Villain or Hero

It’s Emperor Mollusk Month, and that means, it’s time to talk about, you guessed it, Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain, dropping in stores and online on March 5th.  Order your copy today.  Or mark it on your calender.  Or just try really really hard to remember.  Whatever works best for you.

Today, I’d like to talk about the themes of the story.  I don’t generally get too much into this, but I’ve grown a wee bit sick lately in being  classified as a “fluff” writer.  I tried not to let it bother me, but after a certain point, a guy just has to say something.  I’m not out to defend myself or my work.  I’m just here to give you a perspective of why I wrote it and what it means to me.

To be certain, Emperor Mollusk is an absurd story set in an absurd universe.  It involves aliens, ray guns, mad science, and supervillainy.  I have no problem admitting that these things are strange and generally “not serious”.  And this is an adventure story about our hero, a space squid, attempting to stop our villain, a disembodied brain, from conquering the galaxy.  There is no hard science here.  And most elements of the story exist because I thought it would be fun or interesting to put them in there.

Despite this, Emperor Mollusk is not meant to be a trivial read.  It wrestles with some philosophical and existential dilemmas, and its protagonist is meant to be three-dimensional and nuanced, even if he is a supervillain.  And make no mistake on that.  Emperor IS a supervillain.  While he’s our hero, he also has a bad history.  He’s done some pretty horrible things in the past.  Nothing malicious or cruel.  Just utterly ruthless and morally questionable.

Let’s just put it out there.  Emperor’s resemblance to Minion from Megamind is going to catch a lot of people’s attention.  And since Megamind was the story of a supervillain reforming, the comparisons will be drawn.  Probably often.  I rather enjoyed the film, but while both Megamind and Emperor Mollusk are reformed supervillains, there is a very big difference between them.  Megamind is mostly a harmless villain.  He doesn’t really hurt anyone.  He just menaces a bit before being recaptured and sent to jail.  His villainy is explicitly of societal expectation, and his redemption isn’t all that difficult to buy because he was never truly a bad guy, just a guy who acted bad because he thought that’s what he should do.

Emperor Mollusk is a bad guy.  Or at least, he was.  He’s done a lot of bad things in his backstory, and he did one thing so utterly terrible that it became his transformative moment.  I won’t say what he did (won’t ruin the surprise), but I will say while he considered it a necessary evil, it basically ruined supervillainy as a “fun” thing to do.  It is at that moment when Emperor stops being a bad guy.  However, he’s still not exactly a good guy.  He’s not interested in redemption because he knows he can never be redeemed.

But fortunately for Emperor, he’s not the kind of guy to beat himself up over past mistakes.  He swims forward.  He protects a world he previously conquered until it can defend itself again.  And he tries to keep his own love of superscience in check.  Or at least keep any of his experiments from accidentally destroying the universe.

So maybe Emperor lives in a strange universe.  His best friend is a giant, cyborg centipede from the center of the earth.  His bodyguard / archenemy is a lizard woman from Venus.  And he regularly runs across mutant dinosaurs, giant plant monsters, and mummy queens.  But that doesn’t mean he’s just a goofball.

He’s a not-quite-bad guy with a lot of baggage, and his personal journey is one of self-discovery, mad science, and the quest for inner peace we all struggle with.  And just because he’s a squid from Neptune, it doesn’t mean his story or his universe is a joke.

Just ask the Saturnites.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Sounds great, can’t wait to read it!

  2. Michael Piszczek
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Every time I read a book like Harry Potter I knew what to expect. It’s kind of like going to the restaurant down the street. I know what I am going to get, I know I will enjoy it and to some extent I know what will happen. I also know that in a couple of months I will be bored with it and go somewhere else. I like your work a lot better. I don’t know what to expect but I know I will enjoy it and I know I am going to be surprised. Your work is different and refreshing. When I talk about your books with friends (I have plugged it three times this month) I always tell them that your stories are original with great characters and plots. That is hard to find these days. There are a lot of writers in Hollywood churning out crap. If they are going to spend 200Million on a blockbuster they should drop a couple million on a good team of writers first.

    Oh and if Hollywood ever asks you to sell out and put one of your books on the big screen, just do it. You deserve it. Ian Fleming survived the first film version of Casino Royal and we know you can too.

  3. Chrissa S
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    The idea of not mistaking a character’s story for a joke hit home–none of my favorite characters from your books have every seemed that way. Wry or otherwise funny in their reactions or perspectives, perhaps. I find myself sometimes beginning one with the idea that it’s going to be MST3K silly and then remembering otherwise, to my great delight.

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