Kaiju Time Slip – Charles E.P. Murphy – Review

Kaiju Time Slip  

Charles E.P. Murphy  

When you think of kaijus – or gigantic city-wrecking monstrosities to those of you not particularly au-fait with one of the pinnacles of modern movie making – you’re really only going to be thinking of two particular geographic locations for these stories, whether they’re in a written format or a cinematic format. The first, of course, is Japan – the island chain that birthed the most famous kaiju in existence, Godzilla (King of Monsters if you need a subtitle) and which has seen a constantly-thriving cinematic industry based around Godzilla and Godzilla-adjacent films, with 32 live-action and animated films released as of 2022 and undoubtedly just as many to come throughout the rest of the 21st Century. The second geographic location is the United States – and much more specifically, the East and West Coast of the United States, featuring iconic cities like New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The kaiju attacking American cities is usually – er, well, until recently it’s just been Godzilla and his coterie of hangers-on in the recent Warner Brothers-produced films, smashing apart various landmarks, buildings, bridges and even aircraft carriers and battleships in the latest CGI-fest, Godzilla vs Kong. Plus of course the two delightfully cheesy Pacific Rim films, in which humanity is attacked by kaiju from another dimension and make the entirely logical and sole decision that the only way to fight back is to employ orbital bombardment – no, wait, sorry, construct giant humanoid mechs to punch them with. Entirely logical, surely, and very cinematic even before the melodious and crush-worthy voice of Idris Elba is added to the mix. (The less we talk about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 cinematic abomination known as Godzilla the better, unless we are discussing it entirely in terms of how ironically bad it is) 

Now, both of these make sense as locations for a great many reasons – primarily because both Japan and the United States possess long, open stretches of coast to allow for Godzilla or other assorted kaiju to menacingly emerge out of and begin trashing whichever unfortunate city they’ve decided to pick on today, contemptuously knocking over buildings and causing the sort of urban and suburban rezoning that NIMBYs can only otherwise dream about in the shower. However, while few people are actually aware of this fact, did you know that there are in fact many other countries that have shorelines for gigantic monstrosities to wade out of as a camera focuses lovingly on them? Indeed, the Usbourne Children’s Picture Atlas that I keep in my study shows that there are literally dozens of countries that have shorelines just begging to be decimated by high pixel-count monsters as a humanoid mech swings a cargo ship at them (Okay, fine, that was actually a pretty cool scene Guillermo del Toro, you can have that one). But did you also know that countries without a shoreline can attract kaiju? Countries like Switzerland, which I don’t think has ever been graced with a kaiju attack in the history of fiction, or indeed even remembered by anyone outside of people occasionally remembering that one witty line from The Third Man. Well let me tell you, author Charles E.P. Murphy damn well remembers, and has decided to write a kaiju novella that doesn’t feature either the United States or Japan. 

This highly dangerous and radical decision, which would surely be condemned with the most vociferous damnation by Toho and Legendary Pictures if they were ever to become aware of it (no, TriStar Pictures, we don’t care what you’d say, you get to stay on the Step of Shame alongside Roland Emmerich) has resulted in the novella known as Kaiju Time Slip, by an author I consider to be one of the most talented multi-genre writers I’ve seen in quite some time. Murphy has penned alternate history (the gritty, alien-focused Events: Prime Ministers during the Alien Era and the more traditional Chamberlain Resigns and other things that did not happen), espionage thrillers shot through with a vein of black comedy (Codename Spectrum) and even straight horror (such as his superb short-story collection The Rotting City and Other Stories) and regardless of genre they’re united by some key aspects – namely detailed, believable characters, intricate plotting and superb prose, and a distinct ability to write dark comedy that pokes fun at both its subject matter and its author as required. I’ve been a fan of Murphy for quite some time, even before I become good friends with him, and as such I was thrilled when I heard that he was publishing a kaiju novella. And not just a kaiju novella – as the back-cover blurb gleefully notes, this is a kaiju black comedy that encompasses not just gigantic city-trashing monsters, but also time-travel, aliens, lots of swearing, all brought together with a broad dose of highly topical (and yet also timeless) political satire based around government incompetence, inefficiency and general inadequacy. You really couldn’t write a back-cover blurb that would attract me more comprehensively to a book, and when combined with the superb cover art, it made for an overall package that I couldn’t wait to get to stuck into

As Kaiju Time Slip opens, humanity only has hours left to survive as a free and independent world able to make its own decisions, no matter how bad or inexplicable they are. Several months ago, alien warships hoved into orbit around the planet and delivered a very clear and concise ultimatum: surrender or be destroyed by a series of extraterrestrial kaiju that the aliens would land in various parts of the world and let them do what kaiju do naturally. Absent any gigantic ape with a glowing axe, spiky lizard creature from the depths with nuclear-tinged breath or gigantic humanoid mechs of their own (or the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge – seriously, fuck you Emmerich), humanity was almost helpless to resist as a variety of gigantic monsters wrecked the planet. Most nations either surrendered to extraterrestrial rule or became extinct, leaving the shattered remnants of humanity’s military, scientific and political elements to make a final stand in Switzerland. Why Switzerland? Well, apart from the fact that Murphy clearly agrees with me that it’s about time that Switzerland’s vaunted neutrality was challenged for once, it turns out that all the lunatic, tin-foil hat conspiracy theories were true – the CERN Large Hadron Supercollider actually can cause time-travel, it was just being covered up by the United Nations to avoid any time-travelling shenanigans. This is unfortunately another regular case of the fictional United Nations being a badass, super-competent globalist organization, as compared to its real-life counterpart which can’t even manage to keep its own lights on half the time and likes to ignore the war crimes committed by its peacekeepers in Africa. But I digress: as humanity’s last defending forces – a cobbled-together collection of fighter jets and tanks from across the globe – are ground into a fine paste by yet more skyscraper-tall monsters, a small team of humanity’s most elite scientists and specialists are sent back in time to try and prevent this whole “Humanity’s Doom” scenario from playing out.

Sorry – did I say “humanity’s most elite scientists and specialists” by mistake? Oh no, wait, they’re all dead and vapourised by various kaiju-related scenarios that not even the most liberally-minded insurance companies would pay out on. No, instead humanity’s fate relies upon a group of amoral, drug-addled losers, bureaucrats and second-rate scientists, including protagonist Jack Grist – whose sole defining attribute contributing to this team is the fact that he was born in London and vaguely knows his way around the capital. Why is this such an important ability? Well, it turns out that one day before the aliens arrived and began dropping down E.T.’s steroid-abusing, jacked-up older brothers, a good-old fashioned Earth monster emerged from the depths of the sea and began trashing London and the surrounding area. It was successfully defeated by the British armed forces after a long fight, but this victory was rapidly overshadowed within 24 hours by the confirmation that a) humanity is not alone in the universe and b) it rapidly began to wish that it actually still was. If Grist and his dubious companions can work together to ensure that Abersaurus can be kept alive by the authorities, then there’s a slim chance that it can be used to fight back against the alien kaijus and save humanity. To achieve that lofty goal, unfortunately, Grist will have to contend with slippery, double-dealing politicians, a political institution that would rather focus on the electoral benefits of a kaiju attack than how to save Britain – and humanity as a whole – and a terrifyingly inhuman and highly intelligent kaiju with its own agenda. All wrapped up in a fast-paced plot littered with some fantastic action sequences, as kaijus clash and fighter jets and tanks hurl inconceivable amounts of explosives at them.

Beneath the comedic tone and broad, farcical plot elements, Murphy’s keen eye picks out more subtle elements that make this far more than the two-dimensional kaiju parody it would first appear. To take just one example, we are given certain parts of the novella from Abersaurus’ point of view, providing some insight into why this monster is actively rampaging through Britain after spending uncounted millennia in peace underneath the waves; it’s something that, for all of movies and anime made featuring the famous kaiju, we never actually got from Godzilla. We never really found out why – from its point of view –  the giant nuclear lizard spent time repeatedly rampaging through Japan, whereas Murphy gives us some intriguing – and often deeply uncomfortable – insights into the environmental conditions that brought Abersaurus to the planet’s surface, and the manner in which climate change and humanity’s disastrous pollution of the environment led to the kiaju having to abandon the ocean and imperil humanity at long last. Murphy also provides some thought-provoking scenes which examine humanity’s resistance to the kaiju menace – rather than resist in a united front, as depicted in most – if not all – kaiju movies, there are some nations that readily surrender to the monsters and their alien overlords; and there are pockets of humans who decide to ignore the encroaching monsters and continue to party and ignore even the most basic safety measures despite risk of imminent death, reactions that becomes more and more obvious would actually occur when the response to the Covid-19 pandemic is taken into account. I should also point out that it is a very British kaiju story, and all the better for it, with Murphy bringing a certain British irreverence to all of the subjects blended together in the prose; the story has its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek as the plot progresses, with Murphy deftly skewering everything from the average British citizens contempt for Westminster politicians, to the disgraceful predations of landlords renting substandard properties to university students. It just adds another impressive layer to an already multi-faceted story.

Taken all together, Kaiju Time Slip is a delightfully chaotic blend of kaiju action, political intrigue, timely satire and well-executed black comedy, all deftly woven into a fast-paced and thoroughly engaging plot that’s stripped of any padding or extraneous scenes. Murphy is clearly a fan of kaiju media and keenly demonstrates an inherent understanding of both its strengths and weaknesses, adroitly avoiding the latter and smoothly playing up the former, including numerous cinematic action sequences that I would kill to see on the silver screen. It is also a thoughtful piece of kaiju media, something incredibly rare and precious, engaging with tropes and stereotypes and other elements of that genre with a skill and consideration I have never actually seen before. This is the sort of writing that the kaiju medium – and many others – need in order to revive and refresh themselves, and it is my hope that my review of this superlative novella can go some way to demonstrating that. It should also demonstrate just how impressive a writer Murphy is – and how far he can go if he is able to find an audience. I am determined to ensure that he does, and you will see me reviewing far more of his works in the future – as well as interviewing the author himself. Murphy is an up-and-coming star across numerous genres, and Kaiju Time Slip is the latest evidence of that. But I very much doubt it will be the last – and I’ll be there reading everything he publishes.

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