25 stories full of kaiju-driven mayhem
Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters started life as a Kickstarter campaign that ended up being very successful, surpassing the funding target and hitting all of the stretch goals. It boasts big names like Larry Correia, James Swallow, and Peter Clines, just to name a few. It has interior art for every single story, created by high profile artists like Bob Eggleton. And it's an anthology about a variety of kaiju destroying cities around the world - how cool is that! This review will briefly discuss each story.
Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show by James Lovegrove - Great start to the anthology, although very similar in tone and style to Pacific Rim. Probably not as short and succinct as it could have been. Great ending.
The Conversion by David Annandale - This story hits up a religious angle, with the Kaiju named Eschaton doing its best to bring about the apocalypse. Very dark, very different.
Day of the Demigods by Peter Stenson - Dude-bro Kaiju frequents the sewer beneath the gym so he can guzzle down some steroid laced urine and get huge for the ladies. But the lady he is after is not interested, so our dude-bro Kaiju goes on a bit of a rampage. Very funny story.
The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island by Kane Gilmour - very cool story about a father / son bonding trip off the coast of Japan. This short employs the story within a story. Not sure if I liked the alternate history parts, but at least it was done with gusto.
Occupied by Natania Barron - this story had a very interesting style, going back and forth between maker and creation. There are some religious overtones, but its more reserved than The Conversion. Possibly my favourite Kaiju creation so far.
One Last Round by Nathan Black - The first of the "Backer Stories", this one was very good. The story is about an old military robot that is leased out commercially so that its fights can be filmed, and deals with its final fight before being decommissioned. This story feels like its been written by a fan who says "Wouldn't it be cool if..." a whole bunch of times.
The Serpent’s Heart by Howard Andrew Jones - I enjoyed this story, something a little different in terms of the timeline and cultures being explored. This wasn't the big explosive story, but rather a slow burning build-up towards a big climax. A good way to follow up the previous story.
Monstruo by Mike MacLean - Snarky attitude and great voice in this story. In this story an alien Kaiju has fun stomping all over a Mexican beachside town. I'm not sure I liked how it ended, perhaps a little too open-ended for my taste, but I really enjoyed the story right up until that moment.
The Behemoth by Jonathan Wood - This was a cool story that starts out almost as a direct riff on Pacific Rim (with the mechs and the neural load sharing), but quickly turns into a very dark character study. I didn't really get into it straight away, but by the end I was hooked.
The Greatest Hunger by Jaym Gates - Yay, finally a story that doesn't involve ocean dwelling kaiju (although it is acknowledged that they exist). This is an odd but entertaining story about capturing kaiju and forcing them to battle to the death in an arena for entertainment purposes. It asks a great question: who are the monsters, really?
Heartland by Shane Berryhill - Probably my favourite story so far. Towns are ruled by religious sects who appease their kaiju overlords by sacrificing maidens. Had a Cabin in the Woods feel to the story.
Devil’s Cap Brawl by Edward M. Erdelac - This story is a tie-in with the Dead West series being published by Ragnarok and I loved it. When trying to blast a path through a mountain for the new railroad, the team of workers awaken something horrible. Be thankful for Shaolin monks.
Shaktarra by Sean Sherman - This is the second of the backer stories. A very strong start with a real "War of the Worlds" feel to it. But as the story progresses things start to get a little silly and I kinda lost interest. That said, the main Kaiju Shaktarra was cool.
Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea by Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse - This is a long, slow and deliberate story about the might of feudal Japan being crushed by Western war machines. It explores the lengths people will go to defend honor. I found this story to be engrossing despite the pace and length.
The Flight of the Red Monsters by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam - This story felt rushed. It had a neat plot, and a nice mechanic where the POV would shift between heroine and Kaiju, but I found it hard to get invested in this story.
Operation Starfish by Peter Rawlik - The memoirs of an old man who uses his stories to explain why you shouldn't pour water on anthills. I really enjoyed this story.
With Bright Shining Faces by J.C. Koch - Weird and creepy story about kids drawing kaiju, then having their drawing come to life. Well written story, but I thought the ending could have been much bigger.
The Banner of the Bent Cross by Peter Clines - In this awesome story, Clines brings Greek mythology into a modern-ish war with devastating consequences. This story had me enthralled start to finish.
Fall of Babylon by James Maxey - Another fantastic story, this time concerning the apocalypse and the fight for survival against angels and a giant seven eyed, seven horned, disembowelled sheep!
Dead Man’s Bones by Josh Reynolds - It's The Great War, and while militaries are busy fighting each other, the British Empire's royal occultist and his plucky team of ne'er-do-wells are investigating the latest mad experiments and abominations being cooked up by crazy German scientists / alchemists. This is one of my favourite stories, and the anthology at this point is building up a lot of steam.
Stormrise by Erin Hoffman - An entertaining piece of high-concept sci-fi - Hoffman interprets her Kaiju as a self-replicating AI who continues to grow and grow. The piece reads like a collage of vignettes stitched together, but in the end this story felt a little short and a little rushed. It would probably work better as a novella.
Big Dog by Timothy W. Long - Kaiju vs. Mech. These are the types of stories I think that we all wanted to read when we backed the Kickstarter. Long delivers an explosive action driven story - I wanted to like it but I found it really hard to read. Clunky dialogue, cheesy one liners (not the good cheese), and an over-reliance on sensationalism. "You know what I mean. You're the reason my husband is dead!"
The Great Sea Beast by Larry Correia - We're back in feudal Japan, following one man's quest to slay a great beast and restore his families honor. For me this is the most complete story in the anthology, right up there in my top five stories. A couple of other stories may have been more entertaining or outrageous, but Correia does everything right with story.
Animikii vs. Mishipeshu by C.L. Werner - Well, crap. Time for humanity to check out. Two monstrous kaiju go mano-a-mano in this awesome tale that feels kinda Lovecraftian mixed with native American Indian mythology. It is a winner takes all contest, and the way Werner writes makes these beasts feel very menacing.
The Turn of the Card by James Swallow - This is a tie-in story set in the Colossal Kaiju Combat universe. Kaiju are attacking all over the world. London is being evacuated, so our plucky heroes decide to take a helicopter ride right into the epicenter in order to save our main character's uncle. Chaos ensues. This story is a great way to sign off the anthology. Of all the stories, this one probably feels the closest to a Hollywood blockbuster, and I would definitely go see that movie.
So, there we have it. 25 stories full of kaiju-driven mayhem with cities destroyed all over the world. Not every story worked for me, and the order of the stories was not always balanced, but the good and awesome stuff completely outshines anything bad I've said about this anthology. Sometimes humanity wins, sometimes humanity loses, but in the end this anthology, its cast of authors, and its editorial staff are the real winners. Highly recommended.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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