Sunday, June 21, 2015

Monster Hunts Up Smart Fun

Even before the famous theological controversy that fractured their friendship, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis didn't always see eye to eye. Though both allegedly entered into a friendly wager to try penning genre stories, they had distinctly different approaches. Tolkien favored meticulously crafted, internally consistent secondary worlds. But Lewis? He employed a methodological melting pot, mixing up a supernatural jambalaya compounded from characters and conceits across ages and cultures. (My undergraduate literature professor Alan Jacobs vividly dubbed it "mythographic promiscuity.") Tolkien sniffed at such a hodge-podge approach, which makes me wonder what old John Ronald Reuel would think of our age's genre-fiction landscape. From Gaiman's Stardust to Butcher's The Dresden Files, Harry Potter to Discworld, the field is positively saturated with Lewis' methodology. You can add to that list Larry Correia's guns-and-grue first novel Monster Hunter International.

Owen Zavtava Pitt tries his darndest to live an ordinary life, but it’s more challenging than you might think. You can trace his odd upbringing in his name. His survivalist, ex-military father named him after the Owen Machine Carbine, an Australian automatic weapon that kept him alive during clandestine operations in Cambodia. Owen has tried to compensate for his dad's odd apocalyptic outlook by pursuing that dullest of professions—accounting. However, any attempt at normalcy evaporates when he discovers during a full moon that his boss is secretly a werewolf. Owen nearly dies during the ensuing encounter, but holding a lycanthrope off with only a snub-nosed pistol and his bare hands earns him the attention of a small private security firm called Monster Hunter International. For a century and a half, the group had garnered bounties on ghouls, vampires, zombies, wendigos, and unnamed horrors that go squish in the night. Intrigued by the group’s pitch (and a raven-haired beauty who’s a dead eye with a sniper rifle), Owen signs up. Little does he know that he’ll soon be up against monstrosities from beyond the veil of space and time that make his dad’s idea of the end of the world look like a tea party.

Monster Hunter International is every bit as big and loud as you’d expect it to be. Owen is a hulking beast of a guy with a penchant for mouthing B-movie one-liners while he’s turning monsters into jelly or receiving a vicious beatdown of his own. A chapter scarcely goes by without fierce fisticuffs or blazing gun battles. And speaking of firearms, Correia fills the book’s page with weapon descriptions that are so lovingly described it’s almost erotic. For instance, take the fully automatic shotgun boasting a 20-round drum, underslung grenade launcher, and fold-out silver bayonet. It’s name? Abomination. Yeah, you get the idea. "For a competition nut like myself, these [things] were the kind of thing that I dreamed about," Owen intones. 'Normal men had pornography. I had gun magazines." But you know what? The book is also more intelligent than it has any right to be. The occasional political and religious asides not only make for humorous moments, but also prompt serious consideration about the nature of society. The monster hunters have adopted sic transit gloria mundi ("The glory of man is fleeting") as their slogan, which adds some philosophical heft to the proceedings. And Correia’s cryptozoological catalogue includes critters from all sorts of stories both mythical and modern. (There’s a fun inversion of Tolkien’s mythos that had me grinning from ear to ear.) Unfortunately, the romantic bits are stilted and a couple of plot twists seem suspect. But who really cares? Monster hunts up smart fun.

(Picture: CC 2012 by Antoine Gady)

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