One short story, A Single Samurai, from The Baen Big Book of Monsters is nominated for a Hugo Award, and this is a review of that single story. Set in Japan, an unnamed lone samurai sets out to slay a kaiju that’s as big as a mountain. As his entire home is destroyed, villages trampled, villagers dead and dying, the Samurai reflects on how a flea comprehends a dog.
The story opens as the Samurai is riding the kaiju as it heads south. The reader is able to create a vivid picture of a monster so massive, that the Samurai could spend days traversing its back. It’s an intense image, and combined with the brave and loyal Samurai’s mission to fight this impossible monster, you’ve got a easy-to-root-for sympathetic protagonist. In addition to the traditional myths of the Samurai legend, this story includes a small description and demonstration of how the Samurai’s soul is embedded within his daisho, so that when he kills, his soul is momentarily connected with the soul of his victim.
I do, however, find it confusing when the Samurai finds limbs of dead soldiers in a clearing even though he’s still on the beasts’ back. How did the soldiers reach such a place when the Samurai experienced stone slides and tree falls, earthquakes, and caves to get there? On the way he also encounters unknown cat-shaped animals who want to eat him. He quickly slays them and moves on, but I’m grasping for details not provided. The time frame also isn’t clear because of the multiple flashbacks in time.
I’m a sucker for the big, stoic, honorable hero fighting against all odds, so the concept of this story caught me right away. Unfortunately, the execution is confusing, and leaves me unsatisfied. Recommended for fans of Godzilla and the Japanese monster legends.
“How did I escape the devastation, you wonder? I could comment that, in a way, I didn’t. That I was right there in the thick of it, and that I am still experiencing it. But I don’t think that is the answer being requested of me.
The truth of the matter is that I escaped my certain death by riding on the creature—the kaiju—that was in fact the instrument of the destruction and chaos left behind me.”