Godzilla: Journey to Monster Island
 Scott Ciencin
Language: English Release: 1998
Publisher: Random House Pages: 108
Genre: Fiction ISBN: 067988901

Preview: Order
Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

Thanks goes to Sam Messerly for sending this in for review!

I've always loved Monster Island. The idea of an entire island filled with giant monsters living together in relative harmony mixed with inevitable and spectacular monster fights fired up my infant imagination as a child and made me wish to see it portrayed more and more. After reading Godzilla: Journey to Monster Island, the third book in Scott Ciencin's Godzilla chapter books for young readers, that desire remains in me—but I'd rather see someone else's version.

Godzilla: Journey to Monster Island picks up right where Godzilla Invades America leaves off. Godzilla is still wandering around America, wishing for monster friends and looking for a place to belong, and a number of other mutated monstrosities created by some misguided experimentation detailed in the last novel are following the same endeavor. Our protagonists, however, are not giant monsters. No, just like the last two entries in the series, the protagonists are yet another set of orphans. This series might have been better titled Godzilla and the Orphans. It would have been really interesting and plausible if Godzilla had actually caused the deaths of the parents, but such is not the case in any of these books. After all, Godzilla isn't as mean as all that!

This time the orphans are the 12-year-old twins Amy and Roy O'Neil, and like the orphan Tomo from the last book, they possess psychic powers. Amy and Roy live in an orphanage in the state of Washington, and at the beginning of the book they are looking for a fellow orphan who has run away from the orphanage. Instead, they find Godzilla.

You might think this would be a bad thing, but not in this novel. Amy discovers that she can manipulate Godzilla with bursts of projected feelings and imagery via her psychic link with him, and Godzilla takes the children and helps them find the runaway. Unfortunately, the military forces of America, which had been monitoring Godzilla's actions, sees their interaction and thinks Godzilla has hostile intentions. Warfare breaks out between Godzilla and the combat unit, and things get even hairier when the aforementioned mutated monsters, led by Varan, show up. When kaijuologist Hiro Kuroyama finds out that the psychic children can manipulate the monsters, together they hatch a wild plan—to lead Godzilla and the rest of the beastly brood on a danger-laden journey across land and sea to a distant, unnamed South Pacific island to join two other monsters (Rodan and Anguirus) at a research facility where they can all live together in peace. Of course, there will be more than a few complications to their planfrom preteen hormones to crazy Godzilla fans and more!

The idea for this novel is actually quite entertaining and bursts with potential. However, unfortunately, the way Ciencin handles it is uneven and arguably lazy. Plot points often aren't fleshed out well—for example, at one point some of the smaller monsters are hiding in a mall, and Roy goes out to find them with a military team. He finds most of them successfully—but one of the monsters, a human-sized armadillo, is completely skipped over and I don't remember him ever being mentioned again—a tragedy in my eyes, since I love armadillos. The climactic action, revolving around a sudden new threat at the end of the story, comes straight out of nowhere, and the resolution depends in part on sudden new manifestations of the children's psychic abilities that were never even hinted at earlier in the story. Lazy, lazy storytelling. The last chapter wrapping everything up is one big sappy and predictable cliché as well.

The characters seemed a little more interesting in this story than in previous efforts, although not always believable. Amy and Roy constantly spar with each other, but their mutual love is apparent and shines through. Amy finds herself struggling internally with a smorgasbord of emotions and is not quite the perfect hero—a welcome change from previous stories. Some of the minor characters were more memorable than I expected as well. Hiro Kuroyama, however, as the only human character to carry over from the last story, is almost completely without personality—despite his Mighty Mouse t-shirt. Even with the fairly interesting characters, however, the dialogue stumbles at least as often as it strides, including especially Ciencin's attempts at humor, which tend to be flatter than the tires of a car driving across Anguirus' back.

Ciencin's portrayal of Godzilla continues on the annoying "Barney with anger issues" track from the previous books. He still wants to make friends more than anything, but he gets ticked off a lot. Anything deeper would have required a longer book. The book also includes Varan, Kumonga, and Kamacuras, as well as Rodan and Anguirus—but those last two only come in near the end, and then only quite briefly. The back cover claims that Manda is also in the story, but he isn't—instead, there are two giant snakes named Rattler and Yellowback, which are a rattlesnake and a coral snake, respectively. Ciencin makes no attempt to keep his monsters remotely true to the real animals from which they were spawned—both snakes attack their prey by wrapping and squeezing like pythons, and Rattler shakes his tail before he attacks creatures he wants to eat—which kind of defeats the purpose of the appendage. Why warn your prey that you are about to eat them? Yes, I am being nitpicky to the extreme, especially considering the more egregious examples from Toho's history, such as the giant spider Kumonga spraying webbing from its mouth instead of excreting the stuff from its behind. However, it just seemed like another example of lazy or at least uninteresting writing—but if I was to be perfectly fair, most of the kids reading this stuff wouldn't give a fig about such matters. Permit me one more criticism, and I'll leave the monsters alone: their names. Abandoning the Japanese naming convention from the previous novel, his new monsters' names mostly come from the English names of the creatures themselves. Yellowback is the most creative—then we have Rattler the rattlesnake, Armie the armadillo, Chuck the chuckwalla, Gila the Gila monster, Gecko the gecko, and Gopher the gopher. They are all very minor characters, but the lack of creativity in their names appears endemic to most everything else in the novel.

Bob Eggleton's art is, again, a considerable highlight. With each book he takes a different Godzilla costume and renders it perfectly throughout. In this novel it's the Mosu-Goji costume from Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), which works very well—except that it doesn't match the chapter header art, which is cast in the familiar Heisei Godzilla form from the previous book. Other than that and a rather strange looking Anguirus on the cover, Eggleton's art pleases enormously.

I'm probably being too harsh on Godzilla: Journey to Monster Island. These are chapter books aimed at the very young, after all, and Ciencin is able to craft an occasional action sequence with aplomb. However, when I feel I am slogging through the text rather than reveling in it, and when Bob Eggleton's art is easily and consistently the best part of the book, something is wrong. I like books written for young readers; the simplicity of style can belie considerable depth in story and reveal interesting, multi-faceted characters as well as most adult novels can, if they are done well. Ciencin doesn't seem interested in doing that with his Godzilla series—the big green he was working for wasn't Godzilla.