Enormity by W G Marshall
For once, I’m going to start off with a headline. Enormity by W G Marshall (a pseudonym of Walter Greatshell) (Night Shade Books, 2012) is wonderful! No matter what your prejudices against science fiction or fantasy, you can’t beat a book that takes a theme and then explores all the implications with a detailed eye. That this happens to start off with a 1950’s film trope is just one of those accidents of nature no-one can predict nor control once they occur. Think of this as a tsunami of weird with a wave height that just seems to get bigger as the book goes on. For this book, I think we probably need a new label. Thanks to China Miéville we got New Weird. Perhaps this should start off überweird. Actually, I’m cheating a bit on the weird front. The problem is the alternatives that immediately spring to mind like wacky and goofy lack the necessary gravitas. If you’re going to spawn a new subgenre label, you want it to sound impressive. Somehow a genre named after a Disney character (ignoring the copyright issues for now) fails to inspire. Screwball seems to have been appropriated by the film industry. Absurdism is too academic. This is definitely not whimsical. All suggestions will be gratefully received.
To prove how old I am, I confirm actually paying to go and see The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and, at the other end of the scale, The Incredible Shrinking Man when they first came out. For those of us used to seeing giantism in insects and animals as a result of exposure to atomic radiation, it came as a welcome relief to have it affect humans as well. The shrinking was the most effective with the spookily metaphysical ending as our hero grew so small, he slipped between the atoms and disappeared into a kind of negative infinity. So with Enormity we’re jazzing up old themes with new variations. Move over Jonathan Swift, this book has Earth suddenly confronted by two giants. Now you should understand, these are not your common or garden 50 foot efforts or even Brobdingnagian. The man stands at 6,600 feet, give or take a few inches. The woman is only slightly shorter. Fortunately, their clothing expanded to match their physical size. None of the Hulk’s green body showing through his artfully torn clothing. This is a quantum supersizing to make even a McDonald’s look small. How come, you ask.
Well, it’s all down to one of those archetypal mad scientists. This genius decides the best way of bringing forward the end of days is to give North Korea a super weapon. So he carefully wraps his quantum dark matter in some packaging held together with some string theory tied into a artistic bow, the whole left to marinate in a jar of kimchi as the fermentation process works its wonders. Unfortunately, the North Koreans smell a rat. They think this is a subtle American plot to make them look stupid. The man is too obviously insane to be credible, so they send him down to the beach for assassination by one of their top agents. Realising what’s about to happen to him, our nutcase triggers one of the weapons which rather neatly proves who is the least sane in all this adventure.
The result is the creation of our two giants: one poor American sap who happens to be on the beach with his wife, and our female assassin. Fortunately for America, Major Harley Queen is on hand to begin the process of trying to deal with this unusual situation. Surprisingly, this was left out of the gaming scenarios when he went through training at West Point so, when it all comes down to one man and his initiative, he just has to catch the ear of someone higher up and, suddenly, he’s standing on the shoulders of a giant, trying to make himself heard. If only he had a woman to hand, he could join the one-mile-high club in a novel way.
All this is a wonderful exercise in proving how disgusting the human body is when viewed from the perspective of an ant. Believe it or not, we are home to an array of different forms of life from bacteria upwards. If the body grows big then so do all the lifeforms we host, a distinctly disconcerting thought for any human who comes within range. Now scale up urination and other bodily functions. This gives a whole new meaning to “gross”. And all the while, these giants can cause massive devastation. Whether it’s wading through the sea close to shore or trampling through a city, there’s only one thing that might be in humanity’s favour. Sooner or later, these giants will run out of food and starve to death.
At one level, this is an entirely serious science fiction novel about what could happen if someone was to develop and detonate a quantum weapon. It’s also “enormous” fun as W G Marshall explores the enormity of the problems caused by the giants and, more importantly, what military response might be possible. As a point of comparison, weapons have little effect on Godzilla and he’s only the size of a small office block. Now scale that up to a being more than a mile in height. However you want to view this book, it should win a prize. Not that a Hugo or Nebula would be on the cards. Enormity is too far off the radar for any conventional award. But the quality of inventiveness should be recognised and given some kind of prize. This is a book you should go out of your way to read. It will reward you in so many unexpected ways, you will be thinking about it for days after finishing.
Have a look at the work of Cody Tilson.
For a review of a book under the name Walter Greatshell, see Terminal Island.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.