Kaiju, or giant monsters, refers to more than just the enormous beasts and creatures we see in movies and fiction. Rather, kaiju has become a genre all its own. From classics like the Godzilla films to modern blockbusters like Pacific Rim, kaiju have captured audiences’ imaginations for decades. While we normally consider the original 1954 film, Gojira, to be the first kaiju movie, featuring the original appearance of Godzilla, kaiju fiction actually predates that. However, Gojira permanently changed the landscape of the genre by using monsters to address human concerns. Instead of a creature feature or B-movie thriller, 1954’s Gojira was about the horrors of the atomic age and the aftermath of the United State’s nuclear weapons tests. From then on, the best kaiju stories blended the action with engaging themes, a trend which continues to the modern day.
Jeremy Robinson is a prolific author, with several dozen published novels among other works, primarily known for his genre-bending stories. Combining elements of action and thriller with history, mythology, and modern science, Robinson has several series under his belt alongside multiple standalone novels. On top of that, he has also published short stories, along with writing an issue of the comic book Godzilla Rage Across Time, published by IDW. One of his more well-known series, the Nemesis Saga, began in 2012 with the publication of Project Nemesis. This novel helped popularize, or even create, a new blend of fiction known as the “kaiju thriller.” Centering human characters and motivations with the backdrop of giant monster action, this book treated the emergence of the monster like a true horror, with an escalation of danger as the story progresses and characters find themselves navigating through seemingly impossible situations.
Most of Project Nemesis is told from the first-person point-of-view of Jon Hudson, an agent with the United States Department of Homeland Security in charge of a dedicated paranormal division. At the beginning of the novel, this Fusion Center-P, or FC-P for short, has never actually encountered anything supernatural, and is viewed as a waste of time and resources by the rest of the DHS. Hudson and the two agents who work under him do not even seem to believe in their mission statement either, until Hudson is sent to investigate yet another call about a Bigfoot sighting. Not expecting to find anything, Hudson quickly meets local sheriff Ashley Cooper as the two stumble into an actual conspiracy. A secret bunker in the woods guarded by former US soldiers leads to a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in the woods as Hudson and Cooper must evade their murderous hunters. This portion of the novel sets the tone for the rest by focusing on the danger and tension, truly embodying the thriller genre. Eventually, however, everything is upended when their pursuers are brutally slaughtered by an inhuman, man-eating monster, escapade from the very bunker they guarded. With this new arrival, the direction of the novel shifts considerably, and the rest finds Hudson in charge of the US response to a tragedy the likes the world has never seen.
The novel also brings in an element of mystery throughout the plot, as the human characters are not just concerned with trying to stop the monster, eventually named Nemesis, before it kills anymore people. As it stomps through towns, consuming human flesh, the characters also try to piece together the clues to find out exactly what this creature is, where it came from, and what it wants. While Robinson does shift the POV a few times, allowing readers to gain a greater understanding of what is happening in the story, the main characters remain in the dark for most of this time. We are privy to information that they are not, but Robinson does a good job at making the mystery engaging enough that Hudson and the others are interested. As long as the characters want something, we as the readers want to see them accomplish it. As the book progresses, the horror of the destruction caused by the giant monster is coupled with a different kind of tragedy, shifting both ours and the characters’ perspective of the creature.
One of the most important characters in Project Nemesis is Nemesis itself. Or rather, herself. The origins of the monster are actually revealed very early on in the novel to the reader, and several chapters are told from her POV as we get to see her thoughts and events from her perspective. The prologue opens with the tragic murder of teenager Maigo Tilly by her father, shortly after walking in on the aftermath of him killing her mother. In a moment of random change, Maigo’s DNA is chosen by a scientist in the mysterious bunker trying to quickly grow organs from human clones. To further the experiment, she blends Maigo’s DNA with a mysterious sample provided to her. A sample we know came from the corpse of a giant monster found by the villains in another section of the prologue. The result is a clone of Maigo rapidly growing into another giant monster with brown, human eyes. Consumed with an endless rage towards humankind from the original Nemesis, the creature also inherits Maigo’s emotions and vague memories. In Greek mythology, Nemesis was a goddess of vengeance, sent to enact retribution against those who guilty of hubris. A fitting pairing for a murdered teenage girl, the rest of the world sees senseless destruction, but readers can quickly surmise that everything between Nemesis and Maigo’s father is merely collateral damage.
Of course, Maigo/Nemesis is not the only monster in the story. On top of the characters trying to stop the monster’s rampage, there are also human villains who must be found and stopped. General Lance Gordon is a retired general in charge of the lab that created Nemesis, and was indirectly responsible for her creation. His bodyguard, Katsu Endo, enforces his will with deadly efficiency, killing anyone who might get in there way or endanger their work. These two create a formidable threat to the main characters, a threat which starts strong with hunting Hudson and Cooper through the woods and only grows from there. Gordon finds himself connected to Nemesis via a heart transplant, harvesting from her body when she still resembled Maigo. With this new heart, Gordon gains new abilities and strength over the course of the novel, becoming something both more and less than human. Many kaiju stories have human villains, serving as a way to provide a solvable problem for the human main characters. Alone, they may not be able to stop a giant monster, but we still want to see them victorious in some way. However, most of the time these human villains really only distract audiences from the action we want to see. Project Nemesis side-steps that by keeping Gordon a threat of a different caliber and directly tied to the main plot.
Project Nemesis is a well-paced and engaging kaiju thriller novel that is sure to be a quick read for any reader who welcomes an enjoyable story. With action, both human and giant monster, blended with thriller and horror elements, and a dash of pulpy dialogue and characterization, there is something here for most readers. As the first book in a series, it also does a great job at setting up the rest of the series while also keeping a satisfying ending. The resolution to Nemesis’ rampage is both unexpected and strangely inevitable and, by that moment, Robinson has humanized the monster so much we can truly understand its motives and emotions in that moment. Project Nemesis is a great pick for any fan of kaiju fiction, and definitely worth a read.
Project Nemesis can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold
Total Read Time: 4 days
Next on the List: Eclipse the Moon, by Jessie Mihalik