Emperor of the Universe. (Book One of a Trilogy) David Lubar, Author.
July 2, 2019 Macmillan Starscape Tor/Forge. 368 pages. $13.99 hardcover;
also available in digital format. Grades 4-7.
A boy, his gerbil, and two pounds of ground beef find themselves at the center of David Lubar’s loopy and witty intergalactic funfest!
Seventh grader Nicholas V. Landrew of Yelm, Washington, is no ordinary kid, but it’s not his fault (if it were, he’d take responsibility—he’s that kind of kid, thanks to author David Lubar). His parents—one half of a Beatles parody group called the Beegles who, of course, wear beagle masks and sing Beatles songs involving dogs—are on tour in Australia, and having been bounced between Aunt Lucy and Uncle Bruce, neither of whom really want to deal a twelve-year old, Nicholas finds himself in a life-changing situation.
While rummaging through the refrigerator, he discovers his pet gerbil Henrietta isn’t in his shirt pocket, where she normally is. At first, he doesn’t think much of it, but after taking out a “two-pound family-sized package of vacuum-sealed fresh-ground hamburger meat” and placing it in Henrietta’s cage, a laser-bright flash of purple light (just like the earlier one he hadn’t seen that had abducted Henrietta) makes the meat disappear. So, what’s kid to do but squeeze into the cage and hope he’ll be able to find Henrietta? (And the meat.)
Transported to somewhere in the galaxy—or some galaxy—Nicholas recovers Henrietta, who by the grace of space can speak and is surprisingly snarky, and the meat, who also by the grace of space can speak and has fleeting memories of its previous life somewhere like a meadow. To rescue his, um, friends, he is forced to stomp on the Craborzi (caterpillar-like aliens with tentacles sporting claws), killing them (with regret), in order to make an escape. And that’s where the chase for Nicholas, Destroyer of Worlds, begins all over, all across, and all around the universe, in a get-away spacecraft courtesy of a social-media-follower-crazed Menmarian space pirate named Clave, who posts his exploits and whereabouts every chance he gets.
During Clave’s stops around the universe, Nicholas meets or evades Yewpees, Zefinorans, Beradaxians, Zengs, Theribans, and other outlandishly shaped aliens. He has a conversation with a leader who has assumed the name President Nixon and meets his Vice President, Gluteus Sofacushion. He is schmoozed by a talent agent named Morglob Sputum. Meanwhile, the Emperor of the Universe, His Hugeness Zrilber Monospokidokapusimus, is dying.
Nicholas learns about and experiences planet scorchers, hyperjumps, j-cubes, and an Amazon-like mega-corporation called Thinkerator. And yet, throughout these madcap adventures, Nicholas tries (sometimes successfully and most times frustratingly) to apply diplomacy, logic, and desperate kindness, turning his once-fugitive status into something … to be continued in the next installment.
Nicholas, on the surface, is a typical seventh grade kid who casually embraces the strangeness of his home life, loves sci-fi movies, and is curious about the world around him. With those attributes, it’s not so bizarre to find him fighting off blobby aliens or strange beings that, in their own ways, are fighting for survival in this tip-of-the-hat to Douglas Adams. Blanks are filled in between chapters by a ubiquitous, omniscient narrator who lectures-not lectures, giving the reader additional information about and insights into the places and beings found along this lively and mind-bending journey.
It’s a wild ride from here to there and back again, filled with humor and punctuated with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Although the cover art speaks to readers younger than the content’s target, kids who crave the different, the adventurous, the truly zany, out-there tales of worlds unknown to mere mortals, will gravitate toward this first entry of hold-onto-your-hat-(and-your-gerbil-and-your-two-pounds-of-ground-beef) excitement. Phew!
Book Two of the trilogy is under construction at this time. No publication date is available.