On M. Thomas Gammarino’s ‘King of the Worlds’

Gammarino’s genre-bending comedic third novel is a breath of fresh air for its risk-taking.


M. Thomas Gammarino
Fiction | Novel
320 pages
6.8” x 9.2”
Hardcover
Also available in eBook formats
ISBN 978–1–634059–08–4
First Edition
Chin Music Press
Seattle, Washington, USA
Available HERE.
$24.50


Wild and zany genre-bending comedic novels are a rarity in literary fiction these days. The trend-masters of Big Publishing seem to have decided that the world only needs one Kurt Vonnegut, one Thomas Pynchon, one George Saunders, one Douglas Coupland. Few in MFA programs seem to be even attempting anything avant garde anymore, becoming willing slaves to the naturalist aesthetic. Its rarity is exactly why M. Thomas Gammarino’s third book, King of the Worlds, is a breath of fresh air.

Dylan Greenyears is a fallen Hollywood teen idol who loses his fame after getting fired from the lead role in Titanic (We all know how that film did at the box office.). The catch is Hollywood is on a silly little planet called Earth, which is just one in a universe of numerous habitable planets, including New Taiwan, the exoplanet where Greenyears now lives, decades later, as a husband, father, and high-school teacher. Greenyears yearns for his past glory as a heartthrob because he’s now just another middle-aged schlub. To reconnect with his youth, he starts reading his old fan letters. Soon, he finds himself reaching out to his teenie-bopper fans from the 90s on Earth, threatening his marriage.

When he returns to Earth to meet up with one of his now middle-aged fans, he finds that Earth has changed a lot since humanity introduced intergalactic travel.

Countless bumper stickers shrieked “EARTH: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT,” and the infrastructure, accordingly, looked surprisingly good: no bumps or potholes marred the road, and bridges and overpasses appeared secure where not altogether new. Holographic signboards every few miles reminded drivers to carpool because though CO2 emissions were no longer an issue, natural gas was itself a nonrenewable resource, an automotive stopgap while the industry perfected the solar fuel cell. Still, where Earthlings might have taken pride in finally being responsible stewards of their planet, there was instead a sense of defeat in the air, as if the discovery of other advanced civilizations in the galaxy had served as yet another indignity in a long line of them since Galileo informed humans the cosmos didn’t revolve around them, and Darwin that they were less angels than apes.

There’s plenty of inventiveness on every page in King of the Worlds. I mean that literally, because lengthy footnotes eat into many of the margins. Humans can travel between planets by making a backup copy of themselves upon departure, and then erasing that copy once they reach their planet of destination. How convenient. The sequel to E.T. is in the works and its subtitle is the surprisingly dark Nocturnal Fears. There is a device named Omni, a godlike iPhone. Some of the lengthy footnotes are humorous enough to earn their space, others not so much. At its heart, however, King of the Worlds is a meditation on midlife crisis. As Greenyears meets his still-besotted fans, he caves into temptation and cheats on his wife, triggering a series of crazier, even darker events, as evidenced by this mid-coital passage:

How was it that he kept falling into this trap of believing that sex might confer some sort of immortality on him? That the impassioned movement of bodies in space might have some bearing on their movement in time? Granted, Einstein, relativity, etc., but that didn’t seem to be what he meant; he seemed to mean something more along the lines of magic …
Anyway, he pulled out and came in her mouth. She swallowed.

What starts as a light, whimsical postmodern comedy devolves into a third act that is inexplicably grim. The consequences of Greenyears living his alternate fantasy lives and essentially becoming a philanderer on other worlds are unusually harsh, and this reader didn’t feel prepared for the significant shift in tone of the novel’s back half. Instead of the more typical midlife crisis plotline of a protagonist finding himself back to the family he loves, Greenyears ends up losing everything, and it’s unclear how his story will move forward after the final page is through. But if you’re up for ending galaxies away from where you began, I’d recommend King of the Worlds for its 90s pop culture references and dark and offbeat humor.