Fan ICHF: Grendel

This ICHF was written by Saurotitan, whose work you can find at https://thearchivistspen.wordpress.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

At some unremembered point in the ancient past of pre-Christianity Europe, a handful of centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, one of the central narratives of heroic fantasy was created by a figure long lost to time. While it predates the horror genre (if we accept that said genre began with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto), the legend of Beowulf has plenty of elements that would fit perfectly into that genre if they were transplanted by a modern author, particularly where the figure of Grendel is concerned.

While he doesn’t present much of a challenge for the protagonist himself – getting his arm ripped off and bleeding out at the feet of his mother – it’s important to remember what Grendel was doing until that point in the story. We aren’t given a detailed description of Grendel, but the information we are given would have quickened the heartrate of any medieval audience on a dark torchlit night. Grendel is called a descendant of Cain, the Bible’s first murderer and the excuse used by monks in later translations to excuse supernatural beings from the pre-Church traditions; he’s tortured by the mere sound of praise music, he couldn’t touch the throne of a divinely appointed ruler, and he lived like a beast in the dark and unknown parts of the wilderness. To summarize, Grendel had a vague yet understandable backstory, reasonable yet non-crippling weaknesses, and was kept mysteriously unexplored by the author – he seems to fit the mold for a great horror villain on those merits alone!

If you need more convincing that Grendel was ahead of his time as far as horror story monsters are concerned, actions speak louder than words. Much like Godzilla in the original film, the dragons from Reign of Fire, or the megalodon from The Meg, it was technically humans who made the first move in the battle with Grendel. In the poem King Hrothgar built a grand hall called Heorot in his role as king of Denmark, a hall big enough to comfortably hold eight horses in addition to the royal court and other expected hangers-on of ancient nobility. This was the ultimate party shack, and although I have my doubts about whether or not the monks translating the story had anything to do with these parties consisting of all-night hymn sing-alongs, the core element of the narrative is that a manmade structure and the actions of its residents have awoken an ancient and inhuman being. Based on the original text, Grendel is said to be entirely removed from the concept of happiness and shunned by God, and he hates a joyful celebration – he was the prototype for the Grinch before English language would have allowed “cat” to rhyme with “hat”. Instead of simply stealing Christmas, however, Grendel was out for blood and was willing to work 365 nights a year.

While the idea of a rampaging monster in a myth was not new ground for ancient audiences, the way Grendel goes about it is what sets him apart. Any two-bit antagonist can destroy a city without all but a handful of survivors, but the legends and myths that would stick with us to the modern day had monsters with class. The minotaur wandered through a labyrinth that gave victims the choice between being lost forever or brutal murder, the sphinx offered a riddle that would have stumped an ancient audience, a gorgon would turn anyone scanning the shadows for threats to stone for their vigilance, and the fair folk would dance you to death. Grendel wasn’t anywhere close to that subtle, but still avoided the kind of unremarkable rampage a dragon would later display in the very same epic poem – instead, Grendel performed the type of selective murder we still see in horror films today. Every night, Grendel effortlessly bypassed the security of a royal household, brutally murders a few people, eats the bodies, and then leaves without any consequences for his actions. This goes on for twelve years, the kind of track record most modern horror franchises would drool over. Eventually a hero does arrive to kill Grendel, and although the battle seems incredibly one-sided our monster does manage to get away to die in front of his mother, introducing a trope we still see today in the original Friday the 13th and the TriStar Godzilla: an incredibly ticked off mother being a far bigger threat than their monstrous child.

Even though his relatively brief reign of terror is often seen as a warm-up for the heroic Beowulf, Grendel’s legacy is easy to recognize to this day. From an episode of Star Trek Voyager to video games and books, Grendel himself is doing quite well for such an old monster. In a way, he’s even become a grandfather, passing down traits like an antagonist stalking his victims in their own base, the first monster to be defeated being the child of a much stronger monster, and a long-forgotten supernatural foe opposing the encroaching influence of mankind. Not bad considering we’re never told what Grendel looked like other than he had at least two arms.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Fan ICHF: Bokrug

This ICHF was written by Glarnboudin, who you can find at https://glarnboudin.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Out of all of Lovecraft’s stories, The Doom That Came to Sarnath proooobably isn’t going to be topping most people’s lists of favorites. It’s a rather small one-off story that was published more than half a decade before he started Call of Cthulhu in a much smaller magazine than the pulps that would come to house the majority of his work, tied into his larger works for Kadath but never really brought up again aside from one-off references. And yet, it greatly stands out compared to his other stories, primarily because of how straightforward it is. There’s no existential dread or anything particularly indescribable, nor do any characters go insane from mad revelations – in fact, there aren’t even really any specific characters to begin with. Instead, Doom is framed as the recounting of a legend that plays out in a manner somewhat akin to a conventional myth, a pretty big departure from the way that Lovecraft characterized his elder horrors in direct opposition to the stories and religions that he grew up with. You could very easily read this as his take on a story like Masque of the Red Death, and not just in the structure.

Our story begins ten thousand years ago in the land of Mnar, on the shores of a vast still lake. Here stood the great stone city of Ib, which is itself peopled by strange fish-like beings; exactly where these things came from isn’t quite known, for they were there long before men came to the shores of the lake, but one story suggests that they originally came down from the moon, stone city and all. While the people of Ib are certainly ugly-looking, with green skin, huge bulging eyes, fin-like ears, and pouty flabby fishy lips, they’re peaceful enough, and not much information about them survives even in the records of other ancient civilizations. Only one thing about them is known – namely, that they worshipped a sea-green stone idol of a creature called Bokrug, the Water-Lizard, who they conduct strange dances around to the light of their fires when the moon turns gibbous.

After many aeons of peaceful Water-Lizard worship, human beings come to the land of Mnar, with one group building the city of Sarnath on the shores of the vast. At first, they regard the people of Ib with curiosity, but that curiosity quickly turns to revulsion – not because of any children going missing or any eldritch summonings as you’d expect from a Lovecraft story, mind you, but because Sarnath thinks that the people of Ib (Who they call the thuum’ha, or ‘Voiceless’) are icky and gross and their statues are creepy. Seriously, that’s the explanation offered; no terrifying cults or eldritch sightings, just a case of “Fuck those guys”. And so Sarnath sends out its warriors to Ib, where they proceed to wreck the thuum’ha’s collective shit – as ugly as they are, the fish-people’s flesh is soft and squishy, easily pierced by spears and javelins. Every last Ibbinite (Ibbinese? Ibber?) is slain and their bodies dumped into the lake, and every last brick of Ib itself is torn down, the great statues cast into the lake with the beings who carved them. The only thing that the Sarnath conquerors leave standing is the great idol to Bokrug, which they bring back home as a trophy… but the night after it’s set up in the city’s great temple, it’s found to have gone missing, and the high priest of said temple is found dead in its place. There’s no marks on the body, and it seems like he died while in the grip of absolute terror, but not before writing out a single word on the temple’s main altar: DOOM.

The titular DOOM, however, isn’t coming anytime soon – centuries pass, and Sarnath grows and grows, the stricken-dead priest fading from the memory of the people within a couple of generations as the mineral wealth along the shores of their vast lake brings the city into an age of prosperity. Great caravan routes connect them up to the rest of the world, and armies are raised to conquer all of Mnar and bring it under the banner of Sarnath – the lion’s share of the description, however, goes to the lavish beauty of Sarnath itself. From the dimensions of the vast walls (300 cubits high and 75 across, wide enough for teams of chariots to pass by one another on the top of them, and extending more than 500 stadia; that’s 450 feet tall, 112 feet wide, and 375 miles of distance for non-metric readers) to the precious stones that the streets were paved with and the domed roofs of the houses, everything is given great detail to illustrate the incredible glory of Sarnath, but the most attention by far is given to the palaces, the temples, and the gardens. All of these are beyond luxurious – the throne of the king is carved from a single massive piece of ivory, the floors are tiled with mosaics of precious stones, the walls are covered in vast paintings depicting Sarnath’s many glorious victories, and amphitheaters for spectacular gladiatorial events are everywhere. The vast gardens are packed with exotic plants, rare birds, and fancy water features, with a great glass dome enclosing everything that boasts models of the sun, stars, and planets above it all, but by far the gaudiest of the sights of the city has to be the temples. The city boasts seventeen temples in total, the largest and magnificent standing as tall as a skyscraper – all of them are built from shining multi-colored stone and boast steps carved from pure zircons, with gorgeous idols to their gods so realistic that they almost seem like they could come alive at any moment. Vast crowds flock to these temples to worship the gods of Sarnath, dousing the statues in perfumes until the shrines almost permanently smell of flowers. It’s a truly incredible sight to imagine, a city of greatness and decadence that would make the most extravagant emperors of Rome look like pious monks by comparison.

Every year, a festival is held in Sarnath to celebrate the destruction of Ib; this too is given lavish description of how much of a spectacle it is. There’s toasts to the spirits of the warriors who destroyed the voiceless things of Ib, merriment and drinking and debauchery all around, clowns and jesters dressed up in parody of the thuum’ha and their horrible god. The king himself makes a speech to curse the bones of the people of Ib and celebrate the greatness of Sarnath for putting an end to them all, much to the delight of the citizenry; the priests grumble at first about it all, but as the memory of their struck-dead brother fades from their minds, they soon join the festivities without a care… and high up in the tallest tower of the tallest temple, they perform a cryptic ritual to spite the monstrous god of long-dead Ib around the graffitied altar that their long-dead forefather scrawled upon all those centuries ago.

For year after year, century after century, this annual festival goes on without a hitch, save for the waters of the lake rising unusually high against the city’s seawall, itself just as grand and imposing as the rest of the place, and the occasional unearthly lights from beneath the water. But now the thousandth anniversary of Ib’s destruction is coming up, and the rulers of Sarnath are going all-out to make this year’s festival the greatest one of all. Preparations were begun a full decade in advance of this, the ultimate party – royalty and nobility from across the globe come and set up their tents and pavilions, delicacies from far-off lands are stockpiled, and the cooks and chefs work nonstop to produce lavish feasts to feed a thousand men, serving up vast fish from the lake and exotic beasts from half a world away on platters of gold and encrusted with precious gems. The festival comes, and it’s as if half the civilized world has come to live it up in Sarnath; the king and his nobles are gorging themselves in the palace, spitting curses to the loathsome things of Ib all the while, priests are partying with princes and paupers alike, and every man, woman, and child in the city is out to celebrate Sarnath’s greatness.

Until, that is, strange shadows start to descend from the gibbous moon and down onto the lake, met by greenish mist that rises and rises up over the great seawalls to pour over Sarnath and smother its domes and towers in a verdant haze. Those partying outside of the vast walls of the city notice that one of the lake’s big landmarks, a massive boulder rising from the water like a miniature mountain, has almost completely submerged. As they take such notice, the seeds of fear suddenly begin to grow within the foreign nobles and princes and the many travellers, along with the unexplainable yet overwhelming urge to get right the fuck out of here, and now. Most quickly pack up and take their leave, and not a moment too soon; for as the clock nears midnight, the bronze gates that bookend every street in Sarnath burst open, and the people of Sarnath pour forth in a single frenzied horde, their faces contorted in terror-stricken madness and shrieking in barely-intelligible eldritch tongues. Those few whose words were still coherent scream and babble about the king – in the windows of the royal palace, not a trace can be seen of the king or his nobles or his priests, only the shadowy silhouettes of a horde of monstrous figures with huge bulging eyes, fin-like ears, and pouty flabby fishy lips, holding burning gem-encrusted platters high as they cavort about in a frenzied dance. What few visitors that remained quickly flee at the horrible sight; those that dare to look back upon Sarnath notice that the great stone has completely submerged just before the mists of the lake descend upon the doomed city and upon its throngs of maddened wretches – the last that anyone shall ever see of Sarnath, for its DOOM has finally come.

For a long time, it’s not specified how long, nobody dares to venture anywhere close to what was once the city of Sarnath; the tale of what happened to that mighty land spreads like wildfire throughout the remaining kingdoms of Mnar, now free from Sarnath’s rule. Finally, curious adventurers from distant lands come to Mnar to see the prosperous city (and try to raid the ruins for valuables, of course), but when they journey to the shores of the vast still lake, they find… nothing.

Sarnath hasn’t been merely destroyed – it’s gone. Where the most beautiful and prosperous city in the ancient world had stood, there’s only a vast stretch of empty marshland. The towering walls are gone – where once were vast and mighty towers, vaults filled with treasures, and temples like none other, there isn’t so much as a couple of rocks stacked on top of one another.  The mines are completely filled in, as if no pick had ever touched the earth here, not a pebble remains of the magnificent roads, not a trace of the domed gardens remain,

and there’s no sign of even a single soul out of the millions that had once lived here in utter luxury.

It’s as if Sarnath had just suddenly ceased to exist – as if there had never been anything here but this lizard-filled swamp. The great stone island is as it was before, there are no lights or mists coming from the lake… but standing in the middle of the swampy expanse is the stolen idol of Bokrug, half-buried in the mud and muck and encrusted with seaweed. The idol is quietly taken to another city in Mnar and dedicated at the highest temple… and when the moon grows gibbous, the people across the land of Mnar make sure to give the Water-Lizard its due.

The Doom That Came to Sarnath is a pretty major departure from the themes that one would typically associate with Lovecraft’s work – if anything, it’s somewhat of an antithesis to a lot of his later projects. The people of Sarnath are very explicitly the villains of this story – while Ib’s fish-men were given the standard Lovecraft descriptions of how creepy and horrible they were, they were entirely content doing their own thing as long as they were left alone. Sarnath unequivocally threw the first stone and committed a horrific act against Ib for no other reason than irrational fear of those who looked different from themselves, and they paid an equally horrible price for their atrocities. Notably, though, we don’t know what that vengeance even really was – in typical Lovecraft fashion, your imagination is allowed to run wild and fill in the blanks yourself. Bokrug themself doesn’t even make a physical appearance aside from its idol, as well as the implication that the great standing stone in the lake was its vast slumbering form. It’s rather evocative of the kaiju genre that would come many decades later in more ways than one, something that kind of pops up with some regularity among a lot of Lovecraft’s stories, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The writing style is unmistakably Lovecraft’s, from the way that the atmosphere is built and built like a bomb fuse sizzling down to detonation to the explosive finale itself, swift and concise but full of the frantic, half-mad tone that comes from baring witness to horrors beyond what man was ever meant to see, but the tone is far from the Cosmic Horror that Lovecraft pioneered. 

The structure of TDTCtS itself bears a lot of similarities to Masque of the Red Death in how the victims of the story’s main slaughter bring their fate upon themselves – like the Red Death, the sole targets of Bokrug’s ire are the corrupt upper class as they celebrate their awfulness together at the expense of the people they trod upon to get where they are now. Unlike the titular specter of that story, though, the scope of the Water-Lizard’s wrath is far greater than just a few nobles. Like the kaiju that would come later, the sheer scale of Sarnath’s DOOM goes above and beyond just offing a few corrupt nobles – anything less simply wouldn’t be proportionate punishment for the atrocity that Sarnath inflicted upon Ib.

This vast extravagant empire of wealth and luxury was built upon the bones of untold thousands of innocent people (and Lovecraft makes it clear that the thuum’ha were people, as unusual as they were) – rather than let their crimes fade away into the past and put it all to rest, its people took pride in what they had done and turned their greed to other lands, all the while celebrating their original act of monstrous cruelty and viciousness. As a collective society, Sarnath took savage delight in desecrating the first victims of their hatred, until the last remnants of those long-gone victims finally manifested something that could return the favor. The foreign travellers and princes and dignitaries were spared from the wrath of Ib; it was not their sins that had brought DOOM upon Sarnath. In a way, nor was it the sins of anyone in particular who was partaking in the ceremony. No, DOOM had come for Sarnath itself – for the entire corrupt, rotten system that had not only enabled this tragedy, but worn it as a badge of honor for centuries on end..

A society that reaps the consequences for the sins of their past at the hands of a monster that was awakened as a direct result of their evil – the parable of Ib sits quite firmly on the bridge between Imperial Gothic and good old Atomic Horror, paving the way for even greater beasts to come. Quite an unusual story from old Lovecraft… but then again, it’s only fitting that the guy who pioneered unknowable horrors would have some surprises in store.

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Fan ICHF: The Triffids

This ICHF was written by Glarnboudin, who you can find at https://glarnboudin.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

The trope of the killer plant is a rather unusual monster archetype, if you get down to it. While many other monster archetypes can be pretty easily traced back through the ages – kaiju are modern-day adaptations of the idea of dragons and giants, upscaled to a modern-day audience, zombies stem from the universal fear of the living dead, and even chest-bursting, acid-blooded aliens owe at least a bit to legends of vampires and changelings. But the origin of carnivorous plants as a monster can be pretty definitively traced back to two sources: Audrey II of Little Shop of Horrors, who’s been discussed plenty on this site before… and Day of the Triffids, a 1951 John Wyndham novel that has since fallen out of the public consciousness but nonetheless paved the way for countless works since with how it pioneered the post-apocalyptic genre.

Our story begins with a man waking up in a hospital in London, where his eyes are being treated to prevent going blind after suffering a workplace accident. What caused the workplace injury, you may ask? Well, you don’t have to wait long, because right off the bat our protagonist, Bill, is happy to explain to the reader that he was hit in the eyes with Triffid venom while working on a plantation for them, just as he’s happy to explain what the hell a Triffid plantation even is.

And so we’re given a course in Triffids 101 right off the bat: they were first brought to the attention of the scientific world when a mysterious man only ever referred to as ‘Umberto’ brings a bottle of mysterious pale pink oil to a fish oil company for them to look over, which they find to be unlike anything that they’ve ever seen before – all that they can tell is that it’s vegetable in origin and that it’s incredibly high quality, better than anything that they can supply. Umberto doesn’t elaborate on where he got this oil from when he’s questioned extensively by company officials that are understandably rather nervous about being driven out of business – all that he’s willing to divulge is that it came from Russia and that he can provide the seeds of the plant that made it for a price. Eager to get the jump on this potential goldmine, the company agrees and forks over the money; with the arrangements made, the mysterious supplier sets off, never to be seen again – Bill speculates that he was likely shot down by Soviet artillery while trying to fly out of their airspace. However he vanished, the fish oil company is quick to sweep the deal under the rug and forget about Umberto, as does anybody else who knew about him… until, that is, strange plants matching no known species begin to sprout all over the world a few years later, likely having been carried far and wide on the winds after being released from Umberto’s destroyed plane. Bill was a child when they first began to crop up, and even found one growing in his family’s backyard – as the years passed, that encounter led to a fascination with the plants. After the initial surge of surprise at their development, especially when they start to show off their bizarre anatomy, the plants themselves, eventually dubbed Triffids, soon lose a lot of their mystique to the general public and become an accepted part of everyday life, a curiosity. After all, as strange as they are, they’re only weird plants… but hoo boy, are these things weird.

Right off the bat, we’re given a clear description of the Triffids and what they’re all about, and straight away the reader can see that they’re quite a departure from the killer plants that have become so archetypical across various forms of media. They don’t have strangling vines or toothy jaws to eat people with or lovely singing voices to convince bumbling florists – they’re honestly very simple in their anatomy. A rounded somewhat ‘shaggy’ bolus sports a tall central stalk on top from which some leathery green leaves grow along with a funnel-shaped structure at the very tip, which houses some stamens and a very long whip-like organ tipped with a venomous stinger, normally kept tightly coiled up but capable of lashing out at targets in the blink of an eye. Three small, bare sticks grow straight up around the central stem and regularly tap against the thick base like a trio of drumsticks to produce a strange rapping noise – strangest of all, though, they’re capable of independent movement. At the bottom of the bolus, three stumpy root-like appendages emerge, normally kept buried in the soil and acting like, well, roots, but when the Triffid wants to move about, they yank their roots up and begin to walk around on them in a bizarre rocking, swaying gait compared to the movements of a man on crutches. It’s a very alien design that still remains distinct even to this day, but not so bizarre that you can’t easily imagine it. After all, it’s only a plant; true, they’re venomous, with a single sting being enough to kill a man, but as long as the stinger is docked and trimmed regularly, they’re harmless. What’s more, the oil within the plants is found to be the same oil that Umberto had produced a few years prior, and quickly becomes a valuable commodity; it doesn’t take long for plantations of the things to quickly pop up across Europe and the Americas as they go from a simple curiosity to the next big moneymaking business – even when it’s found that Triffid oil is best when the plants’ stings are left intact, entrepreneurs just outfit their workers in protective gear to prevent anyone getting stung. Bill was one of those workers, but even his protective suit wasn’t enough to keep him totally safe as a wayward Triffid sting gets its venom into his eyes, hospitalizing him. All of this buildup comes to a head with the explanation that at the end of the day, it was a simple workplace accident that landed Bill here, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time – the night before he’s allowed to take off the bandages covering his recovering eyes, a bizarre meteor shower like nothing ever seen before lights up the night skies in vivid iridescent green. People all over the world stay up late to watch the captivating once-in-a-lifetime event, leaving poor Bill to grumble as everyone else in the ward oohs and ahhs over the mystifying lights.

Until, that is, when he wakes up the next morning to find the entire city unnervingly quiet. As he gets up and calls for a doctor, there’s no response – a tentative exploration of the halls finds a few folks lying dead at the bottom of flights of stairs, and a ward full of cranky patients shouting for someone to open up the blinds as the morning sun shines in their sightless eyes. As Bill ventures outside, he’s almost bowled over by a crowd of passersby feebly stumbling and groping about, all but trampling each other as they shout and cry for help that will not come. The meteor shower the previous night wasn’t just some gorgeous lightshow – somehow, the vivid emerald light of the comets blinded everybody who had watched them like some kind of meteorological gorgon… and since virtually everybody on Earth had been able to see the meteor shower and had taken the time to look, almost the entirety of the human species is now totally without sight.

At first, the Triffids aren’t given much focus for the first third or so of the novel – the explanation given about them is largely used for worldbuilding and how to explain how our protagonist was hospitalized in the first place. We get a few glimpses of Triffids every once in a while, but they seem to be just… wandering about, not really doing anything; the main focus for now is on Bill’s struggle to survive in this chaos, where nearly everyone’s suddenly deprived of their primary sense and desperately searching for any way to get on top. Nonetheless, he packs up some Triffid-hunting gear just in case as he goes along, even as other survivors question him about why he lugs all that stuff around. Even this, however, is largely limited to a few sentences of conversation, with the majority of the dialogue focusing on, well, survival and explanations. After all, they’re only plants.

Reading through Day of the Triffids, it’s not hard to see the building blocks of what would become common tropes across post-apocalyptic media, from noting how quickly nature starts to overtake civilization as plant life covers London over the course of months to forming a parental bond with a lost child discovered surviving on their own and the theme of humanity itself being just as big of an obstacle to rebuilding as the force behind the apocalypse. There’s also a lot of emphasis placed on how eerie it is to see the once-bustling metropolis suddenly so quiet, only punctuated by the occasional wail or shout, a detail that Wyndham directly borrowed from his own memories of London during the aftermath of Blitzkrieg strikes – this detail too would go on to be a major part of post-apocalyptic setpieces, albeit not one that’s commonly addressed.

The dialogue between characters reveals the formation of yet more archetypes of the genre – one of the major topics in said dialogue is discussion about how things are going to need to be different if humanity’s going to survive through all this, from what should be used as the basis of this new society’s laws to pondering about whether the children of the future should be raised on comforting lies about the nature of their forefathers’ world or simply told the harsh truth and encouraged to build a better future than the past that they came from. There’s even a rather in-depth discussion on forming a three-way relationship as Bill and his love interest (herself a wealthy novelist who published a rather risque novel) ponder whether they and whoever they bring into their group would truly be happy in such an arrangement, a surprisingly modern theme for a book that came out seventy years ago as of this writing. 

Unfortunately, for all the good stuff that it pioneered, the novel can also can be seen as the source of the rather unpleasant recurring theme in post-apocalypses where clearly villainous groups of social Darwinists gleefully committing atrocities in the name of “the greater good” are lionized for how they Get The Job Done rather than, y’know, calling them out for using the apocalypse as an excuse to be assholes. That said, as the archetype of that particular aspect, it doesn’t really play too much into it, and indeed plays it up more for horror than anything else, particularly a group of militants who unceremoniously claim the farm that our heroes have settled on and inform them that they’re now under official “protection”.

But you’re not here for discussions of the intricacies of the human cast, and neither is the book, because it’s Triffid time, baby!

All throughout the first third of the novel, Bill’s been rather on edge – every once in a while, the narrative makes mention of a body here and there that doesn’t seem to have died via accident, with an entire family found mysteriously dead in their own apartment. And more often then not, there’s a Triffid ambling about in the vicinity of these mysterious bodies, often dragging along the post or rope that it was chained to. At first, it just seems like people got too close to the things and paid the price for it – after all, they’re only plants – but these mysterious bodies keep on appearing… and as the protagonists go forth, the Triffids begin cropping up more and more frequently, and Bill’s suspicions continue to grow.

See, during the opening bit explaining the Triffids and how they work, it’s noted early on that the plants very quickly became a dangerous menace across the tropical parts of the world. Here, the Triffids do not go out and actively hunt for people, but instead hide themselves among other forms of vegetation and wait motionlessly for passing victims – it’s next to impossible to spot them before they can lash out with their stinger, and they’re incredibly sensitive to movement around them.

This uncanny sensory ability is further elaborated on as Bill remembers a conversation he had with an old coworker of his, a botanist by the name of Walter who believes that the Triffids are more than just your average six-foot-tall walking carnivorous plant. While they’re totally blind (Since, y’know, they’re plants), the botanist notes that Triffids have the uncanny ability to sense the presence of other beings and almost immediately try to make their way towards them to get into stinging range. It’s not quick by any means – anyone can see a Triffid coming and simply get out of the way without much issue, as their top speed is about the average walking pace of a human being  – but they do it without any form of recognizable sensory organs, and they can navigate their way around obstacles without much trouble. What’s more, he also takes notice of the three bare sticks growing from the plant’s base that occasionally rattle against the central stalk, and how they seem to rattle more in certain types of weather and when around other Triffids… almost as if they’re ‘talking’ to one another. And talking to one another implies that they’re intelligent, something that’s further backed up by how Triffids attack – when they lash out with their stingers, they almost always go specifically for the head, particularly the face and eyes, the primary places to strike if you intend to completely disable your opponent… and they seem to know that instinctively, with the hands being their other preferred place to target. What’s more, they’re incredibly resilient to various environments save for the most desolate deserts and the frigid poles – if they had the impetus, they could very well compete with humanity itself. “Granted that they do have intelligence, then that would leave us with only one important superiority – sight. We can see and they can’t.” Walter remarks. “Take away our vision, and our superiority is gone. Worse than that – our position becomes inferior to theirs, because they are adapted to a sightless existence and we are not.”

And wouldn’t you know it? All of a sudden, the vast majority of humankind finds themselves stripped of vision, and the tables have officially turned. More and more Triffids begin to show up as the book progresses, getting bolder and bolder and displaying far more cunning than one would ever expect of mere plants; in a particularly chilling scene, two Triffids are seen slowly but steadily ambling along either side of a group of terrified fleeing people, herding them like a dog would sheep into a shop with a back entrance into an alley… an alley with fences just low enough that the Triffids can easily peek over them and lash their stings down at their fleeing prey. It all comes to a head when Bill and Josella finally find what seems like a safe haven, a farm on a hilltop that they fortify with the aid of the helpful family that lives there and the aforementioned kid that they adopted, living there quite peacefully… until the Triffids arrive. They surround the property in the thousands even as they’re cut down, rattling their stems and drawing in more and more of their kind, only kept at bay by the electric fence that Bill and Josella set up around the premises. Shock after shock drives them back, but they never strike the same section of fence twice – they’re testing the fence, section by section, and they’re learning, quietly waiting and waiting for the heroes’ only line of defense to fail… and like Romero’s Living Dead before them, their patience pays off when the aforementioned militants storm the compound, only for the protagonists to pack their things into a car and get the hell out of there as fast as possible, leaving the thugs to the mercy of the malevolent grove as they surge in the moment the generator’s roar cuts short. They make little effort to pursue the car as it speeds off – why should they bother? They have plenty of prey in front of them for the taking… and as Bill remarks as he and the others disappear over the horizon and the novel draws to a close, they’ve honestly already won. The world is no longer under Man’s dominion – the Triffids rule the Earth now, and they’re going to keep ruling for a long time. The hope of the entire species lies upon the children of the future and their children after them that they may find some way to defeat the Triffids in the coming decades

It’s rather difficult to discern too much about the Triffids’ personality whenever they show up – their ‘action’ scenes are quick and clean-cut, either ending with the lash of a venomous sting or a stem being severed, and not much description is given to how the plants really seem to interact with the world around them – after all, they’re only plants. And that right there is the core of what makes the Triffids work; unlike virtually any plant monster before or since, it is their very nature as plants that makes them so horrifying. It’s not necessarily that they lack much of a mind or a personality so much as their minds work in a way that’s incredibly different from human consciousness, or even animal life in general. They don’t have nearly the same level of intelligence as a human or the ability to manipulate their environment, but they don’t necessarily need either of these things. As Walter points out, they don’t need any of the trappings of civilization to get by as human beings do – after all, they’re plants, and extremely hardy ones at that. All they need to sustain themselves is water, sunlight, and some fresh soil to take root in; they have no need for shelter or heating or money or the ten thousand other things required by a civilized man. To make use of a Triffid, one would need specialized tools and protective equipment to gather its juices, machinery to refine it down into an oil, and the necessary industrialization and infrastructure to supply everything needed to produce all that equipment and all those mechanisms, not to mention something to use it on; on the other hand, though, a Triffid just needs to sting a person once and root in or around the corpse, feeding as the body decays. 

There is no malice in their actions, no malevolence in their hunting – after all, they’re plants. They are simply doing what they need to do to survive, the same as they were doing even as humanity ranched and farmed them by the tens of thousands, ultimately signing their own death warrant in their relentless pursuit of profit.

The greatest weakness of the Triffids – that they, like all plants, largely operate on a far slower timescale than that of animal life, became yet another strength as they patiently waited for their time to strike. For a plant, a few years or decades is hardly very long to wait – all that these stinging terrors needed to do was bide their time as humanity propagated them far and wide, growing new Triffids by the thousands and paying less and less attention to them. After all, they’re only plants, another crop in the ever-expanding garden that modern science was steadily turning the entire planet into… and the moment that humanity lost its advantage, the moment that we became unable to keep that garden exactly the way we wanted it to be, the armies of Triffids that we had grown and spread across the world strode forth to take what was theirs.

At first, the idea of the Triffids seems more than a little bit preposterous in our modern day and age – after all, they’re only plants, and ones that could only come to dominate the earth in a very specific context. And yet when we look out at the world around us and our impact upon it, one can’t help but remember Wyndham’s work.

We live in a world where our very concept of ‘nature’ is fundamentally sterilized and artificial. The landscapes that we inhabit have been irrevocably changed by our presence in them, not just from development and pollution but our careless introduction of untold millions of organisms into environments far from their original home.

We waste millions of dollars every year to supply our lawns with tens of thousands of gallons of water and toxic pesticides, for no other reason beyond maintaining the symbol of social status that is a green lawn, a chunk of land that you can afford to simply waste. We raze thousands upon thousands of miles of immensely productive landscapes and replace them with endless seas of corn and overgrazed cattle pastures, then have the gall to act surprised when the soil dried up and simply blows away without any proper vegetation to keep it held together, when the pesticides we smother corn with poison entire towns unfortunate enough to be nearby, and when the cows we cram that corn into proceed to flood the atmosphere with methane and feed colossal algal blooms with the runoff that turn massive stretches of ocean into dead zones. We bulldoze ecosystems that depend on and manage wildfires to make way for condos and suburbs, then treat it as some horrible act of God when the landscapes burst into uncontrollable blazes with those regulators gone. Kudzu was brought into this country to serve as cheap cow feed, only to smother entire forests beneath its vines; rabbits and cane toads were brought to Australia for cheap meat and pest control, only to swell into Biblical plagues; and countless other plants and animals that we’ve spread across the globe. 

With the damage we’ve done to this planet in the name of cheap profits and the pursuit of our own vanity; if a simple virus could single-handedly bring all of our advanced society to a screeching halt for months on end (and still continue to claim lives around the world), is it really so outlandish to think that we may create something that we cannot handle, that’s simply waiting overlooked in the shadows and taking root in preparation for its time to bloom?

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Fan ICHF: The D-Reaper

This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

This year really had it out for me with my favorite properties. First Kentaro Miura tragically and suddenly passed, and then Chiaki Konaka came out as a raging alt-right conspiracy theorist and the much-desired Konaka-helmed continuation of Digimon Tamers came out and it was far worse than anyone one of us could have imagined. 2021 really, really has it out for really dunking on things I really, really loved.

However, like with Chosen Undead, let us not remember the tragedies for what they are, and instead choose to remember the good for what it once was. Konaka’s career has been no stranger to horror, helming cult classics like Serial Experiments Lain, writing Cthulhu Mythos stories himself, as well as having a damn near preternatural predictive insight into what internet culture would become decades before they are actual manifested. Which makes his descent into alt-right conspiracy theory, cancel-culture fearmongering more tragic. How, how far he has fallen. Descending into a basic conspiratorial drivel that deletes decades of good will he had accumulated seemingly overnight. It is as if, he had encountered something deep in the network and went mad and warped him into a horror. The something in this analogy being alt-right conspiracy websites as opposed to something more cosmic, but hey.

For what its worth, much like the racist caricature of a man that H.P. Lovecraft was… Konaka did leave an indelible mark on horror. While his hard-scifi/cyberpunk esq. predilections about the future of the network like Lain are still held to high pedestals by anime hipsters everywhere, for most people, Konaka’s influence was first felt in a popular children’s show… and as such has scarred many people for life.

 To everyone who’s seen Digimon Tamers, better known as the third season of Digimon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who don’t know, well there is far more to the third season than just the furry awakening for half the internet.

The third season of Digimon, Konaka had full reigns of the series and hadn’t gone completely insane yet. He previously had done widely considered the best batch of episodes of Season 02 of Digimon, which was the Dark Ocean episode and the episode involving the Daemon Corps. However, these episodes were standalone due to the fraught writer’s room struggle in the behind the scenes of the series, so the ideas presented were either discarded or not given proper closure.  This would not be the case with Tamers as he was given full creative control and was very much a deep passion project for him, keeping detailed notes on the creative process behind it and even doing a standalone prequel novel for adults describing the analytical and technical process of the people who created Digimon in universe.

Tamers is as adult as Digimon ever got, with only the Cyber Sleuth spinoff games decades later even coming close to it. Other seasons like Savers or Tri had tried to reclaim or replicate the success but none had succeeded and came off as too edgy for edginess’s sake or trying to retroactively convert another beloved series into the Tamers mold, which did not work. To describe Digimon Tamers, it is akin to a hard-scifi standalone spinoff from the series that came before set in its own universe, where Digimon is a children’s game product that everyone is obsessed with. In the English Dub, it decided to say the previous seasons was an in-universe TV show, but that does not exist in original text as creative of a dubism that is.

However, as we would find out, Digimon not only actually exist, but are manifesting into our reality from an existence built out of our own computer network, with an MiB style organization trying to contain and delete the perceived threat. They are trying to force themselves to come our world, for reasons we do not know why and for most of them, they are not sure either. Some form of instinctual drive to evolve and get-stronger, no matter the consequences. For some, this comes from bonding and forming a personal bond with human partners, for most it comes from consuming the data of their fellow digital monsters, killing them like a lion kills a gazelle.

The horror at this point is underlying and, in the background, only coming up in the screams of agony as hundreds are deleted at once from the digital equivalent of a genocidal superweapon or other episode-to-episode implications and terror. In a way, Tamers tonally feels like Stranger Things decades later, what with a collection of children facing off against an extradimensional horror and the government body trying to keep it under wraps.

As we find out more about the Digimon, the more we find out the full story, from their creation, to even their so-called-gods and their intents and it becomes increasingly clear… something is driving the Digimon to our world, something is forcing their gods to ‘act’. Something that even the strongest of Digimon are unable to match in power.

And the moment we find out what that thing is… well… the entire series culminates into my first exposure to a cosmic horror story. An ever-growing blob of destruction and entropy that erases anything it touches from existence and constantly is evolving to further that end… and neither Digimon nor human can stop it…

The D-Reaper.

The D-Reapers origins in contrast to other cosmic horror entities is well known… but what makes this terrifying is just how *simple* its motivation is. Its origins is that of a basic cleaning program on someone’s computer, meant to follow a very simple directive, that being stopping data-packets from becoming too large and complex. However, because of this simplicity, reasoning or understanding its purpose is damn near incomprehensible, which separates it from most other rogue-AI or cosmic horror technological apocalypses. Its intelligence isn’t so vast or arrogant to be claimed to be incomprehensible, its core function is very, very basic. It is following its single programming to the letter, reducing, and deleting complex data to a more basic state… unfortunately that also includes life itself.

As the Digital World evolved, so too did the D-Reaper, a simple program designed to keep data from becoming too large and clogging a computers memory, now becoming something wholly, intrinsically alien. It makes no grand claims of being incomprehensible to lesser beings like say, the Reapers, it lays out its motivations clearly, to it, everything else has exceeded their programming limits and must be reduced… nothing more, nothing less. But in its simplicity, we realize:

It considers humanity a cosmic horror.

A lot of basic concepts that humans hold dear, utterly terrifies the D-Reaper as it cannot comprehend them. Unfortunately for us, the D-Reaper’s means of brain bleach is “Delete This”. Digimon, Human, the D-Reaper does not differentiate in its single-minded purpose. And despite its single-minded purpose… it is an evolving threat. As the series goes on, the D-Reaper adapts, evolves further and further. And as we learn more about how it ticks, it strives to learn more about us. Realizing that Digimon evolve from their bonds with humanity, it repurposes that same technique by forcing a traumatized child into a lotus-eater machine esq perpetual torment, feeding off their despair allowing it to grow further and further and evolve into new, terrifying forms. When it manifests into our reality, the blob grows out tendrils and bodies around it to assist in its growth, each a puppet or agent connected to the mass by a cord. These agents starting off small in mass surveillance probes, to agents designed to aggressively destroy potential threats to its growth, an agent designed to serve as a fortress for itself, and most terrifying of all, an agent masquerading as said child like the fucking Thing from another World.

As the series reaches its conclusion every new episode reveals a new evolution for the creature and it feels like a race against time as our children’s heroes, their Digimon and the government spooks and the original creators of Digimon work in desperate tandem to try and figure out how to destroy the entity before its too late. And by that point, its revealed that the D-Reaper had already deleted most of the Digital World, an entire plane of existence with countless worlds, seemingly reduced to oblivion despite hundreds of Godlike powerhouses trying their damndest to fight it and failing.

However, what eventually does the D-Reaper in is not the power of friendship, nor some all might super-attack but rather physics itself. In its rampant evolution it evolves faster than light information travel between itself in the Digital World and itself in our world and exploiting the loophole… our heroes concoct a means to simulate singularity using a Digimon, of which is created in the midsts of this connection and begins to reverse the rampant evolution of the entity reducing it all the way back to the original program it once was.  They won but at cost… as the veil between digital and real worlds is sealed and our heroes must tearfully bid their companions from another world goodbye… seemingly forever.

 However, one last twinge of existential horror comes as the adults convene one last time and muse what could have caused the D-Reaper to become what it did. And the answer, or lack of one is bone-chilling: It must have contacted something deep in the Network, and as we further expand our technological world and advance the Network, we too might find out what that thing is.

Which is where the true-cosmic horror of the D-Reaper lies, not in so much what is, but what caused it to become what it is. In our endless progress and the rise of the internet our rapidly advancing technology we are reaching a point where we can no longer predict the outcome. Technology is moving so fast our culture; our way of life cannot keep up. The internet is warping all our minds and twisting behaviors in ways that anthropologists and sociologists cannot even begin to try and fathom. The true capacity for the internet, the network is still as unknown to us today as it was back in 2003, and while we have realized some terrifying truths of it, and what it does to people, we still know not the limits of this frontier from how terrifying algorithmic learning can get to how misinformation spreads and forms little fiefdoms of Lalaland that refuse to evolve outside of that. Reducing us to our more basic state as the D-Reaper set out to do.

Perhaps it was not an Azathoth or Cthulhu the D-Reaper came across but rather this underlying truth of the internet to be. Reducing the people who use it to basic beliefs and numbers further cemented by our own created little worlds, of which even Konaka-himself had long ago succumbed too. That or maybe it is a Cthulhu deep in the network a Recycle Bin program bumped into and twisted it into a monster and I’m thinking way too deeply on children’s cartoon villains from 2001.

The D-Reaper as it stands though was my introduction to cosmic horror and I think one of the most unique and distinct takes of rampant-computer-program/AI gone mad in its genre of which even things that emulate it such as the Reapers from Mass Effect barely seem to hold a candle too (Still Salty of ME3). It doesn’t pretend to be grand, nor say “you cannot comprehend my intent” its intent is simple as any defragmentation program on any computer today…  and it is that simple idea that a basic computer tool we barely think on can, at some point evolve and warp into an eldritch horror bent on the erasure of all life is inherently terrifying. The D-Reaper did not need to have a heavy handed as Konaka’s later creations became, the D-Reaper did not *need* an attack called Cancel-Culture.

Because it was the thing that cancels. And that is as terrifying today as it was when I was a kid. And the mystery of why it came to be made it more intriguing an unsolved mystery better left unsolved. And overall, its influence while understated today, I think, is as intriguing today in today’s hyper-connected digital age as something of a grim prophecy from a bygone era. And is probably worth revisiting as a antagonist or entity that is more relevant and terrifying today than it was back twenty years prior.

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Fan ICHF: Bondrewd

This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Last year I did a Watchathon of Made in Abyss with myself and a couple of my friends including the likes of TyrantisTerror (editor’s note: that’s me!), RiftWitch, Noryubug, AkityMH and others. This Watchathon encompassed the entire 13-episode anime but also the third Made in Abyss movie: Dawn of the Deep Soul which acts as a followup of the anime’s ending episodes.

And to say it left an impression was an understatement, as for the last few days afterwards, my friends could not stop thinking about it and got into particularly heated debates over the nature over one figure. One friend maintained that said character is not evil because he had genuine love and belief in what he did, whereas another friend adamantly rejected the assertion that maintaining the figure in question was unquestionably evil, motives be damned (editor’s note: that was also me). Yet others DM’d me days, even weeks afterward unable to stop thinking about the character in question. And all unable to really come to a consensus of their feelings towards the figure other than the fact that immediately said figure dominated and held firm in their minds far after the anime had reached its conclusion.

Needless to say: The Lord of the Dawn, Bondrewd, is one of the most complex, contradictory, wicked, yet compelling characters I have seen in any anime in a long, long time and an instant classic villain in the making.

When we are first introduced to him it is in flashback. We see Nanachi’s childhood in another country, a snowbound orphanage that looks more like a desolate ruin. When we see Bondrewd, he addresses all the children present in a jovial, paternalistic manner. Offering them a chance to leave their horrible lives there for a chance to be pathfinders of humanity in the Abyss. He learns all of the children by name and treats them with utmost care as he takes them to the Fifth Layer of the Abyss via large elevator contraption. For the children it seems as if they are going on a life-altering course from horrible cold orphanage to being adventurers in a story book.

However, the illusion shifts as Nanachi, looking for Mitty, overhears Bondrewd talking with another person… who is concerned about the whole ordeal:

“Well it’d be different if they were cave raiders… but taking children who could never survive the trip back is… as a matter of human rights it’s….!”

“Ah, then there is no need to worry. For I am not making use of them as humans, you see.”

And that is where we are introduced to the monstrous duality of Bondrewd the Novel… on the surface he is rife with charisma and is caring, nurturing and loving as the best adoptive parent at first… yet at the same point… he will not hesitate to turn the child he was doting on moments prior into a horrible agonized existence. Having most of their organs and body parts removed surgically, only to be stitched back together in a fleshy/organ strewn sack and sealed inside of a cassette like cartridge where they are still fully conscious, and having drugs pumped into them fueling their terror, fear and ecstasy as they are used to help power him and conquer the Abyss…

And for Nanachi and Mitty, this comes in the form of an early experiment to test the nature of the curse of the Abyss… by forcing the curse into one elevator shaft so the other shaft is spared, but only so long as the person in the other shaft doesn’t die first… yet when accused of trickery, Bondrewd is taken aback and insists there was no deception. Afterall, they are assisting the world in making them pathfinders of exploration.

And the horror that would befall Nanachi and Mitty would serve as the driving force behind Nanachi’s narrative and their quest for not only revenge, but ensuring their newfound family is protected from the monster that blocks their entry to the depths of the Abyss…

Yet as they encounter his adherents, they are treated cordially and respectfully even going so far as returning a lost relic of Riko’s to Reg and warning them of a field of deadly monsters. And when they meet him in person once more, they are treated with the same cordiality and pleasant demeanor of a host welcoming pilgrims to their hostel and praising Nanachi’s quest. No malice, no indignation of their escape. And is perfectly willing to just let them pass, but since they don’t have the necessary key of passage, they are stuck there, unable to really ascend due to the curse of the Abyss, all the same. Since in order to go deeper, they need a white whistle of their own making… which requires a sacrifice of one person’s life for another, turning them into a life-reverberating stone which creates a White Whistle. Rendering Riko, Reg, and Nanachi trapped with the monster who made Nanachi into what she is.

However, everything seems…cordial. They are given rooms and food free of board, even though Nanachi knows better and keeps themselves and Reg on high alert for any funny business. Eventually, Bondrewd parlays with Nanachi, offering to talk things over and try to bury the proverbial hatchet between them. Bondrewd talking of his adoptive daughter he now has (more on her later) and invokes the idea of found family when Nanachi chafes against the idea of him having a daughter. “Families are built by strangers who cross paths and come together. Having Souls that love each other is what makes each other family.” he postulates. Bondrewd then implores Nanachi to return by his side as his assistant as his research is reaching its final phases. Nanachi, desiring no ill will to happen to their own found family agrees, but only on the condition that no harm come to them:

Bondrewd’s response, I shit you not: “Whoops.”

 Needless to say, Bondrewd takes the lack of autonomy of Reg up to 11 and regards him as nothing but an unprecedented relic and key to their research…  in all the horror that entails. In a scene that parallels Reg awaking in an electric chair, he well… less said the better but is maimed for the first time in the series from the experience. The duality of Bondrewd shows once more but this time in the form of an impulsive child not waiting to open a toy on Christmas, albeit opening a living being up.

Which culminates in the struggle of our three heroes against the Lord of the Dawn, his legion of nightmare soldiers called Umbra Hands and his never ending supply of relics. However, our heroes are clever and seemingly manage to kill him once and for all in a graphic display of ingenuity, forcing the monster to meet the same fate he forced Nanachi and Mitty into, before crushing the corpse under a boulder. However, as one of the Umbra-Hands approaches the body of the Lord of the Dawn, they discard their helmet… and take the helmet off the corpse and put it back on, their body and clothes being ripped apart as standing there once more is the Lord of the Dawn, long ago rejecting his own humanity, become nothing but a body-shifting phantom, identified only by his helmet.. If his body dies… he can simply take the body of another one of his adherents, rendering him, effectively, immortal. Effectively invoking the feeling of being trapped in a haunted house with a monster or slasher… if said monster was a mix of Josef Mengele and Iron Man and the Predator.

Armed with a impressive arsenal of powerful relics From lasers that can cut through anything (including poor Reg), to instant binding spiderman goo, to battle tail, to eyes of scrying to the giant plant-like artifact that allows him to body hop from body to body like a soul-equivalent of an information cloud. Bondrewd is a terrifying monster to face for any hero, nonetheless three children. You cannot simply kill him. He must be defeated ideologically or so thoroughly and devastatingly that it is impossible for him to counter you further.

Bondrewd in a way invokes the real-world horror of the doctors who work at concentration camps, specifically of one Josef Mengele. The real monster who did horrible atrocities to children in particular, forced one potential victim to be his personal mortician, and treated and doted on children like a kindly old uncle before in a moment sent them away to their deaths the moment, they had no more use to him. The affable persona and single-minded drive for perceived progress and perceived scientific enlightenment from the atrocities being committed is both eerily similar and makes Bondrewd more terrifying and horrific for his parallels with the real-world horrors that have been done to children.

Like those eponymous real-world monsters. Everything is on the table for what is needed to advance his research and solve the mysteries of the Abyss, there is no loftier or morally just goal for him. So much so, that it is the reason he has not went on his “last dive’ as other delvers have… he is dedicated to allowing the world at large to experience the depths of the Abyss below by figuring out the curse and allowing everyone to experience the curses and blessings of the Abyss. Of which Bondrewd fully expects everyone to be as enthusiastic and gung-ho about his efforts as he is.

Yet his efforts are all focused on one goal, understanding, and conquering the curse of the Abyss. Every atrocity, every dead (or worse) child, are all necessary sacrifices to that end. However, when our heroes lash out and demands that if he wanted to solve the curse so bad, he should have experimented on himself and turned himself into a cartridge… he agrees! He would if he could. But given he sacrificed his old human body to make his White Whistle, the Abyss doesn’t consider him ‘human’ so using himself as a means of warding off the curse is fruitless.  He has no scruples of using himself as a test-subject and expects everyone else who covets the Abyss to have the same lack of scruples as he. There is no hypocrisy to the Lord of the Dawn in this regard, he sticks by his own standards of honor even at the expense of himself, especially in regards to his fatherhood.

And speaking of fatherhood, one cannot talk about Bondrewd without discussing his adoptive daughter, Prushka. Amongst the Fifth Layer, she is a child slightly older than Riko and shares Riko’s enthusiasm and drive for adventure. And she loves her father very, very deeply… and in stark bewilderment to everyone present and most anime fans… he responds to that love in kind.

In the grand history of anime villains, it is a ever-present struggle to really stand out. Its arms race of ever-increasing power scaling to a point where in any given Shonen battle anime, villains capable of being planet or galaxy busters and faster than light speed are the common norm. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you receive pure schlock where villains imply sexual assault to the female lead in the very first scene in a vague attempt to be dark, angering, and edgy. Its an arm-race to be either as powerful or over the top as possible or as fucked up as possible.

Of note are the villains who invoke paternalistic fear. The audience’s angering betrayal by a parent figure towards those dependent on them is one thing that many iconic anime villains have in common and what allows them to stick into the public consciousness and memes. Shou Tucker from FMA, Gendo Ikari from Evangelion, Ragyo Kiriyuin from Kill la Kill, Gambino from Berserk and so on. They are figures and villains that even in the span of one episode permeate and stand out, invoking a resentment and fear that all our inner children shiver at and we as adults rally against with such visceral and understanding rage that they stand proud in our collective lexicon. The betrayal of a parents’ love for their child is one of those core things in any given modern society that immediately invokes rage.

In the post-ironic age of the internet, these ‘parents of the year’ stand apart in memes and in jokes but all to help assuage that primeval rage we have at their existence by invoking that rage in other people who get the joke. Between classics like Shou Tucker and Gendo Ikari, it would take a serious contender to really make them pale in comparison.

And with Prushka, Bondrewd does just that. Yet… does so not out of malice, abuse, neglect, resentment or financial exploitation of their child, but one out of pure love. Which is where one of the most compelling contradictory elements of Bondrewd’s persona lies.

Which makes analyzing him on one level so frustrating as Bondrewd is seemingly a walking contradiction. On one level the sheer level of horrible atrocities he commits would make him far and beyond one of the most despicable monsters ever put to screen. Yet on the other hand, he does so with complete lack of malice. Everything he does, he does with complete moral clarity. He is not without conscience, nor without love, rather those things do not impede him. He will care and love for you deeply, but at the same point if it meant advancing his goals, he would not hesitate from inflicting a fate-worse than death upon you while thanking you for your sacrifice… the end goal comes first.

And the love he has, both for his daughter, and his affection for Nanachi is not just for show, it is legitimate and genuine. If anything, Bondrewd is a being that is completely without malice. Even when everything is impeded and all his work undone, he would bid his destructors a fond farewell and a blessing in that they may find the secrets of the Abyss that he could not. Every horrible action he commits it is done without ill-intent. The level of detachment Bondrewd has from basic concepts of humanity is terrifying yet at the same point compelling.

Its not that he doesn’t understand emotions, love, or any of those things. He does and does so completely. He knows how to feel love, attachment, and paternal affection. Yet the value he seems to put of them is far outweighed by his end goal of reaching deeper into the abyss, and he feels sacrificing or using that love he has for that end is as wonderful as blessing he can give to someone. Every child or person he warps or uses he still treats and dotes on. Even when they are sealed inside of a cartridge or turned into an agony blob, he still memorizes each of their names, their dreams, their ambitions… and he has love for each one of them, even in their warped states.

Which is where the most compelling aspect of Bondrewd lies… is his love. He loves everything and everyone he develops a bond with… he just uses that as the rationale to use that to do horrendous atrocities to them in the hope of conquering the Abyss. For him… it is like an anime villain who realized the power of love and friendship and fully grasped it by the horns in trying to use it. Love is Bondrewd’s entire motus operandi, from the elevator ride from hell that turned Nanachi and Mitty, to the cartridges to even the fate of his daughter, all derives from developing and nurturing as much love and passion and desire out of people as possible so that power can take people deeper into the Abyss.

At no point does Bondrewd malign our heroes. At every point, he seems to genuinely care for their well-being. From trying to save them from a nest of vicious monsters (of which Nanachi was using to lure him into a trap with) to trying to guide Riko and offer to assist her in getting her ‘worth’ in the form of her white whistle despite everything else going on, he never once drops his charismatic, affable, paternal demeanor. Even when fighting an enraged Reg or Nanachi’s stream of (justified) verbal abuse, he is never once angry or bitter and still genuinely cares for them.

If the eponymous White Whistles are born from willingly sacrificing your life for another person, then surely that theory has merit. Value, Bonds, Love… all things that those who brave the depths of the Abyss the best have in spades. Bondrewd is the logical extreme of this. The compulsion of the Abyss taken to its fullest extent. He doesn’t just want the depths for himself, no he wishes everyone else to experience the blessings and curses in equal measure, be it him or children or anyone else.

This in turn makes him a compelling antagonist for each of the three main heroes of Made in Abyss. For Reg, Bondrewd embodies the complete and utter lack of respect for his autonomy as a person. Bondrewd regards Reg as nothing more than a wonderful relic and desires nothing more than to learn everything he can from him and see Reg push himself to his fullest. Reg is a test-subject and the worst possible manifestation of human disregard for his personhood. Operating much like a twisted version of an older-sibling, Bondrewd wrestles with and provokes Reg to prove his worth.

For Riko, he is a dark reflection and Bondrewd projects a lot of himself into Riko’s decision making. He values her intelligence and her similar compulsive drive to figure out the secrets of the Abyss. However, unlike Riko, Bondrewd’s pursuit of knowledge has no greater moral peer. When Riko gazes into the metaphorical Abyss, Bondrewd is the dark reflection of what her future might hold and is a stark mirror to what she was at the start of the series with her disregard for Reg’s personhood and her drive to be a White Whistle. Bondrewd represents the moral event horizon that terrifies her to her very core. In this way, Bondrewd is the form of mentor or teacher, a dark reflection of what she may become and is obsessed with all the the things she loves and values and may one day be what she herself can become.

As for Nanachi, Bondrewd is their personal demon. The boogeyman, the nemesis that Nanachi at one point wishes to die fighting against in a joint murder-suicide of revenge and despair. Bondrewd is responsible for the suffering in Nanachi’s life and turning them into what they are and Mitty and countless other children into agonized abominations. Likewise, Bondrewd invokes the feeling of an abusive parent for Nanachi, constantly lavishing praise and affection for them while making them engage in horrendous acts of inhumanity.  Yet despite this still lavishes and praises Nanachi even when everything he built up comes crumbling down.

Bondrewd is a perfect child-villain. As he invokes and straddles the line of Adult-Fear to near perfection and how he twists the concept of an authority figure, be it older sibling, Teacher or Parent. Even the Umbra Hands, many of which were Bounty Hunters or authority figures sent to kill or arrest Bondrewd, were all eventually swayed by his charisma to join his thrall. And yet does so by never once lashing out, never once growing cold, resentful, or angry. Every horrible action he does with genuine love and care and honestly believes what he is doing is just and even when he is beaten and broken, is overjoyed that he can experience their journey vicariously through them, believing that they will accomplish what he could not. He was a stepping stone in their journey into the depths, and he is overjoyed with that fact. In a way he is the ultimate evil authority figure, yet one who is not malevolent, evil, yes but not malicious.

Bondrewd in a way is a complete lack of a person, if Riko, Reg and Nanachi are a complete trio whole, Bondrewd is the thing lacking in all three of them but together they overcome. Bondrewd is love taken to almost eldritchian extremes, but through genuine love and compassion his twisted, inhuman version of it  is defeated, because Bondrewd does not have an ego in that he seems to lack a sense of self. He is just a mask, an identity that switches between bodies who is driven by a goal and his twisted version of a concept and feeling that is deeply human. Riko, Reg and Nanachi are the family Bondrewd so claimed earlier, the true essence of a found family and as such the whole person that Bondrewd could not and probably never be. 

And Bondrewd is overjoyed by this. Even in his defeat, he adores and cherishes our heroes. And wishes them many blessings… and curses upon their journey. Which, much like Josef Mengele, Bondrewd seemingly escapes reprisal. His base destroyed, his umbra-hands decimated, his relics depleted but his body hopping ability still in-tact, yet unable to hamper the heroes further, not that he would. Which ultimately left a bittersweet taste in everyone’s mouths to find out that in the end, he is not wholly destroyed, much like a certain Angel of Death who fled to Argentina after the news of his crimes came to light. And yet despite a decades long hunt, he died in as anti-climactic and non-just way possible…

Yet with Bondrewd, even if we did destroy him, we would not be satisfied wholly.  Which further adds to the infuriating nature of Bondrewd, as no matter what you do to him, how hard you struggle, how hard you berate or abuse him… he is happy for you. His entire demeanor, his charisma and his undeniable charm and gravitas as well as intent, contrasts with his actions granting him a dual, yet seemingly contradictory and frustrating nature. Yet, like anime villain greats like Griffith before him (they even share the same Japanese VA!)  his complex nature and the humanity in his inhumanity and the entire nature of his seemingly dual-serial killer esq. contradictory existence elevates Bondrewd far past most of his present contemporaries, and in general Bondrewd has laid a new standard on how to introduce a villain and how to present one in the medium.

Bondrewd is as despicable of bastards as they come, yet as the debates between my friends to this day indicate, It just indicates a truly standout horror and villainous performance that many series will strive to emulate for years to come. And for a childhood villain, he is up there with the likes of Pennywise for terrifying boogeymen for kids to contend with and be tormented by. Elevating and showcasing the sheer level of adult fear we can place in media and raising questions on the inherent nature of what we can or should tolerate fictional children endure in media, especially with how Bondrewd invokes the various levels of Childhood antagonists all in one fell-swoop and in a way that makes him truly stand out from the rest without needing to go so far as to go full schlock with the adult-terror like most anime invoke. 

And in that regard, may he grant blessings… and curses… on the genre for years to come.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Fan ICHF: Riko, Reg, and Nanachi

This ICHF was written by Sir K, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/sirkaijuofvaudeville.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

I love Lost World fiction. Even though it has a fraught history, there is something about the idea of finding a mysterious place unknown to your civilization and so alien or detached from it that makes exploring it, its new cultures, and whatever fauna it has so compelling to me as a writer. However, nowadays most fiction who do such stories either do so by mindless regurgitation of long-tired tropes and horribly outdated stereotypes unironically. Especially regarding other people or cultures. The long shadow of Colonialism infesting every core and function of the genre.

However, from time to time there comes a lost-world so compelling and unique that it stands apart from its contemporaries. Imagine, you are a sailor sailing the ocean blue, something, something deep calls to you as you explore the unmarked parts of the map. When you find a strange island… a perfectly circular island like a crater with mountains on all sides. Upon the painstaking climb to the interior, what you find is not a valley or crater…

But a bottomless pit, miles wide heading straight into the depths of the earth itself… calling you, beckoning you to go deeper. And as you go deeper, the world you know gets left behind as layer by layer, new biomes emerge and animals and fauna so far different than anything you know exist in a cruel, yet beautiful alien ecosystem. As you progress, you find ruins and remnants of people here before you, possibly thousands of years of culture and civilization before you, now dead… departed. Most of the bodies in twisted prayer. And artifacts of strange power and capacity litter the depths. Some useless trinkets and others seemingly so alien yet powerful they defy imagination. Deeper you go as the depths themselves twist, plants grow upside down from the ceiling, strange new weather phenomenon rips at you despite being in the depths of the Earth… eventually your supplies run thin, and you decide to make the way back…

But that is when the horror begins as the scouting party who went ahead deeper come back… some are bleeding from all their orifices. Others are crippled with sickness whereas others cry out for family members who they see in front of them but not there. Those are the lucky ones. Others who ventured even deeper don’t come back at all and the one who did… you wish they hadn’t. Somehow, you return… and despite the horror you encountered… the Abyss itself calls back to you. As it has to all who would venture to its siren call.

That story of discovery, however it happened, is not the story we are presented with when we are first introduced to the titular Abyss, but rather almost two thousand years after the fact. All along the ring of the Abyss an entire culture and community of explorers have erected a settlement all along the ring of this horrifying pit to the netherworld. The Lost World was colonized… yet it is still untamed. Yet when we are introduced to the horrifying, yet compelling world and culture it is not through the bravery of an intrepid explorer finding it… but through a child who dreams of being the explorer who reaches the bottom… and the mysterious child-shaped machine she discovers.

Needless to say, Made in Abyss is one of my favorite anime of the last decade. And the 2010’s were **rife** with competition for that title. Between actual faithful adaptations of Jojo, Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica, Castlevania (it counts don’t @ me) and numerous other darlings of the year Made in Abyss stands out from the rest, as truly there is no other anime like it in terms of concept, presentation and execution. Its art-style is like a mix of classic shoujo w/ backgrounds by Studio Ghibli, a powerful as hell OST, monster designs by the late-great Kentaro Miura, and a setting and lore as done by Junji Ito all thrown into a blender and giftwrapped in a lovely steampunk FF9-esq aesthetic.

But beyond the cutesy artstyle and scenery porn that looks straight out of Studio Ghibli, the things Riko (and Reg) go through during the series are things that’d take your average person off the census. With one of the very first monsters, we are introduced is a flying manta-ray/snake/xenomorph who almost devours a child victim and then few episodes later our lead is almost devoured alive by a three-eyed bird that imitates dying screams of its victims to lure prey towards itself, a twisted spec-evo version of a Siren. Yet this is the iconic characters of Horror Fiction, which after that preamble, we finally get to the point. For we cannot go over the characters of the world without the world itself.

From the very opening of the series, which is sung by the seiyus in-character of the two characters, wee are introduced to the dynamic of the two leads that will go through the depths of hell and us biting our thumbs every moment in hopes that these lovely kids will pull through… all while deceiving the ever-lasting hell out of us to what the adventure of this series will be, much like Evangelion and Madoka Magica before it.

But quickly the deception is gone however, as our main human protagonist is bloodied, blinded and battered by the aforementioned Manta/Snake monster and almost devoured… if not for a strange heat ray that punches a hole into the beast and sends it spiralling back into the depths from where it came. The strength of the ray punching a clean perfect hole through dozens of petrified trees and canyon walls as or small heroine  finds the supposed savior:

A small child like herself, but unconscious. But the strange gauntlets, helmet, strange skin texture and the still smoking trail of steam emanating from the palm of their hands say otherwise. This boy is not human, but a machine…

Awakening said machine boy later via electric chair we are introduced to him: a timid, shy, sweet boy who knows not his name, his past, nor even the fact that he’s a robot. And initially wonders if Riko is a torturer due to her room. However, he is subconsciously able to use the full extent of his body at whim. He is given a name by Riko, after a dog she once had, named Reg. Reg is clueless, and as such offers a more audience friendly pair of eyes to the world, we find ourselves in, and especially what exactly the Abyss is… yet we are told implicitly… whatever it is… Reg must have come from the bottom.

And with that, it isn’t long until the siren call of the Abyss will enrapture Riko and her new companion drawing them into its depths… as in the following episodes, this siren call will manifest fully. As if the Abyss itself calls out to Riko, a letter, from Riko’s mother surfaces… with notes of strange fauna and details of layers unknown to the rest of the world… as well as a sketch of a machine that looks suspiciously like Reg… with a single note directed to Riko, seemingly from her mother:

“I will await you at the bottom of the Netherworld”.

It doesn’t take long for Riko and Reg to decide that, hell or high water… they shall descend to the bottom of the Abyss, the letter serving as a siren call for both of them… as they descend deeper and deeper into a hell world that all who go too deep never return from…

Together, Riko and Reg are some of the most compelling child leads I have seen in anime in a long time. Riko’s single-minded drive and near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Abyss is a good contrast to Reg’s more cautious, sweet and weary approach to most things. Riko’s obsession with the Abyss being very relatable to any kid on the spectrum or was into nerdy shit as a child. Replace the Abyss with Dinosaurs or Godzilla and you have my behavior to a T. Yet tempered by Reg’s more cautious approach and cool-headedness. The adventure before them Riko has spent much of her short life preparing for, desiring to be a delver, like her mother, before her and as such is well versed in most threats the Abyss has to offer… but knowing something is different from being protected from something.

Which is where Reg comes in. Much like other anime dynamics, Riko and Reg share the Ideal – Mind – Body dynamic a lot of anime trios tend to have (we will get to the third member later 😉) with Riko and Reg making up both Body and Ideal side of the equation. Riko’s drive and enthusiasm are powered by Reg’s steadfast nature and the fact he is a literal robot. The fact we do not have the complete trio yet is an interesting decision but works well for the narrative as both Riko and Reg chafe against one another in some ways yet are toxically codependent in others.

Riko cannot survive the Abyss without Reg, yet Reg’s most deadly defensive tool leaves him incapacitated for two hours. Likewise, Reg is too emotional and cautious to really engage with Riko’s more extreme choices at points in the adventure, which his emotional breakdowns at points render him unable to be coherent whereas Riko is so single-minded to their goal, she gets themselves into trouble at numerous points.

Furthermore, initially, Riko does not regard Reg as human. She initially treats him as a curiosity or a akin to the Dog she named him after, and even in later episodes does not regard his own gender/sex as anything to be even cautious around. Reg is a robot, so why should Riko worry about things like bathing separately? Reg’s bodily autonomy or presumed gender is not even a consideration as in the first episode Riko charts out every inch of Reg’s unconscious form like he’s a new appliance. Something, further shown by other Delver’s in the series, who view Reg even less than human and have no qualms with testing his body or exploring every inch of it (which even going so far as making sure he has private parts) or brutalizing it in extensive ‘stress’ tests.

This disregard for Reg’s autonomy adds a layer of underlying/unspoken tension to the group, which will come to a head later. Especially when the emotional core of the eventual trio is added. Riko and Reg are a body and will together, but without the underlying emotional intelligence or heart to really tie them together as Riko’s disregard for Reg’s autonomy and single minded drive to push on is compounded by Reg’s moments of indecision and her attempts to be emotionally detached (which fails badly because she’s a child) only further compounds Regs emotional instability. However, when that bridge is made, the two are an inseparable adorable duo.

Individually, Riko is not just a walking exposition dump. Unlike in a lot of other anime, which has underage characters just for the gross aesthetic, Riko *feels* like a child. Having more in common with an early Digimon season protagonist than she does most lolicon bait characters of modern anime. She’s independent but is still prone to being completely oblivious to certain subjects, but also is so obsessed with her passions at some points, it becomes almost disturbing. Her entire drive is to the Abyss and one day, reaching the bottom of it. Instead of playing pretend, she’s already being used to find small relics in the highest layers for the powers that be, literal child labor, for the delver city of Orth along its rim. Yet this disturbing factoid is not wholly addressed, nor is the fact that Riko’s room in the local orphanage a former torture chamber. All little elements of fridge horror that help build up the foreboding tone of the series… and made it more disturbing how she doesn’t seem to mind any of this.

Her mother, a legendary delver, long ago made her last dive into the Abyss, leaving her daughter behind (and this was treated as inevitable by almost everyone). Leaving her daughter with the exact same insatiable wanderlust to go deeper, deeper, deeper…

 Which raises an interesting dilemma of Made in Abyss. One of the core adult fears of Made in Abyss is the fact that children are going through these horrible adult fear-inducing situations and engaging in clinical operations (like an emergency suppository to help save a life) that are inherently squicky but are not portrayed in an overtly sexual matter. Riko and Reg go through some serious shit and a lot of it is squicky and uncomfortable and done so intentionally uncomfortable. But at the same time, even when dressed down, the characters are still far less sexualized than fully clothed little sister characters in such trash like Ero-Manga sensei. It’s not so much the gore and horrible body horror fates that can and will befall them that squicks people out, but rather where does one draw the line on the subject matter that children get exposed to or the kind of adventures they endure?

Which is where one of the strongest horrors of Made in Abyss presents itself. It’s not the body horror, fates worse than death, cruel gorey fates, or the Lovecraftian eldritch horror of what lays at the bottom, but rather seeing children engage in situations and dilemmas that are deeply intrinsically uncomfortable, for an adult reader. Riko and Reg raise questions on not only the exact nature and the resilience of children and how they can cope with trauma, but the adult dilemma of seeing them go through said trauma. A wholly adult fear.

In a lot of media, children are exempt from the terrors of the world. In most horror movies children are there only for a shock value death or add some stakes to protect them in the final act, otherwise exempt and excluded from the narrative of the story. Sure, we’re told Freddy Krueger murdered children, but in the series itself, he goes after adults and teens (played by adults) for the most part with one or two notable exceptions. Its also one of the reasons why I think Stephen King’s It and things like Stranger Things resonate with so many people, especially young people, is that it presents children as they are going through terrifying situations where adults cannot help or actively impede them. As a kid, the Tim Curry Miniseries adaptation terrified me, because I had a inbuilt condition in my head that kids are safe in horror movies, but the miniseries , in the opening act murders children left and right and attacks them in the shower from the sewers which made me afraid to take a shower for years.

Made in Abyss capitalizes on that fear, with two children going through something that Junji Ito would dream up and having to overcome. Sure, one’s a robot child with extendo-arms, a laser beam and tough body, but at the end of the day Reg is as much a child as Riko is. And emotionally the duo are oblivious to the adult fears of the world. I mean, it makes perfect rational sense to cut off a poisoned arm at the elbow to keep on going, but it’s something entirely different when it’s a child making that request of another child.

Riko acts mature and clinical, but at the end of the day, she’s still a child and is as emotionally vulnerable as Reg is despite not showing it. Which is one of the reasons I find them so damn compelling.  These two adorable fucking nerds going through horrible, horrible situation, with a smile on their face? And at the end of the day, the horror is lifted to see the uplifting thrill of childlike, adventure that has been long sense lost to many people. From Riko macguyvering a new giant backpack for Reg and the silly doodles Riko makes to send up in a balloon to tell their friends back home they are alright and are heading deeper. Or Riko and Reg teaming up and using their talents in tandem to overcome a survival situation. There’s something very 80’s fantasy about it that resonates so well with me.

As characters, Riko and Reg are compelling, amazingly designed, and feel like I’m experiencing early Digimon all over again. Yet the two are still children at the end of the day, and their psychology and codependency and the things they value or are told to value are interesting and compelling to see through their eyes. Riko doesn’t bat an eye at her bedroom being a former torture chamber or the fact she’s basically child labor for an exploitative colonial society. Yet through their eyes we see the childlike wonder and obsession they have and the things they truly do value, which resonates deeply with my neurodivergent self.

I’m not one to make blanket claims on “THIS CHARACTER IS CLEARLY AUTISTIC” because, well, Autistic myself, and two, most of the time those claims are mind are done to basically children (like Guilmon from Digimon) or done to infantilize certain characters. But I see a lot of myself in Riko and Reg as a child both as an emotional wreck (Reg) but also in the hyper nerdy single-minded obsession of Riko and the sheer obliviousness to certain social constructs she has. Stuff that reminds me implicitly of my own childhood, and overall, I can think of no two nerds better suited than to go on an 80’s fantasy adventure… if that 80’s fantasy adventure was written by Junji Ito that is.

However, our disaster duo are missing something, still. For they lack the emotional core that is needed to bind them together. And in that, they shall meet a new friend in the depths of the Abyss…

However, our disaster duo are missing something, still. For they lack the emotional core that is needed to bind them together. And in that, they shall meet a new friend in the depths of the Abyss…

[MADE IN ABYSS SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT]

For as one delves deeper into the Abyss, the strains to ascend from its depths become more and more unbearable. Going more than ten meters upwards in the Abyss can lead to a whole host of catastrophic effects. The so-called “Curse of the Abyss” or “Strain of Ascension”. At higher levels, this manifests as nausea, fatigue, and cold-like symptoms. Ascending from deeper, this escalates to vomiting and dizziness. Deeper, one begins to hallucinate visually and auditorily. At even lower levels, your body is wracked with pain as you begin to bleed from every orifice… and even deeper still, well…

It is said one loses their humanity. Death is considered preferable…

So with that in mind let’s check in on our two adventure children over in the fourth layer of the Abyss, surely they are having a grand ole ti—

[Bleeding Eyes Riko]

Oh.

Oh dear.

Our duo, while trekking and caught off guard in the mists of the Fourth Layer are attacked by a venomous quilled predator who seems to read their every moment and with no recourse Reg and Riko ascend to escape… leaving Riko impaled through the hand, bleeding from every orifice… and her arm swelling up to massive size as lethal venom courses through her body. Riko between gasps of blood pleads with Reg… to cut her arm off at the elbow… but despite his efforts he is unable to bring himself to do it as he feels her life seems to fade from her body and he breaks down… wailing in despair and agony. Their journey ended in tragedy… 

“You’re noisy”  Comes a sudden voice. “That Girl still has a beating heart you know. It might stop at any moment though.

Reg turns to see a figure clad in furs. In a panic he demands who they are. In response to his demands:

“Nnah~ I’m just a fluffy stuffed doll. One that has come to comfort you guys. I’d properly introduce myself… but you’d be better off knowing how to save her… right?”

In that moment, a savior comes in the form of  this  mysterious figure. A figure who has been trailing them for quite some time. Through this figure we are taken to a place where “the curse of the abyss” does not exist to the bewilderment of Reg. And therein we see the figure disrobe and reveal themselves.

A furred humanoid creature of ambiguous gender, that looks like a child at first but covered in thick fur, claws and two rabbit-like ears and a fluffy tail. They call themselves Nanachi… and they are a Narehate: A Hollow… someone who has undergone the curse and the transformation of the sixth layer of the Abyss.

Nanachi is the third piece of the trio, the Heart to Riko and Reg’s Mind and Body. And immediately throws a wrench into the dynamic. Nanachi in contrast to Riko and Reg is much more emotionally intelligent but also in some respects more callous, manipulative and caustic. Nanachi has no problems trolling Reg into getting them dinner by convincing him it’s needed to save Riko’s life from the deadly poison the monster impaled her with when in fact she only needed one specific item, the rest was just a shopping list. With Riko out of commission for a bit, through Reg we are left to understand more of the Abyss through Nanachi… and why if they are a Hollow, there aren’t more like them and why haven’t more people like them made it back from the Sixth Layer of the Abyss.

Nanachi as a character, offers an intriguing shift to the dynamic of Riko and Reg but also through the course of the Abyss itself. Adding a degree of emotional weight to the journey that Riko and Reg were otherwise more detached from. While caustic and prone to making snide remarks, Nanachi by and large is the emotional core that Riko and Reg sorely needed in tempering both and making them a whole unit. Nanachi also has something neither Riko nor Reg really have: First Hand Experience.

Regarding Lost World fiction, Nanachi is the native guide or person who’s been marooned in the location of note and has learned every little nook and cranny of the area. What the Fauna is like and more importantly, how to survive. But how they achieve that role in a story is a compelling twist on the narrative in that regard. As opposed to simply ‘going native’, Nanachi simply understands the fundamental nature of the Abyss in a way that no human delver can really survive.

Through Nanachi, we find out the true nature of the Abyss’s curse… in that in operates much like a veil that is layered over and over each other and ascending rips through that veil causing the effects of the ‘curse’ to manifest. However, fauna and things native in the Abyss can perceive and manipulate the field to some extent allowing them to move freely through layers without hassle while also being evolved to use the forcefield to, say, gauge the intent of prey and plan accordingly around it based on how the field reacts around something.

However their experience is not born out of happenstance, Nanachi’s time in the abyss has been far from pleasant and the callous nature they have is evident by the dozens of pieces of delving equipment they procured… and not just by scavenging. Nanachi has killed Delver’s before and is very cautious around them (and for damn good reason) and is implied that most of the time Nanachi is perfectly willing to let the fauna of the fourth layer murder Delvers and then swoop in and scavenge the remains. Nanachi intervening to save Riko was due to Reg’s emotional breakdown in being unable too as it reminded Nanachi of themselves.

Nanachi is no stranger to tragedy, and most importantly, love. Which we see firsthand, when we see Nanachi’s house mate… a horrible fleshy blob abomination that used to be human… Mitty. Mitty, or what’s left of her, is Nanachi’s oldest and only friend. But now she is reduced to a near mindless blob in perpetual pain who has no higher functions in their brain anymore. Unable to die as they seem to heal any injury, toxin, or other cruelty. A life of pure agony that Nanachi tries their best to make pleasant…

Mitty is also a Narehate… and the reason why most people don’t make it back from the Sixth layer. A fact Nanachi makes clear and ending Mitty’s life of suffering is the only thing Nanachi has going for themselves anymore… and without Mitty, Nanachi themselves have no reason for living… until Riko and Reg show up.

Riko and Reg help give Nanachi purpose and furthermore, family again. Allowing for Nanachi to open back up and grow attached once more. Deciding to accompany these poor naive children in their one-way trip and completely the trinity of Mind – Body – Heart. Nanachi’s experience and emotional intelligence helps balance out the trio and allows each of them to understand one another and work together as a cohesive unit. Nanachi’s experience tempers Riko and helps direct Reg, while their emotional maturity and understanding helps Reg calm himself and Riko and Reg to, process their emotions together and mature themselves, as well as helping Reg process the fact, that in spite of him being a robot… he’s also apparently hit puberty. And trollishly prodding him about it.

Likewise, Nanachi, unlike every other human character (barring maybe Marulk), doesn’t seem to regard Reg with any sense of disconnection with the fact he’s a robot. Nanachi regards Reg the same as they regard everyone else, and as such helps temper Regs’ emotions and experience with their own tactical insight and knowledge how the surroundings work. He’s just a lost child who they are begrudgingly grown attached too and is very ‘weird’ about his insistence to rub Nanachi’s fur (also probably because Nanachi is attracted to females given they are A-Okay with Riko doing it). And prods Riko and Reg into understanding each other more closely.

Nanachi is defined by their emotions and ultimately their capacity for love, no matter how twisted or hurt that love gets. Even though Riko has the ideals and the brains, Reg has the body, Nanachi is the heart of the group, the caustic, furry, tragic heart who despite everything still has love to give, even if they have difficulty letting it go. Despite everything, Nanachi still has conscience and love. Their love for Mitty, and eventually their bond with Riko and Reg, to a point they are ready to willingly sacrifice themselves to be subservient to the monster that made them and Mitty into what they are in exchange for Riko and Reg having safe passage deeper. In spite of the horrible atrocities, they are sure to befall them and will be made to befall others… just like the tragedy that befell them and Mitty before… and the dozens of other children from Nanachi’s home country who all met Mitty’s fate…

Hm? What was that about a monster? Turning children into horrible agony blobs? Wait… have you heard that? That deep shaking in the depths.

Ah. I hear it clearly now.

The Rumble of Scientific Triumph….

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Fan ICHF: Blue

This entry was written by AkityMH, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/akitymh.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

I don’t need to explain the importance of Jurassic Park to anyone of our generation or since its release in 1993. If I do, then I have to ask… what rock have you been under? This is the movie that made Dinosaurs relevant again, and not only that, but scary. Back in the 50’s, the fear of the ancient past awakening to enact vengeance upon humanity for its meddling with the nature and order of things.

The movie is also very much responsible for introducing us to the infamous Velociraptor, a dinosaur that up until this point was a little obscure. That obscurity went so far out the window that it is now orbiting the moon. How do you make dinosaurs scary? You make them the size of a full grown man and give them the predator’s trait of intelligence. From the start of Jurassic Park’s opening credits, the Raptors are shown to be among the planet’s most lethal animals with exceptional power and a cunning mind ready to catch you off guard and eat you alive.

Between the books and movies, we see very violent animals that will not only attack anything that isn’t their own kind, but more than happily kill their own kind as well. The Big One, the largest alpha member of Raptor of the first movie and it’s main antagonist, kills all but two members of its pack for unknown reasons and is bold enough to attack Rexie even when alone. In the book, the raptors rip apart iron bars to get at people, and practically can’t be stopped until they get to you and rip you to pieces. Even a rocket launcher can’t seem to drop them dead in the book version; body parts twitch and they are fully conscious even once in pieces. In the sequels, it’s shown just how crazy they can be with them attacking and killing each other for stepping out of pack line. The third movie ends up showing the Raptors being far more established than any other version as far as their behavior, but nonetheless incredibly lethal and down right vengeful to reclaim their stolen brood.

And then we have the fourth movie in the franchise, Jurassic World…. And it is here we meet Blue, a Raptor bred specifically to be trained at the hands of a human, Owen, who acts as her Alpha. Between this movie and its sequel, we see that Raptors tend to just be incredibly vicious creatures. Much like Alan Grant said in the third movie, genetically modified movie monsters. They just like to hunt and kill things! With Blue, that is somewhat true, but Blue then shows a side we never seen in any Jurassic Park media. Blue is empathic. At a young age, she differs even from her three pack members who are more than happy to try and kill their caretaker if showing any sign of weakness. Blue does not…

Blue is unique as far as all the other carnivores of Jurassic Park. She is an example of nature vs nurture. Many Raptors of Jurassic Park seem to be psychotic and sociopathic regardless of how they are treated, and not only that, but their violent nature is often enforced by their livelihoods of being restrained and without proper parentage of their own kind. This contrasts with the Indominus Rex. The I. Rex is not only a genetic clone of a dinosaur, but a totally new hybrid that never existed in nature at any point in time. It is an animal that had no parent, because no parent existed to teach it to be an Indominus Rex. It was restrained, alone, only with one sibling that we are told that it ate at one point in its life. No one interacted with it much other than feeding it, no one stimulated it, no one gave it any proper interaction whatsoever other than to exist and eat. When it gets out of its enclosure, the Indominus immediately finds a sense of thrill and joy that it can hunt and kill just about anything around it, to which it has done very little of before except for its sibling.

In comparison, Blue is shown to have the trait of empathy even from a young age as seen in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Owen raised her with a sense of discipline and care, something that would come into play with the movie when things got worse. Blue still is violent, snipping her teeth at her pack mates and almost mauling Owen and another keeper at the drop of a hat. The drive there to hunt her caretaker and parent figure is strong. She runs off extra energy every day in training. She is stimulated all of the time and learns how to be a Raptor. It’s a lot like a dog, as some dogs are genetically predetermined to be more aggressive than others, or more passive. A retriever is the best well mannered dog you can probably have, but they can be taught and encouraged either directly or indirectly to be aggressive. The same thing can be said with the Pitbull Group of dogs such as Bulldogs and Terriers who are bred to hunt and kill animals, but you can nurture them into being far more friendly companions. Blue is never so cuddly as an adult, though. She seems tolerant at best, much like most monitor lizards… Fun fact, a monitor lizard close up was used in the first Jurassic Park movie. Bit of trivia for those that didn’t know it.

Nature versus Nurture.

When the climax happens, Blue comes into conflict with those instincts to hunt and kill even after she has been shot at by humans at this point and has all full reason to assume any human is to be considered dangerous. She can kill Owen and the rest of the cast, but comes to understand that this human, Owen, is someone she can trust and should not kill him or those with him. In further entries of the series, it is shown that she actively outright avoids people when she can.

Blue’s entire character is the perfect way to summarize the Jurassic movies. All the movies are about humans taking control of a science and using it when they may not be able to control what it causes. The Nuclear Bomb awoke Godzilla, but the concept of cloning brought to life any prehistoric creatures that we may not even properly create or even treat correctly, ultimately creating monsters without intention. Monsters, real actual monsters that exist in real life, normally are made by us. Either someone has hurt them, or we made a mistake, or we neglected something. These kinds of movie monsters make some of the best in all film history, as we can see how something like irresponsibly husbandry of animals can result in something like the Indominus rex, or the Indoraptor. Blue is a great example of what a bit of compassion and responsibility can result in.

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Fan ICHF: The Demogorgon

This entry was written by AkityMH, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/akitymh.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

I can speak to the high heavens just how good the Netflix series of Stranger Things is, and many others can too. This was nothing short of the truest and purest love letters to the types of horror movies of the 80’s and 90’s… More so the 80’s, because Stranger Things actually takes place in the early to mid 80’s of the suburban town setting. A quiet little town, forest all around, nothing really going on, coke cans were the size of boxing gloves and made with actual real sugar, dinner could be thrown into a microwave and full of terrible chemicals that may cause cancer, and the absolutely ever loving fear mongering of anyone outside of the United States coming over and destroying the single and one true way of life.

Everything is here and accounted for, including Dungeons and Dragons! Oh yes, Dungeons and Dragons… The ever wonderful game of imagination that is but one single cord of this instrument that is a television series. The show uses Dungeons and Dragons for an interesting way of describing a complex, eldritch horror in an amazingly simplistic way. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The story begins with some secret United States espionage secret service running for their lives from an unseen horror that quickly makes its presence clear as the vacant air it often leaves behind as it pops in and out of the shadows. This creature, dark, unfeeling, unstoppable… hungry.

This beast is what the story will call the Demogorgon, a monster of the Dungeons and Dragons manual that… looks nothing like this thing, what am I looking at? An alien echinoderm from an alternate side of what we call reality, that’s what. Remember how I said that D&D is a chord in the instrument of a series? Well, it is revealed that this creature is from what we come to call The Upside-Down, a world that is basically described as the other side of the string that our existence stands on. We cannot interact with it on a normal basis. It’s as abstract as Light and Darkness, and much like Light and Darkness, the world this creature comes from is cold and barren despite being nearly identical to ours. It is literally a shadow of our reality. 

Allow that to set the stage for what the Demogorgon is. It fades in and out of reality, often following the scent of blood to possible prey. It abducts, right from the get go, one of the main protagonists of our world and drags them into Upside-Down World where he barely gets by, prompting a slew of events that cascade into a sense of traversing the darkness of the unknown.

That darkness is very much staring back, waiting with very sharp teeth as some curious people poke their fingers in and agitate it out.

The Demogorgon lets its presence be felt through most of the seasons. It is a creature that to us seems unstoppable. It often isn’t seen until it steps into our world like a crocodile from the waterside to drag us into its domain to devour. When it is attacked, it proves very hard to kill. Bullets don’t stop it, neither does setting the damn thing on fire as we eventually learn… Although, it does very much hate the warmth and light of our world, as a creature of the opposite of our world certainly would find such a concept alien to it as it’s own is alien to us.

What Stranger Things gives us, is such a beautiful story to begin with, but it is legitimately nail biting in its atmosphere. Where does this monster come from that we accidentally invited into our midst? Where can it go? Can it be stopped? Is there more? Who can we turn to, and that question is very relevant as it was the fear of what will come to get us and trying to avoid it which has summoned this menace in this unsuspecting east coast town. The Demogorgon is brought to our reality by the United States using powers beyond our comprehension to spy on just another group of people who are most likely equally as paranoid of outsiders coming to get them. That whole theme of something out there that most likely cannot be stopped is forever following you through this entire series in all of its seasons. It can easily get to you one way or the other, and it may have intentions for you that may leave you for dead… if you’re lucky, anyway. Dying isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, but living in absolute cold, unfeeling intent for your entire life is.

That is until a lot of us come together and actually try to make things better, much like our group of heroes in this story. An outsider, a young girl named Eleven, is a total outsider who is part of the reason a lot of this is happening, though against her will. She has the power of telekinesis, and that was used by men of power to spy on their enemies on the other side of the planet, accidentally stepping in the wrong place when Eleven had accidently sensed the Demogorgon on the shadowy side of reality and inviting it in without knowing what it was. Eleven is then accepted, though not by everyone off the bat, and all is done to help her get away from those who wish to misuse her for their own gain. As the series goes on, she has to come to terms with her trauma as well and not to pass on the cycle of abuse as her captors had. On the other side, the Demogorgon may also as well be a victim in this by a degree as we learn it is also under the tyrannical control of something far, far greater than just a man eating monster. We may never know, but there is more coming up. Even as I type this, Season 4 has been teased to us just short of the Halloween Month of October around the corner. Maybe we will get those answers, even if it turns out the Demogorgons are still somewhat vicious creatures, but still wish to just be out of the control of those who wish to abuse them to get what they want, then by all means give me that. I want more Stranger Things.

There is so much more I could just go on and on about. All of these characters are compelling, built and molded by the United States domestic world for better and worse. There are people who have lost loved ones for other reasons, people who never knew loved ones like Eleven, young children who thought they had it all good until shit hit the fan, the mother of Billy going crazy after her son gets snatched out of our reality, there is another family that has a overly strict dad we can all love to hate, teenagers doing typical teenage things… But the thing is, all of them are very human! Even the shitty ones tend to just people; ordinary people we can identify with and see how they got to where they are and how they may have done better.

If you have not watched Stranger Things, I greatly insist you change that and form an opinion all on your own. It isn’t perfect, but it has a very specific and charming feel to it that you only get when you watch classic movies like Ghosbusters or The Dark Crystal, or any of those kinds of movies from a few decades ago. Five bucks says any of you reading this most likely have seen at least Ghostbusters once, or maybe The Neverending Story, so this may be up your alley.

Damn good show.

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Fan ICHF: The Dragon

This entry was written by AkityMH, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/akitymh.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Some seven years ago or so I saw a graphic novel on a shelf that caught my eye and desperately wanted, and didn’t get until a few years ago through a gift from our deer presenter of the ICHF and creator of Horror Flora, William Cope!

Thanks for this book, buddy, I cherish it quite a lot due to it being practically the only story of its kind.

What story is that?

A Town Called Dragon.

Dragons have become the poster boy for all things fantasy. When you think of a fairytale, or something fantastic and old stories, dragons often come to mind. They are truly the child of imagination. Everyone knows what a dragon is. Dragons are pretty much in every fantasy story. Tolkienverse, the old story of Beowulf, Dragon Riders of Pern, How to Train your Dragon, Harry Potter has dragons of course, Eragon, Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, Drakenguard, true mythology all around the old world and even the new world, children’s books, Dragonball Z, Godzilla is practically a dragon and King Ghidorah is a dragon, Arthurian legend, Age of Fire, Isekai stories, and even Star Wars has frigging dragons.

I could rattle off, as so many of us can, why dragons are so damn amazing and usable, abusable, and beloved. Here is the kicker though… There is really no dragon horror out there. I can name a few, namely from the Sci-Fy channel such as Dragonstorm, Dragon Fighter and Wyvern. Would you believe there are very few horror Dragon novels or stories? I wouldn’t even count Beowulf, since that is just an old legend of a hero, not a horrific dragon. Long ago, dragons were like any other monster: an allegory of fear. There was even a theory at one time that dragons were truly an accumulation of all human fears, having traits of all primal animals we evolved alongside such as big cats, birds of prey, snakes, toxic animals and of course the mysterious element of FIRE!

And yet here we are where we all love dragons as pets, friends, giant monsters that fight other monsters and powerful sources of wisdom and magic. Anything other than scary. We practically forgot just how scary the concept of a dragon can be… If we ever even had that context to begin with. Most people think of a dragon with “ooo” and “ahhh” when something amazing as a dragon comes into play into a story. They invoke a sense of imagination unmatched by nearly all things… Except maybe dinosaurs, who equally capture the imagination and most people find them more amazing than scary. I’m no different in that aspect. Dragons, to me, are practically synonymous with all things creative and the root of all imagination. A bit of a claim for me to make, but dragons truly are that amazing to the point I really wanted to make my ICHF about dragons as a whole. They are the titular monster. When I hear dragon, I don’t think of dread, I think “AW HELL YEAH!”

So where does A Town Called Dragon fit into that, and how does it differ? I’ll admit I haven’t looked super hard, but there really are very few dragon attack stories: where the conflict and terrifying force of nature takes the place of a giant shark, crocodile, bear, snake… is a dragon. Replace Lake Placid with a dragon, or Tremors, Jaws, and just about any other killer animal story.

The Dragons, to which the Dragon of this story is the last of its kind after its parent is finally killed by some Norwegian Vikings kill it…. They ride out to the dragon’s nest, and return with the last dragon egg in the entire world to destroy so that the threat of dragons never returns… To which the story violently reveals that dragon eggs and baby dragons are 100% immortal. They cannot be killed in any shape or form that we know of. They hit it with axes from their strongest warriors, they topple a one story stone slab on it, but nothing can shatter the unborn horror inside. Unable to crush it. Dropping it in the ocean will “have it take on the properties of water”. Boiling it in a geyser will hatch it, as fire and heat are what they thrive in.  The only thing that can be done is to keep it sealed, in cold oil, and a group of norwegians take the quest to take the egg across the sea, far, far away from humans as far as they will go. They succeed… They reach the new world that will become North America, and travel all the way to Colorado’s mountains where the last of these men settle with one note.

Leave it in the dark.
Leave it in the cold,
And best no one ever speak of it,
Or ever breath the name of this cursed beast,
Ever again.

The prologue of this story makes it clear that this isn’t just a fantastic creature of a bygone era like some dinosaur like we often imagine dragons to be. It is a devil, a horrible thing that practically counteracts the era of man, a curse that needs to be forgotten so it never comes back. This isn’t some misunderstood animal, or some benevolent deity from the far east. This is a monster that actively eats entire villages of people in one sitting before sleeping a few days to sleep it off, only to wake up and do it again, and again for as long as it lives.

That goes right down the shitter…

A town near these mountains passed down the story, and the town itself is called “Dragon”, in light of the story. Of course, it’s just a story! Just another tall tale of dragons. In the hopes there was some truth, some German archeologists had followed the legend all the way from Norway to America, where they uncovered the sealed cave and blast away the stone rocks built up around the container of oil and the egg… which promptly hatched! A small dinosaur-looking lizard rips apart everyone within a minute, powerful enough to throw its hand through a human skull. The carnage has begun, and the world again is at threat of the return of dragons.

After that, this story is roughly the same as any man eating animal horror movie like Lake Placid or Jaws. This scrawny dinosaur-looking thing is going around eating people one after another, flocks of cows and it just grows until its wings grow out and it can fly. Bullets bounce off it all the time, cops are called on some teenagers who are also using explosives and blame them for some of the shenanigans at first, there is a plot to renovate this old town into shopping malls and the town doesn’t necessarily want that. Now this now Tyrannosaurus looking dragon rampages through the town and eats a handful of people, they hit it with a truck, and then try burning which only accelerates its growth and it sprouts wings and flies off. To top it off, this town is seeing the biggest blizzard with the phones being out to begin with because of renovations relating to renovating the town, so they’re also stuck in this town. A funny note to make is that one guy shooting at it to lure it calls it Barney and then Godzilla. Legendary was fresh off the 2014 release of Godzilla, and they really were riding that train hard. 
Really, it’s a predictable story. The only catch here is that the monster is a legit, fire breathing, legendary dragon. I really cannot think of any other novel that does that, to the point I am planning my own book with that concept. There are some movies, and not very good ones, either.

A Town Called Dragon is fun as hell. You don’t need to shake up the story and its beats all the time. Sometimes those work, and this is a case of that. The dragon… Well, I don’t know what it necessarily symbolizes exactly. Given it exists beyond what a normal animal does, such as being immortal as an egg and hatchling, and growing to half its adult size in a few days, it’s not far to believe that there are some more mystic performances here. Perhaps it is some earthly way of attempting to keep a balance with mankind, the only other thing to ever make use of fire to which mankind is infamous for harnessing to accelerate itself forward as a whole. That’s my two cents on it anyway. I doubt this book will get any sort of sequel to ever reveal some kind of answer to that now that all dragons are extinct in the context of this story by the end of it.

I highly suggest this book. It isn’t long, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a good old story of a man eater on the loose, and we can all love that. I hope to see more Dragon Horror media in the future that isn’t a subpar direct to TV movie.

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Fan ICHF: Krono

This entry was written by AkityMH, who you can find at https://www.deviantart.com/akitymh.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Some years after I read all of the current Meg novels by Steve Alten, I sought out similar media of prehistoric and/or deep sea horror novels with monsters in them. There is a plethora of that, but I have to admit a lot of it is the same… Like, really the same. They’re all usually the same prehistoric creature.

The Kronosaurus.

And this entry isn’t a catch all for them, I am focusing on a specific one that does that best. Kronos Rising, not the only Horror Novel in its series of books, but one of them, as its direct sequel is far more sci-fi thriller and action. Not a bad thing, though.

Anyway, Kronos Rising is probably the best runaway Kronosaurus story there is. The author is Max Hawthorne, a man who I somewhat admire for his own hobbies. The guy likes the water, likes to fish, and loves giant monsters… Needless to say, those three things accumulate rather well in this book.

Curiously, this book does not start out with the hubris of man, but rather by natural circumstances. This is a story not where nature was awoken by a nuclear bomb, but rather a strong Earthquake in the Caribbean Isles. Specifically, off the coast of Cuba. There, a fictional Volcano exists called Diablo Caldera, named the “Cretaceous Lake” that ended up being full of cretaceous life forms for the last sixty-five million years. The crater acted as a giant stone prison that now had a few openings in it, resulting in the release of the titular Kronosaurus of this novel that now is cruising the islands of the Caribbean. This creature has no name, but I will just refer to her as “Krono”.

The story follows a few people, the main character being Jake Braddock and the secondary main being Amara Takagi. Both have a slightly rough past, as Jake is a man who was raised by a toxic as hell father and ultimately lost his mother to his father’s flaws, and then lost his wife tragically as well. Amara grew up trying to protect marine mammals for the most part, going as far as standing up to seal hunters and taking a pickaxe to the abdomen that forever will be a literal pain in her rear end.

Between the two, the facts come to life that some large marine animal has been attacking boats and eating people. No one listens because who believes that crap, and then said Kronosaur enters the marina of the island this takes place on and reeks absolute havoc until it miraculously climbs over the breakwater after it gets trapped inside like a eighty-foot long loggerhead sea turtle.

It’s been a hot minute since I read the first initial book, by a few years for that matter, so I can’t recall a terrible lot of unique things about this story. It sure as hell is far from the only one of its kind. A similar book, Devour, is very similar. That said, I think this is the best out of all of the prehistoric sea monster books to come out in the wake(ha) of books like Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. I also think it held up a lot better when it came to sequels, but let’s not get carried away with talking about a bunch of other books.

The book does its best to shine with its characters. Jake and Amara are quite compelling, and have equally engaging side characters. That is what sold it to be, anyway. Jake does his best despite having a lot of baggage, helps his younger coworkers out as he upholds the law on this small island. Amara is just a treat, and then the secondary villain… Harcourt. This guy from the start of the book is mentally unhinged, and that goes all in down to his demise near the end. He owns all of the island, Paradise Cove, and basically controls it all… except for Jake, to which most of the book he is trying to manipulate Mr. Braddock and get him thrown out of position. The human drama here is definitely top notch, and is probably what makes this series really stand out amongst many others.

All this time, I never talked about our monster, now have I? Well, to be forward, Krono is an absolute unit. At eighty feet long, she is twice as long as any fossil evidence. Not only that, but she is smart. Kronosaurs in this series are wickedly sharp, intelligent as dolphins, chimpanzees and I dare say as smart as a human. They will wickedly plan the demise of one human being that has caused them harm. The climax comes right down to this giant sea monster just wanting to kill Jake and Amara, doing its best even after being attacked by a huge pod of Orca and rendered blind. She is an absolute beast and it is terrifying that this one massive, angry animal just wants to kill one or two people that have made it angry. This beast is also outright evil, devouring unborn whale calves for an example. Not out of malice, but if you wanna make a proper antagonist, have them eat a beloved baby animal and everyone will be on board to drop a nuclear bomb on it.

Down to it, this is more or less a Kaiju media piece due to how big the Kronosaur and its kind are, and how quickly they adapt as the series goes on. Spoilers here: This Kronosaurus was a gravid parent by the start of this book, going ashore and laying eggs much like a sea turtle… and out of eighty eggs, one is a large mutant that we learn in the second book is capable of reproducing live birth much like some sharks, giving birth to large, very capable predators. Did I also mention by the second book, those eighty or so babies have reproduced into a few thousand? Yeah, and they have effectively, efficiently destroyed the entirety of the oceans ecosystems. Large sharks and whales are going out the window, and it is so bad that other prehistoric animals have reappeared now released from the same place. Xiphactinus, Sabre Tooth Salmon… And there are a few other things I will not dare spoil. Things have escalated to some rather insane reaches, and I can’t hate a single thing I’ve been given thus far. I would compare it to Tremors… The first movie was outright atmospheric and terrifying with a good dose of comedy, and each sequel things grew far more outlandish and insane.

By all accounts, great Atomic Horror.

But it began with the first one that starred in Kronos Rising. Hot damn, these books are frigging great. The first one is full of straight science fiction/thriller/horror, and the rest…. Well, go read them. Please, by all means, go read these damn books if you have not already.

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