Paperback Head, Issue #2: The Emperor of the Last Days
Look, we’re only two issues into this thing, and it’s already becoming impossible to not talk about the covers. Look at that thing! It was an immediate pickup when I came across it at a Boston Hassle flea in Cambridge this December-- who could say no to such a beautiful Star Wars ripoff? Come to find out, The Emperor of the Last Days might actually precede the cultural touchstone, but it’s hard to deny the promise of swashbuckling-space-adventure goodness present in both stories’ promotional art.
Contrary to what the cover may have you believe, The Emperor of the Last Days is very much Earth-bound. Goulart opens promisingly enough with a Watchmen-esque suicide (or is it murder?) of a man being hurled from the window of a skyscraper. Witnessed by government employee Dan and his trusty, albeit frustratingly-omniscient computer Barney, they take it upon themselves to dig deeper into the mystery surrounding their colleague’s death. The pai'sr droll humor and half-hearted interest in everything are when the book is most entertaining, but before you know it, they’re on a globe-trotting mission to save the girl and stop the end of the world-- I think? It’s not entirely clear. It’s just “the last days,” which admittedly sounds not ideal.
The best thing that can be said about The Emperor of the Last Days is that it certainly doesn’t hold back on providing everything you’ve come to expect from pulp sci-fi. Flying cars, teleportation, and sentient machines are all standard fare for Goulart’s world, and then some. Plot devices, characters, and strange terminology are introduced so feverishly, boredom is simply not an option. It’s as if you were dropped in Ridley Scott’s vision of Los Angeles, 2019, just void of any atmosphere, and someone is perpetually trying to impress you with the latest technological advancement.
However, therein lies the main problem with Goulart’s novel-- Last Days nothing is ever all said. As it approaches its climax, not only is the author still building this world, but even team members are still being introduced, without so much as internal conflict or speed bumps along the way. There is no groove to the writing, just constant frenzy after flash without any processing through ideas, or letting characters develop beyond their surface level introductions. By novel’s end, a half-assed version of the Avengers have successfully saved the day. Amongst them are everyman Dan, a bionic teenager named Tin Lizzie (for real), and yes, even Tarzan-- they resemble misprints on a toy factory assembly line more than anything.
And with all that said-- I still kind of enjoyed it? I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend The Emperor of the Last Days to anyone, or even call it good, but it certainly scratched an itch. It’s just breezy, digestible, ridiculous, and goofy fun. Is it the best piece of science fiction to enter the cultural conversation in 1977? Certainly not. Is it somehow more enjoyable than any piece of science fiction fantasy to come out in the past month or so, maybe something released on December 20th, 2019? Absolutely.
And that, friends, was enough.