Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain is an entirely literal title. This is a novel about an imperial mollusk who does battle with an evil, disembodied brain, slowly uncovering a plot to destroy him and his power. It isn’t part-reference, part literary fiction like The Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay; it’s a deliberate reference to pulp storytelling, similar to Soon I Will Be Invincible. It’s monumentally stupid, but also a hell of a lot of fun, and sneaky-smart along the way.
Anything goes in the novel’s universe. The “Emperor Mollusk” of the title is a Neptunon, a sentient race of invertebrates who evolved as giant, multifaceted blobs of intelligence. His chief companion over the course of the book is Zala, a Venusian lizard-warrior, bound by honor to protect Mollusk until she can take him into custody. He’s also followed by his pet Snarg, a gift from the mole people of Earth, who have tunnels under the Americas and Europe. The net result is a universe that’s entertaining to learn about, even in what would otherwise be painful exposition: “Leonardo da Vinci defeated the Comet Monster in 1499 with nothing but a sketchpad, a gyroscope, a harmonic resonator built with a few scraps of bronze and iron, and the reanimated corpse of Joan of Arc.”
That sense of playfulness keeps Emperor Mollusk fresh throughout. It isn’t self-aware, which prevents it from getting bogged down in winking at the reader, as occasionally happened with Soon I Will Be Invincible. It’s just romping setpiece after romping setpiece, with calmer debates between Mollusk and Zala between them. The structure is simple but effective, and the book ends before it becomes too noticeable.
What’s most impressive is that Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain has depth to go along with its adventure. Some of the cultures and alien races are quick, effective satires, like the Atlantese, who deal with tragedy through litigation. But Mollusk is thematically deep as well, a character study of what people have to deal with once they’ve accomplished their dreams.
It’s difficult to categorize or properly recommend Emperor Mollusk. Yes, it’s funny, but comedy isn’t its prime goal. It’s an adventure, definitely, but those kinds of novels are usually, well, human. It might be considered science fiction, except that it gleefully disregards logical consistency at every opportunity. Even calling it “pulp” seems insufficient, thanks to its impressive craft. Whatever it is, it’s a guilty pleasure without guilt, and simply a blast to read.