Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Shambling Toward Hiroshima

Shambling Toward Hiroshima
by James Morrow

Format: Paperback, 170 pages
Publisher: Tachyon PublicationsCover Design: Ann Monn
Release Date: February 1, 2009
ISBN-10: 1-892391848
ISBN-13: 978-1892391841

It is the summer of 1945. Germany is vanquished and victory in Europe has been declared, however, the war rages on in the Pacific. Japan is beaten, but remains defiant promising the Allies they will have to pay for every inch of ground. Back in Hollywood, Syms Thorley is an actor playing the various monsters in B-movie horror classics. You need a giant lizard, a mummy, or a Frankenstein; Syms Thorley is your man. And now, the US Navy wants to tap Thorley with a special starring role.

The US Navy has developed a new biological weapon: giant, fire-breathing monsters designed specifically to destroy a city. They want Thorley to don a monster suit and raze a miniature of a Japanese city to convince the enemy to surrender. If not, the President will authorize the use of the monsters on the Japanese mainland. It’s the role of a lifetime with thousands of lives hanging in the balance.

I have to admit this story piqued my interest. Shambling Toward Hiroshima is written as a memoir from the 1980s in which an aging Syms Thorley, suffering from depression, feels compelled to share his story on this piece of forgotten history. The majority of the novel is thus written in flashback vividly invoking the era of the horror genre classic. It was very interesting to get an in-depth look of the history of horror filmmaking featuring behind the scenes views of special effects and collisions of egocentric actors.

While the historical aspect of the story was fairly interesting, I had a little bit of trouble swallowing one of the basic premises of the book, that of using an actor to pretend to be a monster in order to force a surrender. Bascially, the author used a monster movie demonstration as a diplomatic scare tactic. Granted, any diplomats sent by the Japanese would never have seen a monster movie from Hollywood at the time, yet how could they possibly be expected to believe it? They weren’t seeing a real demonstration of the “weapon’s” capability. Putting aside whether scientists could actually have engineered any real such monster in the 1940s, it seems to me that this performance is simply too far-fetched to be believed.

Any such fantastic idea seems doomed to failure and that’s certainly what happened. As we know from history, the US dropped two atomic bombs onto Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The failure of the monster demonstration plagued Thorley throughout his life. It also caused the deaths of thousands of Japanese civilians. In effect, the novel is a character piece and a warning on the dangers of weapons of mass destruction.

Shambling Toward Hiroshima is an interesting effort mixing science fiction, historical monster filmmaking, and apocalyptic cautionary tale. The unfeasibility of the basic premise makes suspension of disbelief difficult yet the character arc partially redeems it.

Rating: 7/10.

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