Tuesday, January 24, 2012

MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto

It was just Robert E. Howard's birthday, and I really should have written my long overdue review of the new Conan movie. It's also Chinese new year, and the year of the Dragon to boot. Plus, the newly mastered version of Gojira has been released on DVD and Blu Ray, bringing me to the brink of purchasing the latter along with a player to watch it on. Given that this is also the year of ostensible Mayan apocalypse, I'm opting for some apocalypse, Gojira style. David got us started with Dragons last week, and I think it's a great theme to carry on with, at least for the time being.

I've eagerly awaited the English edition of Hiroshi Yamamoto's MM9 (which stands for Monster Magnitude 9, which is like the giant monster equivalent of a 10 on the Richter scale) since stumbling upon Haikasoru's line of Japanese fiction in the summer of 2010. I was constructing the reading list for a world Science Fiction course, trying hard to get as many countries represented as possible. I contacted Haikasoru directly for a recommedation, and Nick suggested Yamamoto's Tales of Ibis, a gorgeous blend of classic robot SF and cyberpunk AI short stories. It was one of the class favorites. While researching Yamamoto, I came across promo for MM9, purported to be his take on the daikaiju, or giant monster genre. Given how brilliant I considered Ibis, I was very interested to see what a master author would do with content largely considered ridiculous.

Daikaiju literature in English is a rarity, and high quality Daikaiju literature even more so: the best includes James Morrow's Shambling Towards Hiroshima, a clever homage to classic monsters and the original Gojira, as well as commentary on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear proliferation; Mark Jacobson's Gojiro, which provides the angst ridden perspective of the big G himself as he tries to deal with the difficulty of existence; and the excellent Daikaiju! anthologies edited by Robin Penn and Robert Hood;  we can now add Hiroshi Yamamoto's MM9 to that list.

Like Ibis, MM9 is a series of short fiction pieces; unlike Ibis, MM9's stories seem intentionally cohesive, and while each story stands well on its own, the book will be best read as a novel. It chronicles the adventures of a team of daikaiju specialists, who effectively work as a defense organization for Japan.

I don't know enough about quantum to comment on Yamamoto's science, but it gels strongly with my own ruminations on how a daikaiju could be explained, given how many physical sciences are ignored when positing creatures the size of skyscrapers. The imaginary science of MM9, to use Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.'s explanation as SF's "main artistic means for introducing technoscientific ideas and events among the value-bearing stories and metaphors of social life," making "science of our metaphors," (6) is a blend of cosmology and astrophysics called "the anthropic principle" (17). Yamamoto knows the daikaiju fan well, conceding that most SF involving giant monsters tries to explain the monsters in light of biology or chemistry:
"There were few astrophysicists involved in the field in any nation. Until quite recently, quantum physics and cosmology were not thought to be useful in dealing with kaiju. Biology provided understanding of their ecology; geology, environmental science, oceanography and the like detected kaiju wherever they dwelled: chemistry analyzed flames, poisons, an other chemicals emitted by the giant monsters; biomechanics estimated the effectiveness of bullets and missiles against them. Astrophysics held no similar purpose." (17)
We know, as the reader, that astrophysics and cosmology must hold the "key to solving the mystery of kaiju," since a new facet of the theory is revealed in each story. However, as a long time fan of daikaiju and fresh off a research unit with students on the original Gojira and its relationship to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I knew it was about quantum and mythology for other reasons. While listening to an audiobook of Charles Pellegrino's controversial and much-maligned Last Train from Hiroshima, I was struck by the poetic way Pellegrino explains the beginning of the explosion over Hiroshima:
"On that sixth day of August 1945, no one who conceived, designed, or assembled the Hiroshima bomb knew where uranium nuclei came from, or what science had actually achieved. Not Oppenheimer or Urey, Alvarez, or even Einstein would have believed that they had resurrected something from the remote past, from a time and a place seldom encountered in human thought. Each of the uranium-235 atoms at the bomb's core had been forged more than 4.6 billion years earlier, in the hearts of supernovae. The core was assembled from the ash of stars that had lived and died long before the oldest mountains of the moon were born. Mined and refined to better than 83 percent purity, and brought together in precisely the right geometry, the primordial remnant of Creation was coerced to echo, after ages of quiescence, the last shriek of an imploding star. In all its barest quantum essentials, what happened above Hiroshima that morning--and three days later in Nagasaki, in a separate, plutonium cauldron, filled with the by-products of a uranium reactor--signified the brief reincarnations of distant suns." (2)
Pellegrino's rational cosmology blended with my research on the chaoskampf cycle of stories in the Hebrew Bible, and the ancient Middle-Eastern conflation of the primordial, chaotic sea with a dragon of some kind, like Tiamat and Leviathan. I started thinking that the reason daikaiju could exist is that there's something about them that hearkens back to the beginning of creation, and that the tearing of the fabric of reality at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could result in allowing such a creature to become or emerge.

Thankfully, while Yamamoto's playing in the same toolbox as I was with those thoughts, his explanation is different enough that I can still work on that daikaiju short story that's waiting the end of my dissertation to get out, to become, or emerge. Nevertheless, his ideas felt very familiar, and it was a lot of fun to finally see an author do something more than make daikaiju into metaphors (though there's still room for that sort of play here as well). Yamamoto mixes multiple mythologies with Big Bang theories in his anthropic principle, which essentially argues that since humans did not possess consciousness some three thousand years ago, the universe could not be understood in a rational fashion. Consequently, the "Big Bang and mythic universes could exist without contradicting each other" (151). When humans gained consciousness, most of the creatures in the mythic universe ceased to be, save the daikaiju, since they "fueled the fears of humanity--and caused humanity to acknowledge the existence of monsters" (152).

This is only the tip of Yamamoto's iceberg (arguably one with a daikaiju frozen inside!), but it demonstrates how, as in Ibis, this master of Japanese SF is again engaged in spinning a strong speculative yarn, while playfully engaging in rigorous metacommentary. MM9 is wonderfully self-aware of its place in the tradition of giant monsters, both cosmological and cinematic, mixing references to the Dragon from the Revelation of St. John with a clever homage to the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, with some Japanese folklore thrown in for good measure. This self-reflexivity goes so far as to make mention of the MM9 team's story being turned into a television show, which is exactly what happened in Japan.
I'll say more about the text proper in an upcoming post, after I've re-read the book in a hard copy. I read mine in PDF form, which was great for getting through, but remains challenging for annotation. So I'll be returning to MM9 later in the year. In the meantime, get to your local bookstore and buy a copy of this book. If you're a Godzilla or Gamera fan, or just love giant mayhem in general, and like me, have been waiting for a novel that feels as serious as those '60s cheese fests felt when you were a kid, then this is the book for you. Don't wait too long - they're already almost sold out on Amazon.ca!

1 comment:

  1. I will definitely be ordering a copy of this and Ibis!