The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination
Edited by John Joseph Adams
This was a real treat to read. It’s a collection of short stories by various authors, including some of my favorites — Diana Gabaldon, Austin Grossman, Naomi Novik — and all about mad scientists or megalomaniacal supervillains trying to take over the world. Determined to show them all just who’s really mad.
Like any collection of stories, there are hits and misses. The Austin Grossman story that starts it off is, not surprisingly, one of the best — Grossman wrote the excellent “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” also about supervillains — and Seanan McGuire’s “Laughter at the Academy” was brilliantly constructed as a series of connected shorts. The Gabaldon story, which ties into her Outlander series, was only thinly connected to the theme of mad science — it’s about the Comte St. Germain and Master Raymond, who are alchemists and wizards in France in the 1700’s — but was superbly written nonetheless. On the other end is a crappy piece from L.A. Banks and a stupid attempt at a joke by Harry Turtledove, and two failed attempts to work an angle on classics, one about the daughters of classic mad scientists — Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, and Moreau — and one about Superman and Lex Luthor; the first was boring and the second melodramatic and still boring.
Some are heartbreaking: one called “Mofongo Knows,” about the very tail end of a supervillain’s life; and one called “Instead of a Loving Heart,” about a robot built to serve a mad scientist, which is made of the brain of an artist trapped in a mechanical body. Some are genuinely funny, especially “The Angel of Death Has a Business Plan,” about a supervillain trying to save up for her own world domination scheme by working as a life coach for other would-be supervillains. Some had a really good twist, particularly “Letter to the Editor” by David D. Levine, “Rural Singularity” by Alan Dean Foster, and “Rocks Fall” by Naomi Novik, which had both a surprise in the supervillain’s mentality, and then a surprising ending. There’s some good action in Daniel H. Wilson’s “The Executor” and some nice romance in “Blood and Stardust” by Laird Barron. And there’s some frustrating and disappointing attempts, particularly “Homo Perfectus” by David Farland which is a little too dirty-old-man-y, “The Pittsburgh Technology” by Jeffrey Ford, which makes its point early on and then just keeps slapping you in the face with it, and “The Food Taster’s Boy” by Ben H. Winters which has nobody even remotely resembling a sympathetic protagonist: you want everyone in the story to fail and lose, and even when they do, they don’t lose enough.
The editing was good, though each story is prefaced by an introductory entry that completely spoils the story, and which I’d recommend skipping. But they were good stories, and the book as a whole had a generally good arc — though it does end on a down note, unfortunately. But maybe that is fitting, for a book about madmen who seek to destroy the world. Overall, I’d recommend it.