A Hugo Award nominee for Best Novella and winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow is framed as the memoir and extended suicide note of Syms Thorley, B-movie actor. Having achieved cult fandom in horror circles for his role as the Frankensteinian Corpuscula and the mummy Kha-Ton-Ra, Thorley is recruited toward the end of World War II for a top secret US Navy project: the Navy has been breeding massive fire-breathing lizards, and they intend to convince a group of Japanese ambassadors of the utility of surrender with a demonstration of the lizards’ destructive power in miniature.
If Thorley, with a rubber lizard suit and miniature Japanese metropolis, can terrify the Japanese into surrender, he will put an end to a bloody war and avert a tragic demonstration of that other top-secret US project, the atomic bomb. What follows is a darkly humorous, satirical, and sometimes touching treatment of people trying to carry on as normal in a time of violent international conflict. A quick, entertaining, but nonetheless thought-provoking read with hints of Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five.
I kinda had some mixed feelings about Daryl Gregory’s Pandemonium, which I thought was good but a little uneven, trying too hard to incorporate the meta-fictional nods to the scifi canon sometimes at the expense of good story. But in Raising Stony Mayhall, I think Gregory has finally found a good balance. There are still the subtle in-jokes (George Romero, in Gregory’s alternative history of a failed zombie apocalypse, is a documentary filmmaker, for example), but there’s also a damn good story: Stony is found as a child, infected with the zombie virus, in the clutches of his dead mother, and raised among humans in as normal an environment as a zombie child could expect.
As Stony enters adulthood, however, he finds himself thrown into the strange underground of a zombie sub-culture, including conflicting schools of thought on how to best preserve the living dead among a society that despises them (and among whom only the most informed know the living dead still exist).
Gregory’s story could easily be mapped as allegory upon any group for whom growing up different is difficult, but it’s also more than that: It’s a touching story for anyone who felts like they never quite fit in, as well as slightly high-brow zombie fiction. But also a engaging story in its own right, with plenty of action and suspense.