I don’t recall how I came across Hiroshi Yamamoto’s fun monster-hunting novel MM9 (2007). Perhaps it was a recommendation for me on Amazon, based on my more recent forays into translated science fiction, such as Metro 2033 and Roadside Picnic? In any case, I’m glad I read it: MM9 is a delightful and clever novel with surprising twists and turns.
As the sub-caption “monster magnitude” implies, MM9 is a story set in a world beset by giant monsters, or “kaiju.” The title refers to a classification scale, the monster magnitude, that is clearly a nod to the moment magnitude scale used to classify earthquakes; as the tale begins, a creature of scale MM9 has never been seen… yet!
But the focus of the stories is not entirely on the kaiju themselves, but rather the men and women who work to identify each new threat and determine the best way to contain it. These members of the Meteorological Agency Monsterological Measures Department (MMD) do not have an easy task: kaiju do not follow the same laws of physics that the natural world does, and simple direct military attacks can often lead to unexpectedly horrific consequences. The MMD must mix science, detective work, and simple intuition to prevent catastrophe on a major scale.
The book is divided into five parts, each of which tells its own story but which end up interconnecting in extremely clever and surprising ways.
- Crisis! Kaiju Alert! When an aquatic kaiju that might be an MM8 is detected heading rapidly towards Japan, the MMD are put on high alert. Their investigation, however, shows that they are dealing with a unique threat that requires an equally unique response. This story serves as an introduction to the people of the MMD and the challenges they face.
- Danger! Girl at Large! A kaiju of MM4 or MM5 is usually not particularly difficult to handle. When a new one appears in Gifu City, however, it poses a unique challenge to the MMD — because it looks like a human!
- Menace! Attack of the Flying Kaiju! When a flying MM1 is spotted heading directly towards Tokyo, the MMD make contact with it and follow it from a distance. Their characteristic caution is justified when they find that the creature is stunningly radioactive: Tokyo faces a potential environmental catastrophe in stopping codename “Glowbat.” But the creature has a mission, and a secret, and uncovering both will be key in neutralizing the threat.
- Scoop! Twenty-four Hours With the MMD! Told in a documentary style, a news organization spends a day filming the MMD, and gets the opportunity to see them in action when Kaiju Five of the year arrives, perhaps the strangest one ever seen. It can’t even be called an animal…
- Arrival! The Colossal Kaiju of the Apocalypse! The worst fears of the MMD, and the world, are realized when an MM9 kaiju — more than 4000 tons — is discovered in restless hibernation on a mountain island. This is a creature of myth and legend, and its awakening could bring about the end of civilization. Furthermore, its awakening is not accidental, and the MMD finds themselves attacked and hindered from an unexpected direction. Can they uncover the secret of the MM9 in time to stop it?
The book as a whole is delightfully clever and fun. It is a fast-paced read, and the breakdown into five parts makes it very easy to read a section in a night. What really stands out, however, is the world-building that Yamamoto manages to fit in such a slim book. A lot of detail is packed in about the operation of the MMD, the history of kaiju in Japan and the world as a whole, the politics of keeping monster-fighting organizations afloat, and the science behind the existence of kaiju. Yes, there is a wonderfully ingenious science fiction explanation for the existence of kaiju, wrapped up in quantum physics, and it ends up playing a major role in the plot. I won’t spoil the details here, but they are well worth the read.
I have already alluded to the fact that the kaiju themselves are stunningly clever. Though one would think that monster-fighting would be a brute force operation, Yamamoto finds new and unique challenges for the MMD to face in every part of the book.
In short: MM9 is a great novel. You will love it even if you don’t usually love giant monster stories! I’ve already picked up another of Yamamoto’s novels, The Stories of Ibis, and am looking forward to reading it.