I recently gushed about Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, and I did say I had to get my claws on the sequel Please Don’t tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon.
If there is a single title which makes a better promise of a big explosion, I am not recalling it at the moment.
Now, minor spoiler, the moon which gets blown up – yes, it does happen – is not the Earth’s moon, not our moon, but one of Jupiter’s moons. Smaller, yes, but still, blowing up an entire moon is one for the books, ya know?
So, how does this come about? That’s the story, and the blown-up-moon comes at the climax. So, skating around further spoilers as much as possible…
We follow the continuing adventures of the teenaged “supervillain” trio, Penny, Ray, and Claire. Fresh from their phenomenal triumphs in I’m a Supervillain, the trio must do exactly what everyone else their age must do: go to normal, everyday, boring school. Ok, the “normal” bit is arguable, as they are clearly going to a school that is absolutely stocked up with super-kids, the children of heroes and villains alike, but in every significant way, school is normal. After such a tumultuous and fun debut as villains (despite efforts to be “heroes” instead), even having secret super-classmates does not make ordinary life seem so fun.
The trio are chomping at the proverbial bit, eager to have some real fun again, and going stir-crazy in the meantime.
So, when they are offered the chance to go into space – specifically, to investigate some strange happenings around Jupiter – well, they can’t sign up fast enough! There is the issue of maintaining their secret identities, but when an alibi is provided, off they go! Ready for fun, fun, and more fun!
…and then things go very, very wrong.
By the end of the novel, the trio is ready and willing to return home and live boring lives doing homework and playing video games for awhile. They’ve gotten a taste of just how good they’ve had it. In leaving their little world behind, both literal and figurative, they leave behind the comforts of home, the security of having friends, colleagues, heroes, and parents to step in when they’ve accidentally made a mess of things. They learn that the risks they have embraced in their Earth-bound antics is nothing compared to the horrors that lay in the worlds beyond their own. As stifled as they’ve felt, with their mischievous spirits, they are still alive, comfortable, and free back home.
Oh, and as the first novel delves into the relationships among people who agree to abide by certain rules, heroes and villains alike, Penny and her friends are introduced to a society where people are always at odds with each other. The number of people who listen to anyone else: zero. There’s one group of people who live very comfortable lives, but are strictly regulated in every way, including what they wear, when they go to bed, who they marry (it’s a eugenics program), and what they eat, which leaves everyone skinny to the point of malnourishment. Another group lives less comfortable lives, working very hard just to scrape by with the bare minimum, but they’re free from such regulation. At least, as free as they can be when their de facto leader automatically uses his superhuman fists to get his way. And then there’s the smallest group of outlaws, outcast from the posh group and disagreeing with the super-bully, fighting for “freedom.”
And all of these people are constantly squabbling with each other despite the very real threat of at least two or three alien races posing their own threats to everyone’s survival. The horrors each of these races has visited, or promises to visit, is substantial. The colonists in space are barely scraping by, constantly fighting for survival and constantly afraid of the aliens, but still they fight each other, instead of uniting against the greater threat looming all around them.
This is best exemplified by (SPOILERS!!!) the Fawkes family. One is the aforementioned super-brute de facto leader, and his brother is the outlaw fighting for freedom. But the third, Remmy, is a girl, younger than Penny, a fellow mad scientist. They really have a great deal in common, but Penny has lived a much easier life. Even more, Penny’s mad scientist gift has given her command over knock-off imitations of various alien technologies, which everyone is highly interested in. Remmy, however, has been traumatized as a child by the aliens, so she is very suspicious of Penny.
Over the course of the novel, Remmy becomes convinced that Penny really is evil, partially because of the technology she commands, partially because of the disastrous fallout of Penny’s mistakes, and partially because she is simply jealous of the attention Penny gets from all quarters, where Remmy used to be the golden girl herself. To her, it all makes sense, and she becomes as closed-minded to Penny’s arguments as her brothers and everyone else are to each other.
The loss of that could-have-been-friend hits Penny hard, and it’s the first real loss she ever truly suffers. Even so, once again, Penny must play the part of the villain in order to save the day, including Remmy’s life. Though the people around Jupiter owe Penny and her friends a great deal by the end, they may never truly know it, and Remmy makes it very clear that supervillains, and Earth in general, and especially Penny, are not welcome in her space.
As for what Penny gains from this experience, she learns very well how good she has it on Earth. She learns to be more careful with her power. She learns how easy it is to make the same mistake which adult heroes and villains alike made with her in I’m a Supervillain, namely: underestimating. Penny says it herself, as she’s run roughshod over adults, she began to believe they pose no threat to her, so she doesn’t pay proper attention to them, and that mistake nearly costs everyone everything.
On a more disturbing note, early in the novel, Penny has a run-in with one of the more infamous “heroes” in the world. Infamous because she apparently has strict definitions of “hero” and “villain,” and a reputation for “accidentally” killing the latter. While this individual sees the trio of villains more as “heroes,” she also tells Penny that her gift, her mad scientist superpower, will turn on her. She offers to kill it off “while it’s safe,” but Penny passes.
Once again by the end of the novel, Penny begins to wonder about that. No question, her gift just saved a lot of lives, but it clearly does not share her sense of morality, or her interests in such. Her gift’s only interest is inventing new tech to serve whatever end Peggy needs at the time, but with no thought of the consequences afterward. This is a major part of how things go so wrong and why Remmy turns on Penny with fanatic hostility.
Whatever good Penny accomplishes by the end, she, and we as her audience, have reason to be afraid for her. If her gift truly turns on her, there’s no telling the damage it will do. Particularly since it seems to be going further out of Penny’s limited “control,” exactly what it’s not supposed to do.
In short, this second installment in the series has considerably darker material than the first, less fun and more serious, and takes Penny through some tough lessons. It’s very well done, really. Well, mostly. There are some details in the story and the world building which are commented on, but not really explained. Overall, though, I am willing to forgive these, in favor of Penny learning her lessons.
I am giving Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon a rough, and perhaps generous, rating of 8 stars out of 10.
And whenever the ensuing novels come out, I will definitely get my hands on them! Not only to follow Penny’s continuing adventures, and to see what her eventual fate will be, but also because I’m just curious who from these earlier novels will come back and in what capacity. Not to mention, I just like it!
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