by Asamatsu Ken, horror (2008)
Kurodahan Press, $16.00, ISBN 978-4-902075-23-7
Queen Of K'n-Yan was first published in Japan in 1993, and it is now issued in English by Japan-based publisher Kurodahan Press, with the translation provided by Kathleen Taji.
This story is a homage to The Mound, a comparatively obscure short story ghostwritten by HP Lovecraft - the name "K'n Yan", in fact, came from there - but the end result is also clearly inspired by the 1982 film The Thing. In fact, there is one scene that is pretty similar to one of the more gruesome moments in that film.
Our meolcular biologist heroine Morishita Ari is sent to help the research team of a very secretive corporation, Japan Gene Engineering. In fact, JGE has constructed a huge structure to conduct their latest hush-hush research, one that is compared several times to the Leviathan (ooh, foreshadowing). Imagine Ari's surprise when she learns that the research is funded by the Chinese government, hence the presence of numerous thuggish armed Chinese goons around the place. Well, she's in for a bigger shock when she realizes that the research centered around a mummified corpse of a pretty girl, said to date back to the very, very early days of human civilization in China. Or, perhaps, even before that?
I'm sure it is not a shocker if I say that the mad scientists want to bring this mummy, called the "Princess of K'n-Yan" by Dr Li, the chief researcher, back to life. If you do not see that one coming, you must not have read or watched horror stuff often. The fun starts when the mummy comes back to life, naturally.
Reviewing translated works is always tricky because it can be hard to determine whether the author or the translator is to be pointed the finger at. Here, however, the fact that this story is translated causes the story itself to lose much of its charm. The nuances of the story that are due to plays on the Japan language are lost here. The translation itself is serviceable, but perhaps too serviceable to the point that reading this story is akin to reading a manual of some sort. The narrative feels monotonous and cold. The story takes a long time to get going, relying on the building up of suspense and tension to keep my anticipation going, so the dry narrative actually works against the story.
The story becomes really fun once the gore starts, although the homages to The Thing are way too obvious and, since I have watched that movie before, quite clumsy. Come to think of it, despite being touted as a story inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, I feel that this story is more in sync with more contemporary science-fiction horror tropes. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. It's just that the story feels more like a blatant homage than anything else, and I feel that the author could have done something more with it.
Now, it is pretty much a given fact that stupidity is to be expected in most horror stories, and in some cases, it is understandable, as panic and hysteria always make one dumb in the heat of the moment. But here, there are many head-scratching moments. When Ari realizes that there are shots fired in the lab, with bullets denting the walls of the elevator she is in, her course of action is... to go back to her room to get a phone. Why not just go straight down and out of the whole building? Of course, if she does this, the story would be about 100 pages shorter. Secondary characters do some stupid things too, like one guy caring more about his employment status when everyone else around him is getting killed by a monster from hell. Heck, early in the story, when our heroine hears reports of earthquakes and worse happening all around her, her reaction is basically, "Meh... whatever."
These characters never feel real, they feel more like action figures without realistic human emotions. Therefore, I don't find myself caring whether they live or die. I just want to be entertained by the gore, and the story delivers plenty of that in the last act of the story.
It is also disappointing that the monster, said to be cunning, ends up being just crazy and murderous. This is where the link to the Cthulhu mythos works against this story the most. The Old Ones are said to be cold and distant, their concerns unfathomable to mortal minds. Here, however, the Queen of K'n-Yan (when she awakes, she gets promoted, or so it seems to these people) is just a standard evil monster in a sci-fi horror flick.
Queen Of K'n-Yan has an interesting premise, but the execution never fully delivers the good stuff. The gore is great, if a little too obviously a nod to The Thing, but everything else doesn't measure up.
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