Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Kaiju Rising - Part 5

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

And now we come to the end. The last five stories in this amazing anthology....

Stormrise by Erin Hoffman (26 pgs):
Although this is technically both a mech and a kaiju story, the real focus of Stormrise is self-aware digital intelligence. Erin Hoffman creates a fierce and fun short story in which a digital intelligence becomes aware, names itself Keto, and decides to demonstrate to the organic, human intelligence that she is more qualified to be their steward. A digital, benevolent overlord if you will.

Caught up in this are Keto's programmer/creator Sandra, who is working the damage control angle for the corporation that helped create Keto, and Airi, a renegade flyer person (actually, her job title isn't really specified), who becomes Keto's ward/captive.

Set in 2154, this story nicely highlights a kind of saturation point of human dependence on technology, to the point where we essentially have a HUD of sorts implanted in us. Hoffman effectively postulates how easily this could be used against us should the machines rise; how simple it would be to read our moves and deploy countermeasures before we take a single step. Hoffman does it so well that you don't even care that there isn't a giant monster or robot stomping about.

The concept is great, the characters are great, the execution is great. Hoffman crams a lot of elements, and realizes them fully, without leaving the story feeling overstuffed. In a perfect world, this story could've been stretched to a 50-60 page novella. Also, the ending leaves you begging for the sequel. I checked the Mech anthology lineup to see if one was listed, but alas, there isn't. Here's hoping we see more of these characters one day.

Big Dog by Timothy W. Long (27 pgs):
Really nice military mech vs. kaiju actionfest here. This story takes place right after the end of World War II as we know it. Here, the Japanese have allied themselves with alien intelligence, the kaijus, and it is up to a united American/European front (included a beaten Germany) to save the day. The action here takes place in Saipan, as the titular mech, a new weapon in the war against monsters, is getting the acid test, and being tasked with retrieving a kaiju biological sample.

Our protagonist here is Commander Katie Cord, a tough and capable Air Force pilot turned mech commander. Long does a nice job in fleshing her out; giving her a deep rooted animosity towards her former Nazi assistant, Glaus (due in a large part to his being a former tank commander, while Cord's fiance was killed in a tank).

Long's depiction of the kaijus, their appearance, characteristics, and weaponry, is effective, imaginative, and bizarre.

The real winner here is his description of working within the Big Dog. This is a clunky, awkward monstrosity, and its primitive technology coupled with the chaos of battle make piloting it a living hell. Long really conveys that feeling of trying to successfully maneuver an ungodly mechanical construct against unearthly monsters.

So what we have is a pretty standard narrative framework, with a fairly predictable outcome, bolstered by great execution, vivid conceptualization, and blistering action. And I always say that even the most trope-y storyline is still fun when done right. Big Dog proves that.
Score: 8.5/10

The Great Sea Beast by Larry Correia (23 pgs):
Now we move on to a pretty dark redemption story from 12th Century Japan. As a boy, Nasu Munetaka survived an encounter with the titular monster, and that was only the beginning of his misery. The injuries he sustains in the incident cause him to grow up small and weak, causing him to be considered useless in a court that refuses to acknowledge what occurred. Instead, the blame is placed on his father, who is labeled in death as a drunken incompetent. Alone and dishonored, Nasu feels despondent. That is, until he discovers one talent he possesses: a deadly acumen with the bow.

Years later, Nasu has a new sense of worth, as a veteran archer of many feudal conflicts with an impressive kill tally. Working from some newly uncovered intelligence, he leverages his clout into an expedition to discover and kill the creature which ruined his life so many years ago.

Correia tells a great tale here. He's done his historical research into the period, and he paints it with a vivid brush. Our 'hero', Nasu, is a driven man. He is not one for kindness, or consideration. He has been galvanized by a life of hardship to a sort of pinnacle of single-mindedness. This might make him hard to like, but I found his utter realness refreshing.

On top of that, you get a fairly terrifying kaiju, and some great, bloody action. I really liked this story.
Score: 9/10

Animikii vs. Mishipeshu by C.L. Werner (29 pgs):
This is a story I was really looking forward too. Not only is Werner a solid and prolific Black Library scribe, he is also a known kaijuphile (check out his Godzilla vs. Cthulhu fanfic). What he presents here is without a doubt the purest example of a kaiju vs. kaiju brawl in this entire anthology.

Following a nifty little intro that sets the scene, and dispatches with the only real human presence in the story (a sleazy corporate type), Werner unleashes two massive beasts from Ojibwe myth: Animikii, the Thunderbird, and Mishipeshu, the Water-Panther. What ensues is some stomping action followed by an all-out monster battle.

With the kaiju being the focus here, Werner meticulously details the appearance of each. With Mishipeshu, he deflty combines the lizard-like and feline traits to craft a lethal hunter-killer. And with Animikii, the physical traits render him something not unlike veteran kaiju Rodan (although with an electricity based beam weapon instead of the fire Rodan employed in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II). I've always loved Rodan, but there was always something about him that didn't translate well in the movies. You knew he could create devastating wind attacks with his enormous wings, but it always just looked silly to see him standing there flapping them. In the story, Werner portrays the enormity of an attack like that excellently.

The descriptions are vivid, and the special weapons are done well. The action itself plays out with a blow-by-blow analysis. All in all, Animikii vs. Mishipeshu is the epitome of what this anthology is all about.
Score: 9.5/10

The Turn of the Card by James Swallow (37 pgs):
The last story in the anthology is also penned by the last of the Black Library scribes. James Swallow's involvement in Kaiju Rising was one of the stretch goals, and it is based in the Colossal Kaiju Combat universe.

This turns out to be another one of those stories that is paper thin on premise, but solid in execution. In Turn of the Card, we follow a London Police helicopter crew as they try to make sense of the sudden appearance of multiple kaiju in the Queen's stomping grounds. The lead character, a tough girl with a troubled part named Hannah Brook, decides to impulsively take the chopper into the city (which has been earmarked to be leveled in an attempt to stop the monsters) to rescue the uncle who raised her. Said uncle is holed up in the British Museum, and may hold a key to understanding what has allowed these creatures to run amok. Also, there is the persistent, underlying feeling that Hannah has some sort of tether to the goings-on.

All of this is just a set-up to letting these monsters unleash hell. Swallow packs a lot of the CKC kaiju into this story. He does a bang-up job describing them realistically as well; especially seeing as though a lot of them look pretty cartoony in the game. That's what he excels at, though. Swallow also has a true director's eye when it comes to staging the action. He gives us a multitude of perspectives; from shaky phone cam footage, to aerial shots, to on the ground views reminding us just how small man is in the face of these terrors.

The human characters are likable and easy to relate to. The kaijus chosen (I believe there was open voting to pick which ones would appear) are interesting, and Swallow does them service fleshing them out. Here's hoping he one day does a full length CKC tie-in novel.
Score: 8.5/10

And that's it! It's been a pleasure finally finishing this anthology!

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