Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Published by Tordotcom on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Daryl Gregory's The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.
It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?
Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.
It’s not a surprise to say that this story ties back to The Island of Dr. Moreau, a classic mixture of SF and horror by H.G. Wells. The punch in the gut at the end is the WAY in which it reaches back and grabs the reader by the heart – and the throat.
But that’s all the way at the end. Along the way it’s pretty easy to lose sight of that past while being completely immersed in the book’s very wild and extremely woolly present.
And I’m not just talking about the WildBoyZ themselves – as wild and definitely woolly – or at least furry – as some of them are. I’m not even talking about their “rabid fans” who are, in their own ways, even stranger than the Boyz they follow.
Oh no, I’m talking about the world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and boy bands. If you’ve ever wondered whether the members of boy bands are cloned instead of merely born and nipped and tucked and botoxed and trained. Or however else it might actually happen that may honestly be weirder than this story.
In the middle of all of the sheer WTF’ery of a boy band on tour, there’s a murder mystery. A real, honest-to-goodness police procedural in a case and a place where all of the police’s normal procedures have been kicked out a penthouse window because 1) the victim is the evil, grasping manager of the above mentioned boy band, and every single one of the WildBoyZ is a suspect; and 2) the murder happens in Las Vegas, which isn’t a place where real world rules apply anyway – even if those rules applied to the hottest band EVAR. Which they don’t.
It’s the police, especially Detectives Luce Delgado and her partner, who hold this story together, even as they attempt to hold the WildBoyZ in Sin City long enough to figure out whodunnit and how.
But it’s the why of the whole thing that kicks the reader in the teeth at the end.
Escape Rating A+: I haven’t read a mashup between SF and Mystery that was this much fun since Bimbos of the Death Sun, and that’s a very long time ago indeed. But where Bimbos uses SF, or rather an SF convention, as the setting for an otherwise traditional murder mystery so it can poke fun at the genre, The Album of Dr. Moreau is SF after all, just with a murder on top rather like a 200 proof cherry on top of a drugged and drunken sundae.
The SF is in the boyz themselves. However they came to exist – which isn’t revealed until the end – the kind of genetic manipulation required to blend animal and human DNA into a person with traits from both sides of that equation is science gone in a direction we haven’t managed yet. (And this is what this story takes from its progenitor. You don’t have to read The Island of Dr. Moreau to get into the Album. If you’re not familiar with the barebones of the older story, the summary in Wikipedia is more than enough to get a reader up to speed.)
So Dolly the cloned sheep carried out to the nth degree – who does get referred to – absolutely does science fiction make.
It also raises, begs, explores and twists the question of exactly what is required to consider someone human. Or self-aware and sentient and eligible for all the rights and responsibilities generally conferred thereunto. It’s a question we still seem to suck at answering – or rather that some people don’t like the answers that science makes clear.
On the one hand, this story is both amazingly fun and incredibly funny. It lampoons boy bands, fandom and fan culture and the cult of celebrity and what it takes to enter that rarefied atmosphere and maintain a place there. The humor is black and deadpan and spot on at every turn.
On the other, there’s the dark underbelly about youth and innocence and exploitation. And hidden below that cesspit, there are alphabet agencies and conspiracy theories. It’s mucky and murky all the way down, and all the laughs turn out to be gallows humor – sometimes complete with actual gallows.
But the question of whether anyone deserves to hang for the murder – well, that answer was both perfectly surprising and absolutely perfect in its fine application of justice.
I think that The Album of Dr. Moreau deserves to go platinum. I hope you’ll think so too.