MONSTER EARTH out now from Mechanoid Press

Out now in print and e-formats from Mechanoid Press is Monster Earth, in which my short story Mighty Nanuq vs. The Sea Wolf appears, alongside stories by I.A. Watson, Jim Beard, Fraser Sherman, James Palmer, and Nancy Hansen.

Monster Earth Cover letters placeholder art


Ah look at that swell Eric Johns cover….

svengoolieEvery once in a while I hear about an anthology that I have to drop everything and write something for. Last year, though I was in the midst of finishing the last Merkabah Rider novel and a couple other projects, Jim Beard’s and Jim Palmer’s Monster Earth was it.

I LOVE kaiju or giant monster movies. When I was a kid in the south suburbs of Chicago there was a show called Son of Svengoolie, where local TV personality Rich Koz (in KISS-like makeup) would stand in a 70’s rock art casket telling goofy jokes and dodging rubber chickens over various classic genre movies like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

Tarantula1The Son of Svengoolie introduced me to giant monster flicks, via THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, TARANTULA, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THEM!, and of course, dubbed Japanese fare like GAMERA VS. BARUGON, GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, and GODZILLA VS. KING KONG.

When I was a kid bouncing around in the back of my dad’s blue Ford Bronco along country roads at night, I’d imagine the spindly legs of a giant spider dragging its horrendous bulk over the hills as we drove past, and I couldn’t simply disassemble a house of LEGOS without kicking it over and breathing imaginary atomic fire.

kkgozSo when the Jims announced calls for MONSTER EARTH, an anthology of giant monster stories in a shared world, it took all my willpower not to respond, and when they contacted me personally, I caved like Osaka Castle in an Angirus and Godzilla sandwich.

The premise of MONSTER EARTH is that following World War II, the nations of planet earth became embroiled in a Cold War based not around the proliferation of nucelar arms, but giant monsters. Each country fields its own legendary giant creature discovered and harnessed (in various ways) within its borders. America has an immense sasquatch like creature, etc.

When folks were picking their countries and kaijus, I decided on Canada.

Yeah, Canada. So what?

Above The Arctic Circle -- QikiqtarjuaqI had always wanted to write a story about Inuit culture, and combining that with my love for old school 1950’s giant animal attack movies, I came up with Mighty Nanuq, a colossal polar bear that breathes subzero breath and has luminous blue eyes.

Now MONSTER EARTH is not entirely about monsters. To bring it down to a relatable level there’s a human element. Mine is the strained relationship between a young Inuit man of the 60’s counterculture and his uncle, an angakkuq or shaman, who came into his birthright in the 1940’s, at the height of World War II and now works for the Canadian government.

As inspiration for the 1940’s segement of the story (which the uncle relates to his wayward nephew), I used the real life Nazi U-boat landing at Martin Bay in northern Labrador in 1943, a little known incident in which the Germans actually landed in a remote part of Canada and installed a battery powered weather station to transmit radio signals the U-boats and ships of the German navy in the North Atlantic could then use in their fight against the allies. Extreme cold weather killed the station after only three days, and a sub sent out to repair the station (named Kurt after the initial mission leader Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer) was sunk.  The entire event was totally unknown to history until a German engineer researching a history book in the 1970’s wrote to the Canadian government inquiring as to the status of the weather station. As the Canadian government was completely unaware of its existence, the historian provided them with its coordinates (from Sommermeyer’s original notes), and it was discovered intact and now resides in the Canadian War Museum.

Of course, in MIGHTY NANUQ VS. THE SEA WOLF, no mere weather station is going to warrant the intervention of Canadian intelligence or an enormous polar bear, so that was just a springboard I used to depict a giant kaiju battle on the icy shores of Labrador, with Nazis duking out with a Canadian commando in the background.

occupationAnother historical event I tweak in the course of the story is the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island by the IAT (Indians Of All Tribes), an aboriginal rights group that incuded John Trudell. At the time, Alcatraz Prison was shut down and closed to the public, so citing The Treaty Of Fort Laramie, which stated that unused federal land was to be turned over to the Native Americans, the group seized control of Alcatraz with the intent of creating an Indian cultural center on the spot, as well as meeting other native demands.

Now if Nixon had access to a giant monster, I propose there was no way he would’ve allowed a bunch of long hairs to conduct a sit-in on federal land for nineteen months.

Anyway, all of these seemingly disparate elements come together in MIGHTY NANUQ VS. THE SEAWOLF in MONSTER EARTH from Mechanoid Press.

Here’s an excerpt.

* * *

Hallauk put the field glasses to his eyes and peered to the north.

subIn an inlet in the rocky shoreline, a great iron boat longer than a whale floated. A yellow bearded kabloonak, almost like the kavdlunait of which his grandfather had spoken, in a black reefer jacket stained with sea salt, and a high necked white sweater and cap, stood atop a tower in the center of the boat, shouting guttural orders to a gaggle of men in dark peacoats hustling to repair a great gash rent in the starboard bow. A group of men armed with rifles stood watch. These had red armbands over their left elbows, with white circles and strange black symbols within. A trio of men in drab grey coveralls were working to erect some kind of long, slim metal apparatus fixed to the side of the tower on which the captain stood.

“They probably ran aground during the storm. As we suspected, the Nazis are using some kind of radio antenna to control their monster. They’ve only just erected it,” said LeDuc, sliding the action on his Lanchester. “Look there off that small island.”

Hallauk swung the binoculars to the indicated area, and saw a huge swell in the sea. Something was circling nearby like an orca, but bigger even than the iron boat. Its huge wake rippled white in the icy waters.

LeDuc patted his shoulder then.

“Wish me luck, my friend.”

“What do you hope to do?”

“Well, after I blow the control transceiver, there’s forty more sailors down in the belly of that U-boat. I’ve got a hundred rounds of ammunition. Maybe I can take ‘em by surprise, if they all line up, eh?”

There was a great cracking sound then.

The submarinal creature, whatever it was, had swum beneath the sheet of ice on their side of the strait, and with a flick of its great head, thrust itself up through the frozen water.

What pulled itself from the hole and onto the shore a few yards north of the U-boat, made both men shudder uncontrollably.

DemonWolf-1It was a thing of nightmares. A monstrous dripping black wolf head, the jaws lined with fangs each the size of a tall chest of drawers, between which a massive tongue lolled. Two sharp ears like the fins of airplanes protruded from its great black skull, and two unnatural, cloudy white eyes glistened in its horrible face. It looked about briefly, snuffling its black nose, then a pair of long clawed feet smashed through the ice and hooked into the shore, pulling the rest of its bulk out of the water.

The body that followed that terrible head was even more horrendous to behold. It was nearly twice as long as the U-boat, and about midway down its torso its furry canine shoulders gave way to a greenish, scaly fish body that tapered into a serpentine, finned tail. Its two rear legs were scaled and clawed, like that of a dragon in a fairy book.

The hideous monstrosity shook its great head like a wet dog and arched back its neck, eliciting a bone chilling howl loud enough to be felt beneath their feet and in their very bones. When the terrifying cry finally died off, they could hear the distant rumble of avalanches in the Torngats.

LeDuc snatched the binoculars from Hallauk and stared through them.

“It has a collar. That must be the radio receiver,” he observed.

True enough, there was a great metal collar around the creature’s neck, marked with the same bent black crosses as the arms of the German soldiers down below.

“And there’s our monstrumfuhrer on the conning tower,” said LeDuc, pointing to the U-boat as a bespectacled man with a red armband in a green uniform and black jackboots emerged from the depths of the tower. He had a complicated looking metal helmet on, and was shouting at the men adjusting the antenna.

“Wish I had a proper rifle instead of this little typewriter,” LeDuc said bitterly.

“This man thinks you will need help,” said Hallauk.

LeDuc looked at Hallauk.

“It’s good of this man to offer, but unless he’s got a giant pussycat for that thing oversized mongrel down there to chase….”

polarbear“This man has something better,” said Hallauk, raising his arms.

From the center of the cluster of the Torngat Mountains a funnel cloud of snow gathered and rose, as if all the cold in the area were drawn towards that faraway spot. In the middle of that maelstrom of ice and snow, a huge shape reared, indistinguishable from the whirling powder but for a faint black spot in the center of its knobby peak, a hundred meters in the air.

There came a thunderous crashing noise, rhythmic and relentless, growing in power and sound, like unimaginable footsteps that sent loose rocks tumbling down the mountainsides as if fleeing its dreadful approach….


Little China, The Rock, The Emperor, and Cannery Row

Having missed out on Wild Wild West Con, I decided to take the family up north for a proper vacation and see not only the big Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco, but also some sites I had been meaning to see for some time.

We set out on Friday and ploughed through torrential downpours most of the way. Coincidentally my wife’s friend was house sitting her parents’ place, so we decided to stop over in Fresno and spend the night there, saving on a night’s worth of hotel stay and catching up.

Saturday morning we went the rest of the way up to SF, and wound up staying at a Motel 6 in Oakland. I’ve never been to Oakland before, and don’t see a reason for ever going back. Bit on the skuzzy side. The most interesting thing we saw there was a Lexus painted two tone yellow and green, like a taxicab. Lexus and Mustang drivers are the worst drivers in America. Lexus drivers almost universally seem to be either oblivious to the rules of the road, or assume they somehow don’t apply to them. Mustang drivers think they’re skillful drivers, but from what I’ve seen, usually can’t handle their cars.

We got to Chinatown in time for the start of the parade. It’s a great show, the largest of its kind in the U.S. The rain had slowed to a tolerable drizzle, not nearly enough to put a damper on the dragon dancers or to interfere with the bricks of firecrackers. My daughter had enough after about forty minutes however, and we went over to Four Seasons, the three story restaurant on the main drag in Chinatown that we usually visited on past excursions. Unfortunately the entire place had been booked by a private party (likely the mayor, as the last time we were there he showed up with his entourage a little after we arrived), so after a bit of hunting we came across a place called The Chinatown Restaurant. Out front a lady thrust a flyer at us, and promised us the food was good. The flyer announced the 92nd anniversary of the place, and offered free pot stickers, so we figured why not?

It was cold inside (enough to see your breath), and the ground floor was wet and spread with drop cloths. We went up to the second floor and were seated pretty quickly, three and a half of us to a two person table (it was pretty crowded). We had to get our own menus and the waitress didn’t speak English, but the Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken was fantastic and the Tsingtaos were three bucks. I enjoyed it as an alternate.

After a debilitating hike back up to the parking garage we retired for the night.

Big Trouble in Little China

In the early morning we packed up and set out for Alcatraz as my wife had never been there. The ferry over was nice. The girls were particularly thrilled. Even the baby seemed to be ecstatic at everything she saw.

The last time I’d been to the Rock I was probably eight or nine years old and not nearly as appreciative of the history. I was particularly interested in the stuff about the Native American Indian political occupation of the island in the 70’s. Some of the buildings still bear graffiti relating to that, though I could swear that as a kid it wasn’t there, nor did I remember any presentations about the event. It’s possible my parents weren’t interested and so steered me away from it, but the ‘Indians Welcome’ tag is so prominent when you get off at the dock I’m surprised I have no memory of it.

Grafitti left over from the Native American occupation

Another aspect of the prison that fascinated me this time around was the block of cells at the corner of Michigan Avenue (the rows between the cell blocks were given street names, like Broadway, etc.). These cells were apparently the most desirable as the sun shined through the high windows into the cells here.

The sky over Broadway

The local yacht club also held an annual New Years Eve party and one of the prisoner narrators on the audio tour said that when the breeze blew in a certain direction the prisoners here could actually smell the food and liquor, and hear the laughter of men and women, reminding them of all they were missing out on on the outside.

I also learned that in the mid 19th century many hostile Indians were briefly incarcerated on the island. I had read recently that Geronimo had been imprisoned for a time at the Presidio, but I wonder if he saw or spent time on Alcatraz….

I think my daughter was a little bored, but my wife and I enjoyed ourselves. After returning to the mainland, I decided to take them to the Palace of Fine Arts, which is a magnificent columned structure and lagoon constructed for the 1915 Panama Exhibition.

Nolie on The Palace of Fine Arts

Three quarters of San Francisco had the same idea though, and I spent forty minutes driving around looking for parking with the baby asleep in back while my wife and eldest daughter enjoyed the park. I finally found a spot and was backing into it when they appeared alongside the car, ready to depart.

From there we headed to Colma, California. This place is very nearly a modern day necropolis, with four or five expansive cemeteries located along the same stretch of road within minutes of each other. Colma is the burial place of many early luminaries. I was there to see Emperor Norton I’s final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery and the graves of Wyatt and Josie Earp at the neighboring Hills of Eternity.

For those who don’t know of Joshua Norton, well, look him up on wiki. An eccentric Englishman who lost his fortune and his mind in an ill-fated rice venture, Norton turned up on the streets of San Francisco in a raggedy uniform and plumed hat, issuing imperial proclamations to the Chronicle office (which they snidely printed). Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

The Emperor and I

The citizens of San Francisco humored him, honoring his homemade currency and saving him a complimentary box in the theaters and free seating in the restaurants. He was a unique soul and a visionary besides. He decreed the building of the Bay Bridge and Transbay Tunnel 53 years before the plan was taken seriously and implemented. A contemporary of Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce, his funeral was an elaborate, well-attended affair.

And Wyatt and Josie Earp, well, if you’re reading this blog you very likely know who they were.

The kids both crashed after the inordinately long trek through clogging traffic, and by the time we got there there was no one around in the way of caretakers. I spent a good twenty minutes doing my best impression of Tuco jogging amid the tombstones, squinting at the names in the fading light before my wife honked the horn at me and showed me a picture of the actual tombstone in the biography of Norton I’d packed along. I identified a column in the background and found the grave of the ‘Empress’ first, with Norton behind. Took a few pictures, and at my wife’s suggestion, left a Twinkie on His Majesty’s tombstone (it was all I had handy). Unfortunately it slipped into the water-filled face and challenged the spongey-ness of the sponge cake to the breaking point.

My golden offering is sadly waterlogged.

Dropped the wife and kids off at Subway (they were starving) and headed back to Hills of Eternity, but found it roped off. I was very disappointed there, having come so far physically and metaphorically (I visited Wyatt’s birthplace in Monmouth, Illinois back in college). I was quite tempted to run the risk of trespassing, but seeing as how I’d left the family at a foreign Subway and my wife’s phone was in the car, I decided I’d better not risk it, particularly since the Colma Police Department was only a few doors down.

Somewhere in that necropolis Wyatt and Josie lay....

We drove a few hours out of town and spent the night in Monterrey. After being turned away like Mary and Joseph from several of the big chain hotels (busy holiday weekend), we stayed at the quite tasteful (and cheap) Casa Verde Inn. No internet, but more cable channels than the Motel 6 in Oakland, and much cleaner and nicer. Fell asleep switching between Superman The Movie and Attack of the Clones. The owner was very pleasant.

All of Monterrey was quite hospitable, actually. We took the kids to the Aquarium on Cannery Row.

Cannery Row

 A lot’s changed since Steinbeck’s days. Very touristy now, and all the old sardine canneries house trendy chain restaurants and pirate themed gift shops.  Lee Chong’s isn’t around anymore, but there was a bronze bust of the man himself, next to Bubba Gump’s (a restaurant that may not deserve my spite, but I can’t help it because it’s named after a movie that does deserve it).

The Bear Flag no longer has the biggest bust on Cannery Row....

The old Hovden Cannery is now the site of the Monterey Aquarium, where we spent most of the day. The jellies and sea dragons always mesmerize me, but we were unanimously taken in by the site of the schools of sardines. Once the staple commissary of Cannery Row, they mainly exist here in the aquarium after having been overfished years ago (when asked where all the sardines went, marine biologist Ed Ricketts replied ‘They’re all in cans.’). They move in lovely patterns, more imaginative than but with the same precision as flocks of bats and birds, inadverdantly forming these complex geometric patterns of flitting, living silver. In the picture I took, the fish had only just commanded the center of their tank in a beautiful ever-revolving sphere. They broke apart just as I snapped the photo.

We lunched on crab-encrusted salmon, clam chowder, and cheeseburgers at Fisherman’s Cove on Fisherman’s Wharf, watched the sea lions float by. My daughter took pictures with several exotic birds, hustled us for some souvenirs, then we swung for home.