Atomic Interview #24: Talking BETRAYAL ON MONSTER EARTH

Monster Earth 2 cover -embedded

Betrayal on Monster Earth (2014) – The Monster Earth Series, Book 2 – Mechanoid Press – Created by James Palmer and Jim Beard (editors) – Written by Jeff McGinnis, Fraser Sherman, Thomas Deja, Edward M. Erdelac, Jim Beard, and James Palmer.

Welcome to the latest Atomic Interview. I’m happy to be joined by many of the contributors to Mechanoid Press’ BETRAYAL ON MONSTER EARTH, a sequel to 2013′s MONSTER EARTH. (You can read interviews with James and Jim about the first MONSTER EARTH book in Atomic Interview #4 and Atomic Interview #8.) You can purchase BETRAYAL at Amazon. I want to thank all of the creators who took some time out to talk to me about this project. First up are some questions for the editors, and that’s followed by some questions for the writers. Thanks for stopping by all.

It is a Time of Chaos
For more than five decades, mankind has shared the planet Earth with deadly giant creatures. Through the years, man has learned to harness these fearsome forces of nature for good—and sometimes for ill.

But all that is about to change.

In 1985, a frightening discovery has been made. A gene harvested from a lost dinosaur in the Congo is about to shift the global balance of power forever. When this genetic material falls into the hands of a cadre of zealots, the race is on for the End of All Things. Then, it will no longer be Man against Monster, but Man against Something Else…
Prepare yourself for…

The Betrayal!
Creators James Palmer and Jim Beard, along with Edward M. Erdelac, Thomas Deja, Fraser Sherman, and Jeff McGinnis take you back to a startling world of monster action, political intrigue, and daring adventure! All this and more await you in…

Betrayal on Monster Earth!

EDITORIAL QUESTIONS

Mark Bousquet: While we talked a bit about this last time, could you please explain the basic concept of the Monster Earth universe?

James Palmer: It’s basically the Cold War fought with giant monsters instead of the the treat of nuclear weapons. I wanted to do a giant monster anthology that had a unified theme and world, and not just a loose connection of unrelated kaiju tales. Jim came through with a great concept, and it also became a shared world alternate history anthology as well.

Mark Bousquet: Is BETRAYAL a straight sequel to the events of the first Monster Earth book, or do these stories take place in and around the first book? Is there an overriding theme to this collection?

The stories in BETRAYAL kind of take over where the first book leaves off, and most of the stories take place more in the present day. The thing tying this book together is a group of religious zealots called the Dissemblers, who believe there is a threat coming from space that will transform the world, and the planet’s monsters will get in the way of that. They want to bring about this new world order, whatever it is.

Mark Bousquet: How much direction did you give the writers this time around? Were you looking for stories that filled in different aspects of this universe or was it simply a matter of finding the best stories available?

James Palmer: We gave the writers a bit more direction with regard to the Dissemblers, and each tale had to feature them in some way. Other than that, we let our writers have free reign to create the best tales they could given our few constraints. I believe in letting good writers loose to do their thing.

WRITER QUESTIONS
Mark Bousquet: What about the MONSTER EARTH concept appeals to you as a writer?

I.A. Watson: There’s a mythical archetype that is giant monster – often sacred giant monster – who is almost indistinguishable from a natural disaster or an “act of God”. These monsters are usually remote and unfathomable, unstoppable except by the most extraordinary heroism.They are not always enemies of mankind, any more than an earthquake or volcano is. Some monsters are indifferent. Some are even benevolent. But they are a class of experience far beyond the ordinary and beyond what everyday people can easily cope with.

All the best giant monster stories are human tales, just like all the best disaster movies feature not only spectacle and mass destruction but characters whom we care about and whose survival matters to us. People put the monsters into perspective. Big monsters require big emotional responses as well as big special effects. They should be awesome, in the old sense of the work meaning to provoke an beyond-comprehension, astounded, life-changing reaction.

Monster Earth envisages a world where these gargantua exist and have influenced the course of history. They’ve been asleep for a while, for centuries, so there’s a good starting point when the first monsters reawaken as the shadows darken before World War II. But thereafter we get to see how these creatures impact on the world. Think of the real-life changes that the atomic bomb wrought on society and on international politics. Imagine these monsters as living weapons of mass destruction and consider the effect their reality might have on our culture, foreign relations, religious and political sensibilities and so on. That’s the toybox of Monster Earth.

Ed Erdelac: At a basic level, I just like the idea of two big rubbery beasts blasting away at each other with atomic powers and getting choke slammed through the Empire State Building. My love of the genre goes back to sitting in front of the TV watching Son of Svengoolie, the popular b-movie horror host in the south suburbs of Chicago, eyes bugging to Godzilla and Gamera movies, and the American giant animal flicks of the 50′s like Them!, Tarantula, The Gila Monster, and The Deadly Mantis. I used to sit in the back of my dad’s Bronco on long trips through the countryside at night and imagine the hairy legs of the giant tarantula coming over the treetops of the woods in the distance.

As an adult writer, the appeal of the Monster Earth concept for me is the possibility inherent in every nation having its own big bad monster. When you think of kaiju movies, you don’t go typically much beyond America and Japan, but when Jim first talked about the concept I immediately started thinking, what kind of monster would Canada have? And that was the basis for my first story. I love learning about different cultures, and for me, the possibility of research was actually a big draw for me. I like exploring cultures and ethnicities that don’t often get the light shined on them in fiction, so for the first book, Canada’s monster being entwined with the native Inuit was a draw for me. For Betrayal, I had happened to be reading about Nazi hunters at the time, and knew I wanted to incorporate the Mossad and 1980′s Israel. So that’s why I jumped at Betrayal. The concept developed pretty quickly in my mind when the Jims sent me the bible and told me where they wanted the overall universe to go.

Nancy Hansen:  As a kid, I thoroughly enjoyed the old Kaiju movies, with their big spectacle showdowns between city wrecking monsters and people frantic to flee the destruction. Watching them stomp around, tearing the place apart provides same kind of adrenaline rush you get from carnival rides or the fun house, where you suspend disbelief and get caught up in the thrill of the moment. There was almost always a back story of mankind disrespecting Nature having awakened or even created these gargantuan creatures, and now it was up to us to rally together to deal with them. Something about that immense threat pitted against the military might of well-equipped nations made me feel just a bit more safe in a real world overshadowed by bigger-than-life issues like the Cold War and subsequent nuclear proliferation. It’s a comforting notion that should an overwhelming challenge come from beyond the realm of everyday reality, it would stop all the warmongering and unite humanity in a common cause.

That’s why I loved the concept of MONSTER EARTH from the first time I heard about it. The idea of using gigantic beasts or beings to fight in conflicts in lieu of conventional or nuclear weaponry is just plain brilliant. For the first book, we were all assigned an era, but given plenty of leeway in how to tell the story. My mind just took off with that. Working in all the period details—from military equipment to pop culture— was a lot of fun!

Jeff McGinnis: I love the fact that the stories are still essentially about people. Although every tale has grand tales of monster destruction and fighting, each is really focused on how humanity responds to such an occurrence. The best sci-fi, when distilled to its essence, is still a reflection of the human condition. I think “Monster Earth”‘s authors capture that in abundance.

Mark Bousquet: Please tell us about your story.

Nancy Hansen: One of the things I always found appealing with the Kaiju movies was that while the focused power of military might would temporarily knock down the monstrous threat, it always took human ingenuity on a more personal level to figure out how to defuse the situation entirely. There was generally a knowledgeable scientist or a precocious kid that no one would initially listen to who would eventually come up with a viable plan. I definitely wanted something like that in my tale. I also wanted some rather unusual combatants to face off, because there’s nothing more exciting than two unfamiliar colossal creatures duking it out with the poor humans trapped nearby and scrambling to get out of the way. Yet the humans must be the focus, and ultimately provide the answer to the situation. Since my era was the late 60s during the Vietnam War, I decided to forgo the obvious and focus the tale stateside, centered here on the east coast. Because I wanted to bring in a foreign monster as a potential threat to be met by the military use of a domestic one, the area needed a harbor as well as very diverse local cultural groups.

I’m a visual thinker, so I tend to see the scenes I plan to write as movie trailers. I had gotten a mental picture of a stoned out hippie on the beach waking up and having this creature the size of a highrise looming over him. I took that idea, the locale and era, and built the story around them. Initially I was thinking New York City, but I changed my mind and chose Boston instead, which had a similar cultural diversity, a definite vagrant hippie issue, and was undergoing some reconstruction growing pains at the time that could be exploited as monster destruction. I chose two creatures I figured no one else would think up; introducing a very angry giant Naga from the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the Native American avian legend, Thunderbird, who is deployed by the US military.

The story goes, a Ceylonese merchant steals a mystical artifact and then hightails it to the US, setting himself up as a famous guru. The Naga comes after him to retrieve it, and causes a wave of destruction in the process. Thunderbird is brought in for a showdown, and things get even more interesting. If not for the cooperative efforts of a couple of local homeless people, the answers to how to appease or control these creatures might never have been found.

Jeff McGinnis: “Reggie” is about a Canadian grad student who is working to synthesize a gene which allows humanity to create monsters at will. She runs into difficulty when her experiments succeed beyond her wildest expectations. Though the story has elements of the classic Dr. Frankenstein motif of playing god and so forth, I also like to think there’s elements in there that play as a rumination on motherhood and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Ed Erdelac: “A Haunt Of Jackals” is set against the First Intifada, a widespread unarmed Palestinian revolt in Jerusalem in 1987. Two Lebanese nationals pass into the heart of the city during the riots and inject themselves with a serum which transforms them into colossal striped hyena creatures which then begin rampaging across the Holy City. This incites a response from Israel’s national kaiju, an immense living sandstone statue known as The Magen, culminating in a knock down drag out three-way battle on the Temple Mount itself. It’s told from the point of view of a Mossad Nazi hunter who has been taken prisoner by one of his charges, a fugitive scientist, one who attempted to develop a German giant monster program in the 1940′s. The scientist is now working for anti-Israeli extremists, and develops the serum which the two ‘suicide-kaiju’ take.

The title A Haunt Of Jackals refers to a verse from Jeremiah 49, where God promises that Hazor will be rendered unlivable, ‘a haunt of jackals.’ The story is framed by two bible passages – Micah 5:13 (….you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands) and Acts Of The Apostles 17:29 (Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man).

I feel much of the conflict in the Middle East stems from the adherence of believers in the concept of holy land, and of Jerusalem being a holy city. There is certainly a lot of history in the place, and significance in its buildings. Yet one alternate reason for the great prophet Moses choosing to die alone where his people would not see him pass is because he didn’t want his grave revered and made a place of pilgrimage. Predictably, having three brawling giant monster converge on the Temple Mount doesn’t bode well for the architecture. If A Haunt Of Jackals is about anything other than three kaiju going at it, it’s how I feel, as a believer in God myself, about the very human, very self-defeating concept of ‘holy land.’ In my estimation, isn’t all land and aren’t all people equally holy?

I.A. Watson: I only got to include a story in Monster Earth volume 1, but “Famous Monsters of World War II or Happy Birthday Bobby Fetch” was nominated for Best Pulp Short Story 2013, not bad for a story I wrote over one fevered weekend break from a novel I was doing. It’s the title character Bobby Fetch’s 14th birthday, memorable because it was the day he first kissed a girl – and because it was 7th December 1941, “a day that will live in infamy”, and Bobby and his folks lived at Pearl Harbor. Except that this time when the Japanese raided they brought their monster with them, and they didn’t come to hit-and-run; with a gargantuan sea-beast on their side they came to conquer and occupy.

Mark Bousquet: What was your approach to getting your monster into print? If you created it, what was your approach to developing its size, characteristics, and personality?

Ed Erdelac: I just responded to the call for Betrayal, which the Jims were gracious enough to extend to me following my stint in the first Monster Earth book. The setting dictated the monsters’ characteristics for this story. I chose giant striped hyenas as the striped hyena is the national animal of Lebanon. They have this great look, curving hunched neck and bristled mane, very ferocious looking when they’re mad. I wanted them to have some kind of power so they can emit solar radiation beams from their eyes. For the Israeli monster, I wanted to allude to the fable of the Golem of Prague, this giant clay or stone figure that becomes animate and comes to the aide of the Jews. The Magen isn’t technically made of sandstone as we find out, but has a kind of sandstone skin.

Nancy Hansen: I did a ton of research for this one, because even though I had lived through the era and am a native New Englander, I can’t recall all that went on back then. It was the same process with laying out the design of the monsters, because both of these creatures are well established from the folklore of individual groups, and I wanted to use all that background material to best advantage. We were given a rough size range, and so I had a good idea of how big they would have to be in order to do the kind of massive damage that Kaiju critters are noted for. I also wanted them to have that fear factor impact, where they’re crunching cars and knocking down buildings. The humans around them are initially scattering like ants trying not to be trodden upon as these creatures fight for supremacy.

The Naga is somewhat sentient; a monster worshiped as a god figure in its native land. It could be reasoned with if one knew how. Thunderbird has some distinction as a tribal totem, but in this story, it’s a wild creature that has been appropriated and somewhat tamed by the US government, and retrained as a military unit. Both monsters had a sense of barely controlled edginess to them, and so I built in the idea that because of cultural misconceptions, they weren’t well understood until the two people who had knowledge of their heritage came together with their own solutions. That gave me the human element of the story that it needed, and the rest was all filling in fun details.

These stories are a lot of fun to write, which also makes them an enjoyable read. You can tell that everyone involved was enthusiastic about the project. Even if I didn’t have a tale in the first MONSTER EARTH, I’d highly recommend the books.

I.A. Watson: My story covered the second ever modern-age public appearance of monsters – two of them, since Hawaii had a kaiju of its own. The narrative therefore had to show the impact that those first appearances a few years earlier had caused. I managed that by having Bobby’s parents be researchers into the phenomenon, allowing for newsreel “flashbacks” and context discussion. There had to be a reason all these creatures started waking up now. I posited that the nearness of one beast awakens others.

I also wanted the monsters to “mean” something. The Japanese Kraken reflected the darkest spirit that had possessed the nation at the time of its Nazi atrocities. The Hawaiian creature was drawn from their legends, in which the monster is also sometimes human. There’s a whole sub-genre of monsters who get “driven” by human intelligences that Monster Earth hadn’t touched yet, so I thought it would be interesting to dig into some old indigenous folklore about about guardian spirits and about beautiful girls who become rampaging giant monsters when treated wrongly. If Japan had a monster to attack the people of Hawaii, why shouldn’t the Hawaiians have a monster to defend them? And why shouldn’t it be a love story as well as a monster story? And a tragedy?

The best monster clash stories are a bit like watching pro wrestling; we want a goodie to cheer and a baddie to boo. And was there ever a clearer cut case of right vs wrong, of courage vs infamy than at Pearl Harbor? Just add monsters.

I did a sort-of sequel to my story too, to underline some of the themes. You can read “Chuck Ronson Reporting” free at http://www.mechanoidpress.com/2013/02/12/chuck-ronson-reporting-a-monster-earth-bonus-story-by-i-a-watson/

Jeff McGinnis: Reggie — the stunted bird which becomes my story’s “monster” — is based on a real family pet: A grey cockatiel we had as a kid that my brother named after Reggie White, the football player. I had already come up with the basic idea of the story when I began teasing out what the monster would be, and when a few plot elements led me to decide the creature was a bird, I made it a cockatiel and dubbed it “Reggie” in tribute. Since the story is about the creation of a creature, Reggie grows throughout the story to dramatize the ever-growing nature of the problem he presents. And since it’s fairly crucial thematically that Reggie not be a violent creature, I modeled his personality on his namesake pet, and indeed most pet birds I have known. Docile, curious, easily startled, just a hair this side of oblivious.

———

And that’s it for this go-round. Thanks to all the MONSTER EARTH folks for the chat!

Andif this wasn’t enough words from me to you, my latest GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC collection, ABSINTHE & STEAM, is out. I’d be much obliged if you gave it a look.

Gunfighter Gothic Volume 2: Absinthe & Steam.

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One thought on “Atomic Interview #24: Talking BETRAYAL ON MONSTER EARTH

  1. Pingback: Atomic Anxiety Talks BETRAYAL ON MONSTER EARTH |

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