Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kaiju Rising - Part 4

Kaiju Rising by various authors. Edited by Tim Marquitz & Nick Sharps. Originally published by Ragnarok Publications, Febraury 2014. Approx. 552 pages.

Moving along at a nice, speedy clip now. Stories 16-20 today.

Operation Starfish by Peter Rawlik (16 pgs):
With Operation Starfish, Peter Rawlik presents a kaiju story steeped in Lovecraftian influence. Told in the form of a letter penned by a man losing his grip on his sanity, it recounts a government experiment conducted in the 60's to strike back against "invading" monsters (as is commonly done, Rawlik wisely ties kaiju events to real life historical occurrences).

The Lovecraft touch is strong in this tale. Rawlik focuses on the tragic hubris on man's actions; and his monsters, while terrifying, garner that quality not from frightening depictions, but by their inherent "wrongness" and incongruity with our perceived reality. This is all bolstered by a strong writing style that truly puts the reader in the action. One of the few tales that actually frightened me a bit.

If I were to list one complaint with the story, it is that Rawlik does not maintain the level of the narrator's lunacy from start to finish. Instead, the displays of madness is remanded to the bookends of the very beginning and very ending. I'm assuming this was to allow more accessible expository description in the bulk of the narrative. How great would it have been if the entire story had been one manic rant, forcing the reader to parse the actual information from the ramblings. Either way, a very solid, scary tale.
Score: 8.5/10

With Bright Shining Faces by J.C. Koch (18 pgs):
I'll say right off the bat, this one might get my nod for most original story in the anthology. Also, there isn't much that I can elaborate on in the review without getting spoiler-y.

In a small town near the Gulf of Mexico, a schoolteacher watches as a peculiar student (peculiar, yet popular) holds her peers enraptured by a succession of monster doodles. And yet, even the teacher, Mrs. George, has to admit that there is something odd about the pictures when viewed in the periphery. Almost as if they are alive....

Even with a setup like this, I had no idea where this story would actually be going. All I can say is that it is outlandish, audacious, and fun.

With Bright Shining Faces is also bolstered by a great writing style. Koch has a real knack for detailing scenery and rendering real characters. Mrs.George is a full-fledged person, made very real over the course of a few pages; a capable teacher and good-hearted person stuck in a failing marriage.

All in all, weird and wonderful.
Score: 9/10

The Banner of the Bent Cross by Peter Clines (24 pgs):
During World War II, an esteemed group of historians are called in to solve the riddle of a mysterious Nazi ship that had appeared and began cutting swaths through Allied vessels. Once they determine that the ship is an artifact straight out of Greek mythology, they propose an equally fantastic, yet considerably more dangerous, potential solution.

Banner of the Bent Cross has an exciting concept. It's execution has a definite cinematic flair to it. This story reads like a throwback to those high-adventure, richly color-saturated Technicolor movies of the 60's.

While most of the kaiju action occurs off-page, the descriptions of the creatures is fantastic and terrifying.

Where the story suffers, however, is in the characters. None of the characters really escalate above a comfortable trope level (with the exception of the treasure hunter character Carter, aka The Roman). I understand that the players here are truly focused on the mission at hand; but there is nothing here to make them sympathetic.

Lastly, one thing that really would have snagged the reader from the get-go would have been a scene showing the Argo itself in action, letting us see this mythical ship in action against a modern day warship. An ancient craft tearing a mechanical colossus to ribbons. But that's just my opinion.
Score: 7/10

Fall of Babylon by James Maxey (28 pgs):
Even though David Annandale's entry had some biblical overtones to it, it was inevitable that somewhere in this anthology there would be an entry that drew on Revelations. Fall of Babylon is that story. In Fall of Babylon, a young man finds himself embroiled in no less than the Apocalypse as the literal Lamb of God does battle with his sister, a internet star turned pop idol turned manifestation of Babylon.

I have to say; the interpretation and incorporation of Biblical elements from the Book of Revelations that we witness here is amazing. Maxey paints the apocalyptic landscape (a realm shift of the spirit world over Earth, with the action taking place in the Big Apple) is vivid colors and torrential blood rains. And his representation of the Lamb of God as a kaiju is awe-inspiring.

As for characters, this really isn't my cup of tea. Dan, who provides the first person perspective, is set to perennial snark. And it's not just him; this whole story is steeped in snark and sarcasm. When it becomes the general tone, as it does here, there is no chance for immersion, or to generate a bond with the characters. It's kind of like watching a Tarantino movie; everybody talks the same, and soon you realize, it's not different characters at all; it's the author speaking through different mouths. And that detracts from the overall effect.

But, for visuals, an overall superb conceptual framework, and a truly imaginative take on the Biblical elements, you can't beat it.
Score: 8/10

Dead Men's Bones by Josh Reynolds (22 pgs):
The second of entries submitted by Black Library veterans, Dead Men's Bones takes place during one of my favorite periods to read about: World War I. In it, a trio of specialists (Britain's Royal Occultist, his assistant, and an American mystic man/soldier), investigate strange goings-on in an abandoned medieval castle in France. What they find is a horror beyond imagining, made undeniably real.

I've read a few of Reynolds' stories, and I usually find them to be great on visuals and action, with the characterizations relying more on witty dialogue than actual substance. This is the case here, as well. The occultist trio rely far too much on quips, and not all of them hit home (throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks). However, I enjoyed them enough that I would gladly read further adventures featuring them.

As for the monster, this might be my favorite in the book. What we have here is a colossus cobbled together from the dead in a vast German laboratory. The depiction of this beast, who emerges prematurely, with his skin perpetually sloughing off, and emanating a noxious cloud of mustard gas, is no less than terrifying. Reynolds took the old adage "War is Hell" and made its message frighteningly corporeal.

The action here is localized; one can only imagine a story where groups of these creatures roam the trenches of the Western Front, unleashing unholy horror.
Score: 9/10

There you have it. Next entry will wrap up the anthology!

No comments:

Post a Comment