This book is the perfect companion to Adam Roberts’ Yellow Blue Tibia, reviewed here last week. That novel saw Soviet sf writers brought together in the wake of World War II to create a story that would pay off in the 1980s. This novel, also narrated from the perspective of the 1980s, is about the US government bringing together Hollywood horror legends in 1945 to create a monster movie that would frighten Japan into surrender. It’s really a mirror-image of Roberts’ book, and I’m trying to figure out why this idea of blending fiction and reality in the wake of World War II/Cold War is in the zeitgeist all of the sudden. Or is it just pure coincidence?
The narrator is a fictional (to my knowledge) Hollywood actor named Syms Thorley who has starred in a series of monster films in ‘40s Hollywood. He’s tasked to play a fire-breathing lizard and wreck a scale-model of a Japanese city (the set-up to get to that point is pretty ridiculous, but believability is not Morrow’s central objective here). Thorley is joined in this plot by a host of real Hollywood legends like director James Whale (Frankenstein) and early special effects wizard Willis O’Brien (King Kong). There are plenty of hints in the framing narration that this plot has something to do with the popularity of kaiju (giant monster) films like Godzilla in Japan.
The plot is fairly rudimentary – there are a few obstacles along the way, but Morrow's focus here is more on conveying the atmosphere of B-movies during Hollywood’s golden age. Morrow does a great job of it, and the novella is worthwhile for the setting and prose alone. But, as the title hints, the novel is really about the atom bomb, and the way it haunts – or maybe how it should haunt – America as well as Japan. Just like Yellow Blue Tibia, Shambling point out that the horrors of the atomic age can be stranger and more terrible than anything the science fiction of the era produced.
This was a well-written and engaging book that was both funny and haunting. Very nice stuff, and I’m looking forward to more Morrow coming up when I get to the ‘90s.