An Assymetry of Kaiju

godzillaSo, along with the recently released Kong: Skull Island movie release, the Geekverse began buzzing with speculation as to what giant monsters might eventually be integrated into Legendary Pictures’ newly introduced Monsterverse, which is currently populated with Godzilla and King Kong, along with the soon-to-(possibly)-debut Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of Monsters, slated for 2019. Along with suggesting the entire pantheon of monsters from the Japanese films and the (woefully optimistic) Pacific Rim kaiju, one other name kept coming up that I feel deeply opposed to: Cthulhu.

As a fan of Godzilla from my wee days and a consistent fan of Lovecraft’s works, I love both of these beasties. However, they are not nearly relative to one another; not in a physiological sense and definitely not in a narrative sense. Of course, on the surface, they both appear to share enough similarities: both are gigantic creatures, roughly the same size. Both are incredibly destructive. Both are as separate from the magnitude and control by mankind as an ant is from a man. However, any similarity stops there. Fundamentally, there represent two different types of narrative adversary and two totally different existential conflicts.

Godzilla was originally conceived as a physical presentation of the horrific effects of atomic weapons. Over time, his actual role in movies and his relationship with man have changed but he remains largely the same. At best, he is a beneficial yet irreconcilable force. At worst, he is a destructive, uncontrollable predator. In most cases he seems ignorant of mankind but even when we have his attention, he rarely is malevolent. Rather, Godzilla simply does not give us any regard and is not any more phased by our suffering or destruction than a tornado or hurricane or any other six hundred foot lizard.

The singularly important fact about Godzilla in this discussion is that he is ‘finite’. In the movies where he is an exclusively destructive force, like in Godzilla (1954) or Shin Godzilla (2017), man is shown to be clearly outclassed before ultimately rallying and developing a weapon that kills him or at least neutralizes his threat. The message: Godzilla is a monstrous, destructive force created by mankind and clearly out of control but not beyond the capabilities of man.

Even in the movies where he is a benevolent to man, or at least a balancing force of nature (as in the 2014 Legendary Godzilla movie), he can and does get hurt, sometimes severely. While he frequently is indestructible in most ways, he is never unable to be defeated. Godzilla, despite being the titular ‘King of the Monsters’ is still very much a tangible, physical being and while his story will always essentially be ‘mankind’s mistake terrorizes mankind’ it is also always ‘mankind can conquer anything with our ingenuity.’

Cthulhu_by_disse86-d9tq84iNot so with Cthulhu, the Sleeper of R’lyeh. Cthulhu is a Great Old One, one of a number of cosmic races with members whose lifespan stretch back to the birth of the universe and beyond. The Great Old Ones are vastly powerful, usually to a point where they are beyond comprehension and description. They are uniformly malign, reveling in chaos, destruction and oppression. While humans are generally below the Great Old Ones’ collective consideration, their zealous servants and cultists delight in corrupting and subverting us. If the Great Old Ones ever focused their attention on us, it would only be to destroy or to consume us with little care or concern for the outcome.

However when man focuses his eyes on Cthulhu or his abyssal peers, it is our undoing. Cthulhu is a ‘thing’ beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to even describe or define, let alone defeat. Unlike Godzilla, it cannot be considered a ‘force of nature’ because nature has its rules; Godzilla has his rules. Cthulhu is beyond rules, beyond physics or the physical, beyond our concept of reality and of its paradigms. If Godzilla is a hurricane, Cthulhu is a black hole; we might not be able to permanently defeat Godzilla, but we can definitely combat him. In all literary instances currently available in the greater canon of the Cthulhu Mythos, The Great Old Ones – and their opposites, the Elder Gods – are beyond our sane comprehension, let alone our ability to defeat or even fight compentently.

I discuss this not as an intellectual exercise or out of some preference between the two but because these two entities represent a more fundamental and basic cultural and narrative concept: Us vs The Other. Godzilla and Cthulhu each assume a specific and different role in our cultural narrative. Godzilla is the ‘Greater Other’. He is the intimidating, mortal threat or foe, seemingly yet not completely insurmountable. Other narrative examples would be the Death Star, Goliath, Sauron, and even Satan. These are obstacles that seem unbeatable alone (or even with an entire army) but who are mortal or otherwise limited in an important way and therefore able to be conquered, even if only temporarily or in a very limited fashion. They are the Great Struggle, personified.

By contrast, Cthulhu is the Cosmic Unknown. It is beyond our understanding and influence. He is transcends our concepts of reality. It is a thing that can never be beaten, only merely – perhaps, maybe – delayed slightly. Cthulhu is the insurmountable, the inconceivable, the terminus. We cannot fight it, cannot approach the amplitude of power to cause it more than annoyance or confusion, let alone challenge its will or design. Other examples are The Abrahamic God and Death.  Simply put, Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones are The Terminal Event, the End of All Things.

So, why is this important? This surely seems like (at best) the nerdiest of ramblings or (at worst) the rantings of a fanboy. It’s not.  This goes past simply genre or mythos arguments, this speaks to a disturbing truth specifically in our niche subculture but in the general society as well. We’ve grown too jaded for subtleties and too proud for humility. This is especially true of Americans, but could be applied to a number of European cultures as well. I think that the British might actually be on the other side of the problem that we face, for they’ve witnessed first hand the waxing and waning of their culture and country and (to some degree) accepted or better understand it.

In short, we love to destroy our gods, to bring them down and grind our creators beneath the clay-infused heel of man. To a point, I agree that mankind has surpassed a need for Gods but a need for a thing and a respect or reverence for a thing are not the same. As we continually rush forward into the future, our minds and hands are always bent to the task of stealing the Fire from Heaven. One miraculous creation at a time, we grow in our disdain and resentment for things we do not or cannot fathom, so we demolish their temples and defame their priests.

We are so very rapidly losing our humility and with the loss of humility comes the surety of pride. Nothing can defeat us and we are always right; which means the Other is always wrong. There should be places where we fear to tread, where we solicit others’ opinions and more carefully consider our actions. We must still believe that there are some paths, some actions, some foes which we cannot overcome, which have the eventual consequence of destroying us utterly and our intervention perceived as nothing more than an inconsequential ripple.

Perhaps this is a far simpler issue than I’m allowing it to be. Perhaps its just a desire to see two giant creatures fight it out. That’s fine; there’s a simplicity to that which I can respect. Yet I’m still anxious about the pairing, about the need to quantify and qualify every mystery or magicks that our rich history of fiction has given us. The Force is no longer a cosmic force but a simple aspect of microbiology. Xenomorphs {spoilers!] are no longer alien and unknown but byproducts of our own attempts at creation. Man is increasingly at the center of existence, a loci of origination, all important and inseparable from causality.

Lovecraft fought against this, rebelled against the idea that man was all-important. He suggested a cosmos where we are insignificant, powerless and futile. This is a relentlessly nihilistic viewpoint, but accepting and even embracing it places you in a position to feel renewed wonder and awe in addition to just dread and terror. In humility and in self-effacement, we not only circumvent the perils of our own hubris and pride but regain an appreciation for the unknown and a need to open ourselves to new definitions of things we might have otherwise assumed we knew everything about. We find ourselves opening our minds and hearts again.

Until Cthulhu drives us insane and devours us, of course.

RUWUEU

-Sean

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Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

maplecroftPart of becoming a good writer is feeding the good reader inside. In this, I’ve been horribly negligent, as my wife is wont to (frequently) remind me. A writer must read and I have not done that much lately. That’s not to say I don’t want to read, but I’m trying to hold off on delving into other works of Steampunk as much as possible, so I know I’m not contaminating my own creative process with other people’s worlds or -even worse- duplicating what they’ve already done. Once I’m done with the first book, I feel my process will have already fleshed out the universe my characters inhabit enough to be suitable unique so that I can start reading more diligently again. That being said, I felt is safe enough to read Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft recently. It is not necessarily a steampunk story but it is appropriate to the timeline of my novels and Cherie Priest is well-known for her own steampunk-genre work, so I felt safe reading it.

Maplecroft is best described as a horror novel, giving a fictional reason for the historical case of Lizbeth Borden’s murderous spree upon her father and step-mother. The real cause? Dark and sinister forces from the beginning of time intent on reclaiming an impudent mankind. The story is told through a series of journal entries and mail correspondence and represents what feels like the first volume or a larger series, which I find exciting.

Continue reading “Review: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest”

Review: Scribblenauts Remix (iOS)

You’ll excuse me if I gush a bit about this game. I’ve always been a fan of innovative, super-smart games and this game fits the bill in every respect. Scribblenauts Remix is the iOS port of the original Scribblenauts which debuted for the Nintendo DS in 2009. I’d read about the original extensively and had been very excited at its premise. When I found out it had come to my beloved iPhone, it was a given I’d pick it up.

Scribblenauts Remix (like it’s predecessor) is a puzzle action game where you assist Maxwell in overcoming obstacles and collecting ‘Starites’ by summoning items literally out of thin air by typing in the name (and sometimes description) of the items. The genius of this game is in its emergent game-play and focus on multiple solutions to challenges. Need to get a Starite from that tall tree? You could summon a ladder… or a trampoline… or a jetpack… or a lasso… or a UFO. The solutions are limited only by the imagination of the player and that makes this nothing short of a brilliant game.

This could easily be labelled as a children’s game. Clearly the colorful and friendly graphics and the vocabulary-building and grammatical emphasis of some of the challenges encourages learning during play. This -of course- is another example of just how wonderful this game is. I know I’ll be promoting this game with my wife’s siblings who have children (or to be honest: anyone that asks). But calling it just a ‘kid’s game’ would be to truly underestimate the appeal and the utility of this game.

With a massive built-in vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, some of which no normal child should know nor conceive of, this is a game that adults can apply their own logic and intelligence to. For instance, how did I stop an evil gunman from killing Maxwell’s local sheriff-friend? Nothing ‘Friendly Cthulhu’ couldn’t solve. Yes, Maxwell wanted me to help his friend, so I summoned an Elder God.

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

The game does have a few minor faults, but nothing serious. I suppose it speaks volumes to just how freaking good this game is that my primary complaint is there simply wasn’t enough of it. Scribblenauts Remix only contains four worlds and each world only had ten different challenges. This might sound like quite a bit, but some of the challenges -especially the earlier ones- are very easy to solve, especially for a savvy adult. Still, for only $1.99, I felt that it was more than a bargain for the level of enjoyment I received.

My only other complaint is that I felt that there were too many challenges that weren’t truly open-ended. Some of the puzzles had you looking for -and sometimes guessing about- very specific things. I can understand the need for this; if every challenge could be resolved just by typing in Cthulhu or Laser Death Ray, then the game wouldn’t have been fun or challenging at all. However, the sheer specificity of some of the challenges might be too difficult for a child to overcome and I felt it constrained the fundamental strength of the game by not allowing you to fully use your imagination to find alternate solutions. That being said, there were only a handful of these kinds of challenges, not a significant portion of the game.

Those two things aside, this game is magical. If you are an adult, you will love this: it will challenge you and let you stretch your mind and your vocabulary. If you are a parent, you will love this: not only is it pure educational game-play for your child, but it’s an excellent opportunity to play a game with your child and share some of your knowledge with them. For all of the benefits this game can provide, for the fun and humor, the intelligence and the glorification of grammar and vocabulary, this game is a bargain for the discerning app gaming enthusiast and supports a type of gameplay that sorely needs more attention. This is gaming done right and done intelligently and is a sterling example of how ‘gaming’ can be a truly positive force in both a child’s life and in an adult’s life.