There are simply more topics that I would like to write about than there is time on this Earth. To that end, I’ve created GeekOut!, a column where I can express my love of something for a month, before moving on to the next topic. This month: kaiju, the Japanese giant monster movie genre.
Calling this kaiju is probably a stretch, although it is undeniably kaiju-influenced. What we have is a satirical literary novel, akin to the works of David Mitchell, Jonathan Letham, or Michael Chabon, that crosses over into the genre ghetto. I first read this book when it first came out 20 years ago, and I’ve re-read it a few times since. It’s a book that showed me the potential of science fiction as literature, and opened me up to reading and growing to love the authors I just name-dropped.
The book is written from the perspective of the monster himself, a monitor lizard mutated by the radioactive fallout of atomic testing to become a gigantic mutation. It also makes him intelligent, which heightens his sense of loneliness and existential angst. He does drugs. He tries to kill himself. He makes movies where he fights fake giant monsters, both as a way to make a buck and a means of entertaining himself.
His best and only friend is Komodo, a human survivor of the bombing of Hiroshima, who spent several years in a coma. Komodo is also a scientific genius, and builds several amazing gadgets at their shared home on Radioactive Island. Other survivors flock to the island, and a cult rises up around Gojiro. While Komodo things they can be a force for good and bring about world peace. Gojiro is cynical enough to know that this sort of thing can only end badly. The two end up on a road trip, through Los Angeles and out to Trinity site, New Mexico, with bizarre twists along the way.
The book is smart and entertaining, although by no means is it up there with the genre farces of Kurt Vonnegut or Thomas Pynchon. It certainly has Vonnegut’s dark humor and gift of jargon when dealing with religion and philosophy. Gojiro deserves more credit and attention than it gets, and I can only imagine how Jacobson’s fiction would have developed over the decades if he hadn’t abandoned it entirely following this outing.
This was Jacobson’s first and only novel. Prior to this he was a writer for the Village Voice and a columnist for Esquire, and is currently a contributing editor for New York Magazine.