Larry Doyle's 'Go, Mutants!' and Meg Cabot's 'Insatiable'

By Elizabeth Hand
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1.In Go, Mutants! (Ecco, $23.99), Larry Doyle's very funny new novel, aliens arrive at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951, during the National League playoff, short-circuiting one of the greatest events in major league baseball (the famous game-winning home run by Bobby Thompson) and wreaking havoc with the rest of humanity as an afterthought. Twenty years later, after the Martian Conflict, the Giant Ant Problem and the Pod Situation, among other disputes, Marilyn Monroe is a presidential hopeful, and Nancy Reagan doesn't just resemble a slinky feline alien -- she is one. Nine-tenths of the planet's population remains human. Everyone else, including 17-year-old J!m, the novel's slouching, blue-skinned antihero, can trace his/her/its ancestry to an off-planet sire or siren -- in J!m's case, the aliens' long-dead leader. A Regulean without a cause, J!m is James Dean channeled by the cast of "Mystery Science Theater 3000": "There were plenty of girls that J!m could get, the kind attracted to off-species bad boys." But J!m longs for Marie, human daughter of a mad scientist who teaches high school biology and lusts after J!m's sexy alien mother. And not even an interstellar intervention can change the cruel social dynamics of high school, not when the resident fat boy is the Blob, your sex-ed teacher is the Deadly Mantis, and the star of the football team is an 800-pound gorilla.

A former editor of National Lampoon and longtime contributor to the New Yorker, Doyle has written for "The Simpsons," "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Looney Tunes." His previous novel, "I Love You, Beth Cooper," was a fond spoof of John Hughes's hit teen flicks, which then became a hit teen flick of its own. I thought I was the only one who remembered the name of Gorgo's mother (it's Ogra), but Doyle appears to have spent his childhood memorizing the Million Dollar Movie and Chiller Theatre, along with every justly forgotten film noir or grindhouse cheeseball that has disgraced a cathode ray screen. With its Robot Roll Call of cinematic monsters and nonstop in-jokes that call for name checking of obscure pop-culture icons ("the esteemed Shakespearean actor Vic Perrin"), "Go, Mutants!" moves at faster-than-light speed. If Earth ever needs an Interplanetary Humor Ambassador, Larry Doyle's the guy.

2.A sleek paranormal page-turner languishes within the 450 pages of Meg Cabot's Insatiable (Morrow, $22.99), a novel so heavily padded it appears to be wearing a fat suit. Cabot, author of the best-selling "Princess Diaries" series (among many others), creates winning characters and sprightly dialogue in her latest novel, but she burdens it with an ungainly narrative that lurches when it should fly, or at least flit. Meena Harper is a writer for the eponymous long-running soap opera "Insatiable." Recently passed over for a promotion, she's stuck with a ratings war and a directive from her bimbo boss to create a vampire plotline to hot things up.

Life imitates the Dark Arts when Meena's Park Avenue neighbors invite her to a dinner party. There she meets a Romanian prince with an impeccable bloodline; he's in town to investigate a series of killings that threatens the fragile truce between various factions of the undead and the mortal world. He falls hard for Meena, who has her own stake in the supernatural: She's a clairvoyant whose ability to envision the deaths of others earned her the high school nickname You're Gonna Die Girl. Cabot surrounds these star-crossed lovers with an amusing supporting cast, including Meena's slacker brother, vampire-battling emissaries from the Vatican and -- best of all -- a socialite vampire with a Southern drawl who's a major contributor to N.Y.C. charities. The novel's inert pace could benefit from defibrillation, but you have to love a vampire who knows that the way to a woman's femoral artery is through a $5,000 Marc Jacobs leather tote. In red, of course.

3.A bunch of Bay Area underachievers undergo a zombie makeover in Amelia Beamer's first novel, The Loving Dead (Night Shade, $14.95), starting with bi-curious Kate, who gets more than she bargained for when she hooks up with her belly dancing instructor, Jamie, at a costume party. "You know, I think our generation is possibly a little too concerned about zombies," Kate remarks shortly before Jamie's tongue turns "the color of well-done burger." This might ordinarily be a turnoff, but the zombie retrovirus is both sexually transmitted and sexually arousing: In Beamer's world, Eros and Thanatos are a lot more than just Facebook buddies. And that raises some difficult relationship issues. "Real friends kill friends who are zombies," Kate informs her boyfriend when she realizes he's at risk. By that point, the uptick in the undead has caused gridlock on the Bay Bridge, and a handful of savvy survivalists are using Alcatraz as a safe zone. The novel's tone seesaws between arch humor and straightforward horror, occasionally at the cost of narrative tension. But the dialogue is sharp, and there's a nifty coda that will leave readers eager to see more from this promising newcomer.

Hand's novel "Illyria" has just been published.

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