“This is what we have come to expect from Morrow: intelligent, thoughtful, dark comedy with real bite—and in this case radioactive breath.”
—New York Review of Science Fiction
It is the early summer of 1945, and war reigns in the Pacific Rim with no end in sight. Back in the States, Hollywood B-movie star Syms Thorley lives in a very different world, starring as the Frankenstein-like Corpuscula and Kha-Ton-Ra, the living mummy. But the U.S. Navy has a new role waiting for Thorley, the role of a lifetime that he could never have imagined.
“…sharp-edged, delightfully batty…skillfully mingling real and imaginary characters with genuinely hilarious moments.”
The top secret Knickerbocker Project is putting the finishing touches on the ultimate biological weapon: a breed of gigantic, fire-breathing, mutant iguanas engineered to stomp and burn cities on the Japanese mainland. The Navy calls upon Thorley to don a rubber suit and become the merciless Gorgantis and to star in a live drama that simulates the destruction of a miniature Japanese metropolis. If the demonstration succeeds, the Japanese will surrender, and many thousands of lives will be spared; if it fails, the horrible mutant lizards will be unleashed. One thing is certain: Syms Thorley must now give the most terrifyingly convincing performance of his life.
“This dark, wildly funny, politically incorrect satire is a winner.”
—Nancy Kress, author of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
In the dual traditions of Godzilla as a playful monster and a symbol of the dawn of the nuclear era, SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA unexpectedly blends the destruction of World War II with the halcyon pleasure of monster movies.
“James Morrow’s bizarrely funny new book SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA turns the usual Godzilla paradigm on its head: Instead of being inspired by the horrors of nuclear war, Godzilla is its herald.”
Whether this memoir will turn out to be the world’s longest suicide note, or instead the means by which I might elude the abyss, only time can tell: a precise interval of time, in fact, the twenty-five hours that stretch between the present moment, Sunday, October 28, 1984, 11:06 A.M., and my presumed departure tomorrow on the noon shuttle to the airport. Right now the other route by which I may exit this sterile Baltimore hotel—the balcony—is the more alluring. I need merely cross the room, slide back the glass door, step onto the terrace, and avail myself of the hundred-foot drop to the parking lot.
Appearances are deceiving. Just because you’re reading my story, that doesn’t mean I lost my nerve and took the shuttle bus. The proper inference may simply be that I slipped the manuscript into an envelope festooned with stamps and addressed to the Rachel Bishop Literary Agency in New York, then left the package outside my door along with a note asking the hotel management to pop it in the nearest mailbox. Are you reading this, Rachel? I love you, sweetheart. You’re the greatest agent a has-been ever had. Assuming you find somebody who can decipher my handwriting, feel free to transcribe these pages, give them a title—The Day of the Lizard, perhaps, or Peasants with Torches, or Shambling Towards Hiroshima—and sell the thing to Doubleday for a big, fat advance, collecting your well-earned ten percent. The balance should go to Darlene. Yes, Rachel, I believe you’ve finally gotten a bestseller out of me, and it arrives bearing the ultimate seal of authenticity, the author’s notorious leap into oblivion, at once swan dive and swan song. True, the NSA may attempt to block publication, but when they go to make their case, the judge will laugh them out of court, especially when he hears about the giant fire-breathing bipedal iguanas.
To tell you the truth, Rachel, I’ve been dropping hints about the Knickerbocker Project behemoths for over four years now, mostly to my devotees—that is, to admirers of Kha-Ton-Ra the living mummy, Corpuscula the alchemical creature, and Gorgantis, King of the Lizards. The kids aren’t interested. Instead they want to know how many yards of rotting gauze I wore in Curse of Kha-Ton-Ra. (One hundred fifty, as a matter of fact.) Did I play both roles in Corpuscula Meets the Doppelgänger? (Of course I did, O ye of little fanaticism.) Did I really write the script for Gorgantis the Invincible under the pseudonym Akira Fukiji? (Not only that, I wrote Gorgantis Unchained as Kihachi Ifukabe and Gorgantis vs. Octopocalypse as Minoru Natsuke.) By now the fans realize that, sooner or later, I’ll manage to bring up my obsession with Überweapons—biological, atomic, and otherwise. They tolerate this tic of mine, but barely. History holds no fascination for them. The politics of atrocity bores them silly.
A Martian would be within his rights to ask why I’m in such low spirits this morning. After all, last night the Wonderama Fantasy Film Convention presented me with a major award, the Raydo, a name meant to evoke not only the rhedosaurus, that ersatz dinosaur featured in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, but also the two Rays without whom the movie wouldn’t exist—Bradbury, author of the original story, and Harryhausen, stop-motion animator extraordinaire. Were my hypothetical Martian to drop by Room 2014 right now, I would explain that on our planet winning a pewter trophy doesn’t feel nearly as good as bottomless despair feels bad.
In my view it’s boorish to complain about banquet food, so let me go on record as saying that the chicken croquettes and bean salad at the Wonderama Awards dinner were scrumptious. Predictably enough, everybody squirmed during my acceptance speech—as usual, I railed against the thermonuclear arsenals into whose maw our civilization may soon disappear—and the applause was understandably tepid. Feeling at once piqued and chagrined, I slipped away before the next event, a raffle for a credible facsimile of my Gorgantis suit, which the Wonderama staff evidently got for a steal after the National Science Fiction Museum in Denver went bust.
My Raydo statuette is a rather handsome artifact, featuring not only a skillful reproduction of the rhedosaurus in all his dorsal-plated glory, but also the Maine lighthouse he destroys halfway through the picture. The inscription is eloquent and contains only one error. Syms K. Thorley, Lifetime Achievement
Award, Baltimore Imagi-Movies Society, 1984. My madeup middle initial is J. Where did they get that K ? I hope they weren’t thinking of my eternal nemesis, the egregious Siegfried K. Dagover. That would be the unkindest typo of all.
Today my Raydo will function as a paperweight, securing each successive page after I’ve torn it, littered with my scribblings, from the legal pad. I’m equipped with thirty such virgin tablets, and I’ve laid in other essentials, too. A box of Bic pens, a carton of filter-tipped Camels, a jar of Maxwell House instant coffee with a submersible heating coil, two pastrami sandwiches from room service, a liter of amontillado in a novelty cut-glass decanter. This is Edgar Allan Poe’s city, after all, and I’ve decided to pay him homage. Pardon me while I take a few sips of sherry—yes, it’s decadent to drink before noon, but Poe’s hovering shade expects me to follow protocol—and then I’ll begin my tale.
“…a reminder that for all the shenanigans in his plots, [James Morrow is] first and foremost just a great writer.”
For more info on SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Ann Monn