When I try to describe The Morbidly Obese Ninja by Carlton Mellick III, there is only word that accurately describes it: FUN! I had great fun reading it. You can tell that Mellick had fun writing it. It is simply pure fun!
The story is pretty straightforward. Basu is a seven hundred pound ninja in a world where corporate espionage is a matter of daily life and hostile takeovers are literally hostile and involve the assassination of company board members. He follows a strict code of ninja ethics and obedience to his masters, the executives of the company he works for. While pulling a job to steal a “piggy bank” containing corporate secrets of a rival firm, he discovers that he is not the only one after them, including a group led by an old ninja rival. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse (or ninja-and-ninja) to obtain the piggy bank and return it to their executives.
Heavily inspired by anime, in case you can’t tell by the cover, the novel takes place in a future version of California which has been transformed into a psuedo-Japanese type of world. Cosmetic surgery to look like animals or anime characters is common place. In fact, cosmetic surgery to look like anime characters is so popular that they are considered a new race, called animese. Rather than basic weapons, the ninjas wield iKatanas, swords with vast electronic abilities in them that make them more like electronic Swiss army knives than simple swords. These are details scattered throughout the book, but they tend to be done in passing and do not become overbearing. Mellick focuses on the story and the character, and describes the people and places as necessary to paint a picture of the world in which the story takes place, but that is all. It’s like some well-prepared food, where the spices are added to enhance the flavor but not overpower the food itself.
Why is Basu so morbidly obese and still a ninja? This is an integral part of the plot, so I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say that there is a very good reason for it, and it doesn’t glorify obesity at all, as some who don’t read the book could possibly be concerned and complain about. In fact, while Basu has learned to use his obesity to his advantage in many ways, he also suffers from a number of physical problems as a direct result of his condition, which is not one that he chose.
If I have one complaint about The Morbidly Obese Njnja, it’s that it’s too short. The book felt like it could have been so much longer, with so much more to tell. The story could have been drawn out more, which is a rare complaint to make. It happens so fast, and I wanted to know more, have more action sequences, and I wanted a slightly more developed relationship between Basu and Chiya, the animese technician who works on his iKatana. I would have liked more history on Basu, and more history on the piggy bank itself. In short, I just wanted more. As a side note, I do like that Mellick does not go into how the world became the way it is, as usually things like that tend to detract from a story if it is too unbelievable, which it usually is. Mellick suspends disbelief by completely ignoring it, and in this case that method works wonderfully.
In the end, you wind up with a book that’s got really great action sequences, interesting characters that could use a little more development than is given to them, and a straightforward and easy-to-follow plot that I would have liked to see stretched out a little more. But this book’s strengths are so good that they overshadow its weaknesses very well. The Morbidly Obese Ninja is apparently the author’s 31st publication, but it is only the first book of his this reviewer has read. It will not be the last one I read. If his other work is as fun as this book, there will good times ahead.
A very solid 4 out of 5 stars.