BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of 25 stories revolving around the idea of Kaiju — Giant Monsters in the tradition of Godzilla and Pacific Rim.
PROS: Some very strong stories that transcend the limitations of the subject matter; a good editorial hand in story choice based on perspective and point of view; well done illustrations add to the impact of the stories.
CONS: Story quality varies somewhat wildly.
BOTTOM LINE: SF readers interested in pursuing their Kaiju cravings from movies over to the written word should look no further.
Ever since our ancestors were shrew-sized dwellers in the shadow of the dinosaurs, we’ve been fascinated by and terrified by giant monsters. When Godzilla destroyed Tokyo, we shivered in our seats and reached for more popcorn. T-Rex gobbling up a repulsive lawyer in Jurassic Park is a funny moment.
And yet, for the average watcher of a Godzilla movie on TV, or even most SF fans, these were merely giant monsters, some of them with names, but no single word to tie them together. The movie universe of Pacific Rim, a taxonomic name for Giant Monsters and always present within the subgenre, was adopted and spread from there to wider culture. That name for Giant Monsters is derived from the Japanese: Kaiju. Kaiju Rising is a kickstarted anthology edited by Nick Sharps and Tim Marquitz that brings the power, the pathos, and even the humor of Kaiju to print, in an anthology of 25 stories.
How many ways can writers find to use a monster to destroy a city? Any watcher of the Japanese Kaiju movies can tell you the answer to that: plenty. In these 25 stories, we get monsters capable of destroying the world, and monsters that just want a movie deal for themselves. While most of the stories are set in the modern era or the near future, some of the stories are historical or even historical fantasy. In addition, every story ends with an eye-catching illustration.
Some of my favorites from the anthology include:
- David Annandale’s “The Conversion” is a bleak story about residents of England facing off against the seemingly implacable might of the Eschaton. Can the power of faith and prayer face off against a seemingly invulnerable Kaiju? Readers of Annandale’s other work will not be surprised at how the story plays out, and the craft of the story is deft.
- Natania Barron’s “Occupied” is an interesting take on Kaiju not only from their perspective, but tying in the Biblical idea of Nephilim as well. “When Giants walked the Earth”, indeed. It was at this point in reading the anthology that I began to see the wider possibilities of the form. It really works at giving us an alien, yet still comprehensible viewpoint.
- Howard Andrew Jones’ “The Serpent Heart”, joyfully, is set in his world of Dabir and Asim. What do his 8th century Scholar and Swordsman from Baghdad possibly have to do with a Kaiju? This almost Sinbad-like tale not only gives the answer, but also fills in yet another piece of the mosaic Jones is building of the lives and times of his classic characters. The fact that we know the characters are going to survive does not reduce the narrative tension of the story one whit.
- James Maxey “Fall of Babylon”, like Natania Barron’s story, also imports Biblical themes into his story of a monster destroying the world. This time, though, instead of being inspired by Genesis and the Nephilim, Maxey gets his inspiration to fuse Kaiju with the apocalyptic wide-screen gloriousness that is the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations. The use of the Statue of Liberty in the denouement is a gonzo homage to Ghostbusters 2 and Doctor Who.
- Not every Kaiju is an alien monster, or a demonic entity, either. Sometimes its man’s direct doing that a Kaiju exists. In Erin Hoffman’s “Stormrise”, we get Keto. Keto is not only a giant monster in the traditional sense, she is also an artificial intelligence. An artificial intelligence with the power of a Kaiju behind him, and a certainty of its superiority is a terrifying thing indeed, especially for she who has to work with such a being.
Although there are stories here with real pathos, real tragedy and reflection, mostly the stories here are for what it says on the tin. This is a set of entertaining stories where Kaiju show up, and things get real. I had expected more of the stories to do the Pacific Rim approach, but the theme of using giant robots to fight Kaiju is less common than I thought. It’s in the lead-off story (James Lovegrove’s excellent “Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show”) but there aren’t a plethora of fighting machines on display,here. The monsters get top billing. In fact, in James Swallow’s anchor story “The Turn of the Card”, we get another classic staple of the genre: a monster on monster fight!
If the prospect of reading Kaiju wrecking stuff has the slightest interest to you, then I commend Kaiju Rising wholeheartedly.