers, who are, I’m assuming anyway, the ones this book will be aimed at and marketed to.  I’m not saying the story itself needs to be dumbed down, but the expression of it could be simplified a bit in certain parts.  It’s not like an every sentence issue, but it’s something that does find its way into the writing now and then throughout the book.  I love using more complicated and expressive dialogue in my writings as much as the next guy, but there are appropriate places for that, and in a book of this nature, it just doesn’t fit as well as it would in say, a more serious, less fantastic story that’s geared toward the more serious readers rather than the casual ones.

Now, I know my criticisms may sound rather harsh, but I want to assure you all that I didn’t hate this book.  Even though it had many problems, I actually quite liked certain aspects of it.  Some of the characters were quite fun, there were some interesting relationship aspects between certain characters and there’s a huge variety of inventive aliens and mutants to be had.  J!m’s best friend Johnny, as it turns out, was the son of King Kong and Ann Darrow (Fay Wray’s character in King Kong).  The relationship between Johnny and J!m was quite nice.  They were best friends since childhood and Johnny was always there when J!m needed to be protected from bullies or whatever.  They had a very special bond and relationship that was easy to feel in the writing.  Their friend Jelly was another fun character.  He was a segment of The Blob that flew off and survived after the military destroyed the main body of the thing.  It was taken in and adopted by human parents and it grew into a teenager that generally assumed a human like form and attended school just like a normal kid.  The character itself was often joking around and being silly, and as such was sort of the comic relief of the story.  J!m’s relationship with Marie also had the right feel to it.  It was that whole, "They both wanted it but were too afraid to come right out and say it," sort of a thing, which caused plenty of angst throughout the story.  J!m relationship with his mother was also very warm and deep, even though J!m was too emo to appreciate it throughout much of the book.

J!m’s physical quirks and changes were something else that were both well described and quite often had quite a bit of amusement value to them.  For example, early on in the book he shed his skin, and it tried to crawl away and escape before his mother caught it and stuffed it down the garbage disposal.  At another point in the story, his hand was ripped off on a car door handle.  He promptly started growing a new hand, but the old hand got into the car and kept turning up now and then until, toward the end of the book, it actually played a key role in one of the major events.

While some of the characters tended to be quite annoying, it was actually the characters, their quirks and the special relationships that some of them shared that saved this book for me.  When I finished reading it, I was almost sorry to be done with it.  I would have liked a longer, more detailed ending that made a bit more sense, and maybe an epilogue detailing the aftermath of the events, or one that took us into the future to see what the characters were doing down the road…or something.  It would have been nice anyway, but oh well.

I know I came off like I was hammering this book when I was talking about all the problems, and in fact…I was.  I do have some definite issues with this story and the way things were handled.  However, that doesn’t mean I think it’s a horrible book.  It’s not.  I just don’t think it lived up to the great potential that a story like this had.  Instead, it tried too hard to be edgy, and it just didn’t work.  The reason classic b-movies are fun is because they’re innocent, and despite having an ok story, that innocence just simply got lost in this book.

Can I recommend it?  Sure.  It’s not really a bad story at all, and it’s definitely worth checking out.  Just don’t go into it expecting that classic b-movie innocence, because you’ll be disappointed.  If you go into it knowing what it is and what to expect, you’ll probably get a lot more enjoyment out of it.

The book was written by Larry Doyle and is being published by HarperCollins.  It will be released on June 22nd, and will be available from Amazon and all the other usual outlets.