Monster Earth edited by James Palmer and Jim Beard. Book review

Monster EarthMONSTER EARTH edited by James Palmer and Jim Beard

Mechanoid Press, p/b, £9.29/ Kindle, £1.92, mechanoidpress.com

Reviewed by David Brzeski

The premise of this book is that the sort of giant monster, so popular in Japanese and many other movies from the 50s and 60s actually exist and have had a major impact on world history.

Co-editor and originator of the concept, Jim Beard, starts us off with ‘The Parade of Moments’, set during a time when China was in a state of civil war, with the Communists fighting the old Imperialists, and the Japanese were taking advantage of the situation. Things soon escalate into fully-fledged war, but it’s fought with more than just guns and tanks.

It’s in I.A. Watson’s ‘The Monsters of World War II, or, Happy Birthday, Bobby Fetch’ that we first get a clear idea of the concept behind this book. It’s very much an alternate history, where many major events of our world still happened, but involved giant monsters. Early on in this tale, the events of ‘A Parade of Moments’ are mentioned as having been the first irrefutable proof of the existence of these ‘Kaiju’, or giant monsters. Here we see how they were involved in this world’s version of Pearl Harbor.

We move forward to the early 50s in Jeff McGinnis’s ‘The Beast’s Home’. In 1944, America’s own monster, Johnson, was dropped on Japan, resulting in their complete surrender. The problem was, after the war, what could they do with the now unemployed monster? They lock him in an inpenetrable secure facility in LA, which pretty much cripples the growth of the movie industry in that area… and what happens if he gets out? We follow four people, a cabbie who has more or less given up on life, a wannabe actress who works a dead-end job in a bank, a cop too pig-headed to leave his home town, even when his wife and kids refuse to stay with him any longer, and an armed criminal. We follow them as their lives intersect and witness how Johnson’s latest escape changes the course they’re all on. McGinnis, by focusing on these people and keeping the monster in the background, has written a story which very much reminded me of some of the noir movies of that era. The parallels with the dangers of nuclear reactors makes me wonder if the CMD (Campaign for Monster Disarmament) could be on the horizon.

I first encountered Nancy Hansen’s work in an issue of Pro Se Presents magazine, and was seriously impressed. Her contribution to this collection, ‘And a Child Shall Lead Them’, certainly didn’t disappoint. Indian monster clashes with Indian (as in Native American) monster in my favourite story in the book. It’s a shame that this story wasn’t written back in Ray Harryhausen’s heyday, as it would surely have made for the best stop-motion animation feature of his career. I loved it. I think part of the reason it was my favourite is that it didn’t follow the formula of the others in detailing how various major world conflicts were affected by the existence of the monsters. This meant it worked as a stand alone story, outside of the book’s theme better than the others. Nancy Hansen proves, once again, that she is an author to be watched.

The monsters in Nancy Hansen’s tale were revered by the native peoples of their respective lands. Edward M. Erdelac explores similar ground in his excellent ‘Mighty Nanuq’, in which the US government find sending your monster to quash a protest by the downtrodden indigenous peoples of the land might not be as simple a matter as they thought.

We return to the theme of how major world conflicts in our world were changed by the existence of monsters in ‘Peace with Honor’, by Fraser Sherman. While Nancy Hansen got my vote for best overall story, this tales of monsters in Vietnam gets my award for best monster battle in the book. In some ways, it reminded me of ‘King Kong vs. Godzilla’, albeit Johnson Jr. bears a lot more resemblance to King Kong than The Champion does to Godzilla.

The book is rounded off by the ‘Monster Earth’ version of the Cold War in co-editor, James Palmer’s ‘Some Say in Ice’, in which we’re introduced to this world’s somewhat different concept of Monster Hunters. Dr. Jack Davis is part of a team who try to capture monsters so that the US can add them to their arsenal, and more importantly, so that other nations can’t add them to theirs. When they try to bring in the sea-dwelling Titanicus, they didn’t bargain for another monster joining the party. Capturing Titanicus soon takes a back seat to the possibility of learning more about how they come to be.

‘Monster Earth’ is a great, fun read. There genuinely isn’t a bad story in the book. Let’s hope there’ll be many more volumes to follow.