Publisher: Random House
In the year 2001, amid the frigid ice fields of the South Pole, a group of teenage science students and a team of U.S. Army Rangers make an eerie discovery.
Miles below the surface of Antarctica, a race of ancient crystalline beings has awakened after a million years of frozen slumber. Horrified at finding their world “infected” with a human plague, these Ancient Ones create an army of virulent monsters. The evil, insectlike Megalon is let loose on Russia. Gigan, a cyborg, lays waste to South America. Manda, a gargantuan snake, invades China. And Hedorah, the Smog Monster, descends on Japan.
As Earth becomes a battleground of titanic monsters, the young scientists and soldiers at the bottom of the world must join forces with Godzilla, King of the Monsters, to become the last line of defense against a race older than humanity itself.
I'm probably a little bit biased about Godzilla at World's End. As the first of Marc Cerasini's Godzilla YA novels that I read back when they were first released, GAWE was my first exposure to Cerasini's powerful prose depictions of the legendary Japanese daikaiju, and his genuinely engaging, technically astute military action. I was hooked, despite the more questionable plotting choices and shallow characters. For Godzilla fans, and fans of Cerasini's work, GAWE displays everything we've come to expect from this series, although this third novel is arguably the weakest of the entire set.
The story follows directly after the devastating events from Godzilla 2000, and America is still reeling from the catastrophe of the monster invasion that took place within those pages. For the first time I've encountered it, Cerasini actually explores the economic realities that would result from titanic monster invasion, and they aren't pretty. The United States is desperate for hope, and journalistic superpower INN's head, Myron Endicott, wants to give it to them with an audacious new project in which the top teen geniuses of the nation will be sent together on a scientific expedition to Antarctica via a technologically advanced blimp. However, this is a monster novel after all, and things soon begin to fall apart when an enormous, miles wide hole opens up in Antarctica and bizarre gargantuan monsters begin emerging across the world in an all-out war against humankind. As destruction mounts and all seems lost, the fate of the future lies in the hands of a small group of scared teenagers as they venture deep into the unknown.
Although it's not obvious from the plot description, GAWE once again has an overbloated cast of human characters, far too many to develop meaningfully. Along with the returning arrogant journalists Nick Gordon and Robin Halliday, there is also the gaggle of genius teens (teeniuses?), Alaskan Peter Blackwater, stud muffin Ned Landson, hacker Michael Sullivan, and hotheaded computer-chip superstar Leena Sims. Then there's Shelly Townsend, the teenage daughter of the main engineer of the blimp, The Destiny Explorer—naturally, her father gets separated from her and she must take his authoritative position aboard the dirigible. There's also teenagae Patrick Brennan, who has entered the military masquerading as his older brother Sean; he functions as the main action hero of the tale. And, in a brief-yet-notable role, there is the 19-year-old Craig Weedie, another journalist, and the mysterious teenager Zoe Kemmering who was lost and presumed dead in Antarctica. While there are a number of supporting characters (mostly military and scientists) who aren't pimple-crusted hormonal youths, all of the important characters in the novel are teenagers, with the exception of Nick Gordon perhaps, although he doesn't have much to do here other than officiate media events and avoid airsickness. Cerasini, perhaps at the behest of his editors, has made every excuse to craft all of his characters so that their ages approximate those of his intended readers—as if the teenage species cannot relate to or abide a protagonist older or younger than themselves. After a while, the ludicrousness of the youthful parade becomes hard to take, and the tale suffers somewhat from the "adults are useless" school of YA storytelling.
To Cerasini's credit, however, none of his characters here are particularly annoying, and a number of them would be genuinely sympathetic if they had more space to be developed. Unfortunately, in a book barely over 300 pages in length, with at least six main protagonists to deal with as well as a great many side characters and ten Toho monsters making appearances, there simply isn't enough space to build sufficient sympathy for anyone. Thus for the most part the character arcs aren't very fulfilling; by the end of the story, it's a little difficult to care where the protags end up. Perhaps the strongest character is that of Patrick Brennan, who goes through the most turmoil, whose decision to enter the military is difficult and perilous, and who is forced into a commanding military position before he is ready and must make the best of it. He may have made the overall story stronger had he been more central, but we don't get so lucky. Nevertheless, I liked the admittedly underdeveloped characters Cerasini developed—even the stuck-up Miss Sims and her struggles with her fear of flying. I would have liked to have gotten to know the timid computer hacker better, or seen more of the personality of the vapid hunk Ned, but the brevity of the novel simply doesn't allow for it, and the story suffers as a result.
Also exacerbating a trend begun in Godzilla 2000, Cerasini tries to cram in as many monsters into the plot as possible, actually detracting from the strength of the story. GAWE includes, along with the eponymous radioactive dinosaur, Rodan, Gigan, Manda, Hedorah, Megalon, Mothra, Anguirus, Battra, and Biollante, as well as some Cerasini original creatures in Antarctica. A number of the monsters show up at convenient times and convenient places just to cause trouble for the protagonists, or smash up a few buildings before Godzilla or another monster can conveniently fight them away. It's almost like magic sometimes, and while the forgiving reader can attempt to explain away these lucky circumstances as the all-seeing manipulations of Mothra, the book makes little suggestion that her power was so encompassing, and thus leaves the plot replete with unlikely, gratuitous, and unneeded monster encounters. Godzilla, in fact, isn't even necessary for this story to work; I didn't mention him in my plot summary because his purposes in the novel could easily be written out entirely, especially if some of the equally unnecessary secondary monsters like Manda and Hedorah were removed as well. Cerasini had a chance to justify the attention paid to Rodan in Godzilla 2000 since the pterosaur had been completely superfluous to that novel's plot, but here Rodan barely even makes a cameo appearance, strangely materializing out of nowhere in South America, and then defending the Destiny Explorer from Battra for no apparent reason at all. The climactic action in Antarctica, wherein all the mysteries are revealed, is particularly disappointing, albeit for different reasons. The identity of the mastermind, the reasons behind the apocalypse, and the methods used to incur the global attacks are absolutely asinine and poorly explained, even when considering that this is a story about giant monsters.
Still, there are some fantastic sequences of destruction and combat in GAWE, many of them focusing on Gigan, who receives perhaps the most attention and certainly causes the most devastation. Gigan has a breathtaking entrance in Antarctica (predating the bird-like cyborg's somewhat similar reappearance at the South Pole in Godzilla: Final Wars) and the tank battle in Russia (in which the tank commander is named Borodin, perhaps a reference to the name Borodon, which had been given to Gigan in the American comic adaptation of Godzilla vs. Megalon) is particularly effective, being my favorite military sequence in the entire series. As we've come to expect, Cerasini's military action is outstanding throughout, with fine attention to the little details that count in a story like this. Anguirus finally gets his long-awaited rematch with the buzz saw fowl also, which is a delight for the fans.
The best qualities of Marc Cerasini's Godzilla novels are definitely here—the exciting action, the fine understanding and descriptions of the monsters, the clever homages to Godzilla films—at one point, Cerasini even seems to refer to that same year's Hollywood GODZILLA (1998) by having a character say, "I guess size does matter!" But, for whatever reason, whether from problems in his own plot generation or editorial control, the story is the messiest and most absurd yet, hamstrung by cramming in far too much of everything to the point that even Godzilla could be skimmed off without a big impact on the plot. That is a sizable problem for a novel with Godzilla in the title, but Cerasini's third daikaiju epic is still worth reading for dedicated fans who value the things that Cerasini gets right—and when Cerasini gets things right, he's smashing.
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|Godzilla Returns | Godzilla 2000 | Godzilla at World's End | Godzilla vs. the Robot Monsters | Godzilla and the Lost Continent|