Massive monsters have always commanded our attention. Godzilla wasn’t the first beast to stomp its way into mainstream media, but since its arrival, the kaiju genre has flourished. While Hollywood has attempted to take on such stories through Pacific Rim and similar films, indie authors have brought the intensity of such huge creatures into very small perspectives.
In this case, Christofer Nigro explores the arrival of Dargolla, the kaiju for which the book is named, through the eyes of Colin Wilson, a young boy who’s grown up in the post-kaiju-arrival world. He lives in Metroville, a fictional city, with his family. Having grown up in a world where any given moment might be interrupted by a hundred-foot-tall monstrosity crushing the life out of everything that moves, he’s a little bit paranoid that one will show up and destroy his town.
That’s exactly what happens, but this is the basis for all good kaiju stories. From the ashes of society, a hero rises. More or less. Colin’s story is more about survival than heroism, a welcome change from the apparent mandate that the main character of such stories must become a super slayer of some kind. Dargolla, a burrowing, bellowing beast, makes short work of the many humans, buildings, military vehicles, and other signs of life that stand even remotely near its path of destruction.
Dargolla is a novella, meaning two things: it’s a quick, high-action read full of epic pulp violence, and each scene counts double. This makes the fact that the prologue is somewhat long stand out. While great for world building, the opening is packed full of details about the various types of kaiju that have torn up earth, where they’re believed to have come from, and what their arrival has done to the other earth species. In some respects, this is great foreshadowing, such as the mention of psionic/mutated humans, which sets up for two characters later on; in others, this feels unnecessary, such as the mention of “false kaiju” or mutated megafauna, neither of which show up. However, the ending does foreshadow a sequel, so it’s possible this was laying the groundwork for a larger story later on.
Perhaps one of the most effective elements of this story is how quickly destruction or death occurs. I don’t mean this as in, “Wow, it’s been an hour and the whole city is gone,” so much as that even major characters are wiped off the page in just a few sentences. In doing this, the writer uses form, rather than detail, to capture the shock and visceral gut-punch of sudden death. There’s no melodramatic lingering on someone’s final cry of pain, which happens in movies but not real life. The reader only fully registers the character’s death several sentences after the fact, perhaps even stopping to reread the passage just to be sure it actually happened.
This is balanced by a mechanical slowness in other areas. In some instances, the writing becomes clunky or even clinical in ways that don’t quite fit the scene. One instance refers to a woman’s eye as her “ocular organ,” which isn’t technically wrong, but provides an odd emotional distance consider the scene was told from the close third-person of a suburban housewife. Such technical details work really well in some areas, as it gives the story the feeling of a PTSD-ridden survivor’s account, where emotional distance is necessary to the teller’s ability to continue, but takes away from the action in other instances when it gets too detail oriented.
Along the path of destruction, this story provides a bevy of fun side characters, including several soldiers who call out to Odin and Thor rather than God, and a group of higher-ranked military men desperately attempting to play cards despite the constant kaiju-based interruptions. President Trump even makes an appearance, but as a reference—the fictitious version of #46 gets no actual dialogue, and the narration neither supports nor opposes his presidency, allowing the writer to lock the story in time while wisely staying away from political endorsement.
Overall, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare is exactly what the title suggests. It’s a story of mayhem and carnage, where a young boy fights overwhelming odds to survive a kaiju attack and the generally fruitless military attempts to kill said kaiju. Plus, without spoiling it, I’ll say that there’s a twist in the ending that sets up for a very interesting new direction, should the writer continue the story.
Due to its length, Dargolla may feel like the introduction to a larger work, rather than a stand-alone piece, but fans of the kaiju genre—and anyone looking for a hundred and change stories of things exploding—is sure to enjoy this book.
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