Larry Doyle’s Go, Mutants!

cover, Go, Mutants!“People are human beings . . . even if they aren’t.”

You remember high school. Knowledge you were sure would never be needed once you could grab your diploma and really start living, dances that were so much better in theory than actuality, that one teacher that could literally snap your head off because she was a giant praying mantis. . . . Don’t remember that last part? That’s because you didn’t go to Manhattan High, the most intergalactically integrated school in the universe, or at least in the United States. It’s ground zero for the high school kids in Larry Doyle’s newest look at teen life Go, Mutants!, a look at how life would be if nuclear radiation and alien invasion was our way of life.

Go, Mutants! has aliens, monsters, giant insects, zombies, science run amok, high school romance — what’s not to love? Uh, nothing. This book is about as perfect as it gets when it comes to sheer entertainment value. Take the “hipper than thou but that’s okay” comedic style of Good Omens, add Mystery Science Theater 3000 snark, and hit frappé. Delicious. A great addition to anyone’s summer beach read pile, though be warned that once the pages start turning you’d be hard-pressed to notice anything else around you.

The story centers on J!m, a teenage boy who is blue for two important reasons: Marie, the object of his affection, is going to the dance with another guy, and he’s the son of Andy Ra’, a Regulese alien, so blue skin comes with the territory. (So does molting every so often and being greasier than a slice of cheap pizza.) But J!m’s dad isn’t in the picture anymore, ever since the whole “tried to destroy the world” thing. Luckily, J!m has friends he can rely on, including Johnny, a radioactive monkey-boy/ape-man; Jelly, a mass best described as Son Of The Blob; and Marie, his best friend who doesn’t seem to know that he’s is in love with her. Soon enough, puberty hits J!m and several other classmates at MHS, leading to a climax that even has the President of the United States in on the action. Does J!m get the girl, does he destroy the world . . . or both? Just keep your mind open and don’t be surprised if there are a few twists and turns along the way — just enjoy the ride.

This mish-mash of history, B-movie mayhem and slapstick might have turned into a real mess if it wasn’t done properly. Luckily, Larry Doyle has a way with the subject matter, and a seemingly limitless knowledge of mid-20th century history and culture. As with Joss Whedon, I wonder what the author’s life was like back in high school. It couldn’t have been pretty. If it was, this book wouldn’t be such a damn good read, because he frlggin’ nails it; he’s got teen angst down to an art form, in all of its hideous splendor. The non-human beings in the story aren’t any better or worse than the humans, though in some instances they’re better people than the human characters could ever be. I got so invested in the characters of J!m, Johnny and Jelly that I wanted to keep reading about them, which may be why I felt a bit let down at the end of the story. As with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when you start to really care about the characters, when the story is so entertaining, it’s tough for any ending to provide the payoff that will make it okay to say goodbye.

The fact that almost all of the main characters are aliens, monsters or mutants isn’t that big a deal, since everyone feels not-of-this-earth when they’re a teenager. Doyle’s ability to twist Atomic Age historical figures like Marylin Monroe, Howard Hughes and Gerald Ford keeps things off-kilter, so you’re never really sure what will happen next. And that’s a good thing. Another good thing is the way Doyle sends out so many historical and cultural shout-outs, like a gang member flashing signs. He’s got just about everything you can think of from those days: Farenheit 451 to Our Miss Brooks, The Thing to “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” They’re not screaming at you to notice them, but instead are folded nicely into the story so readers can stumble across them and smile. GORT, Reptilicus, Mothra and Brian Wilson are here, along with the Hokey Pokey, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a buncha other people, places and things I’m too lazy to list, along with a slew I’m sure I wasn’t cool enough to pick up on.

The comic-book style cover art and old school chapter design lets you in on the fact that there’s something groovy going on right out of the gate. I’m a big fan of the clips of exploitation flick movie posters used as in-book art or chapter openings: “Teenager or Terrifying Beast?” “Mated to Wild Atomic Energy!” “Flaming Fury From The Skies!” are just a few of the bits used to open each new chapter. Along with keeping the campy fun rolling with these tidbits, the quotes themselves describe the action in each chapter. It’s a nice touch, and it works well.

As with Doyle’s first book I Love You, Beth Cooper, Go, Mutants! is slated for a movie adaptation, though this one is only in development at this point in time. As much as I’d like to see this get turned into a film, since so much of the plot cribs from the best/worst of the genre, I wonder if the celluloid treatment could do this book justice. But what’s the worst that can happen, that it turns into a Z-grade schlockfest? Somehow I think Doyle would see it as only fitting. But don’t wait for the movie to hit your local drive-in, curl up with Go, Mutants! now and be one of the hep cats; it’s a blast!

(Ecco, 2010)

[Update: Sorry, Denise, a film treatment of Go, Mutants! remains listed as “in development.” Get with it, FX/Hulu!]

Denise Kitashima Dutton

Denise Kitashima Dutton has been a reviewer since 2003, and hopes to get the hang of things any moment now. She believes that bluegrass is not hell in music form, and that beer is better when it's a nitro pour. Besides GMR, you can find her at Atomic Fangirl,, or at that end seat at the bar, multi-tasking with her Kindle.

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