Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge
Since it erupted onto the scene in 2009, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series has been a huge hit. For those new to Correia’s work, the titular MHI is a company of private contractors who help protect everyday folks from the evil and hungry parts of the hidden supernatural world. Straddling the line between action horror and urban fantasy, the MHI series hits a sweet spot appealing to fans of action, guns, monsters, fantasy, Lovecraft, and heroes who keep trying to save the world even after being pounded by every monster you can think of and the terrifying Agent Franks. After five novels and several short stories, Correia has begun allowing other top-notch authors to come play in his horror-infested sandbox. John Ringo, one of Baen’s other superstars, is the first out the gate with Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge. Memoirs is a slight departure from the rest of the series since they are a jump back in time, in this case to the eighties and nineties.
I want to hit the most important thing right off the bat: this book is fun. The voice and flow of the story are different from the mainline books, but the feel is the same. The recurring themes of the MHI setting are here. Of course two of those themes are scary monsters and awesome weapons, and that’s lots of fun right there, but there are more. The emotional notes can shift in a heartbeat: I went from cackling to cheering to wincing to choking up in just a few pages, and more than once. Humor is everywhere, from the main character’s noisy face off with his crazy mother in a naval hospital, to the numerous action scene one-liners, to the old school nerdy references (I remember the Zork one off the top of my head). Monsters get out-fought, out-witted, and occasionally befriended, and the hero gets several of the girls.
The protagonist of Grunge, Chad (occasionally called “Iron Hand”) makes an interesting contrast with Owen Zastava Pitt, the hero of the original MHI. Both are hyper-competent, but Chad’s gifts (both intellectual and martial) are sometimes ridiculously over the top, and where Owen clearly worked his butt off for the skills he has (some exceptions, but…spoilers), Chad is born with several of his, and the rest seem to come without much effort. Where Owen is somewhat socially awkward and sincere, Chad is a deft womanizer and a self-described lounge lizard. Owen is largely a reluctant player in grand destinies, prophecy, and so on; Chad throws himself happily into his role of God-sent warrior. Interestingly enough, being a God-sent warrior doesn’t slow down his sexual exploits one bit, so…no warrior-monk here. One of the things I’ve noticed is that while the protagonists of the Monster Hunter series are consistently skilled, powerful, and often supernaturally favored, they can still make boneheaded decisions, have everything go wrong on them, and get the bejeezus beaten out of them. Chad is no exception
Most of the characters in Grunge are new, and even the familiar names are interesting to see as they were twenty years before the current main story arc. Earl Harbinger and Agent Franks are largely the same, of course, but it’s fun for long-time fans to see Milo when he was just an assistant in the shop, or the Doctors Nelson before their retirement (they lead the team Chad works with in Seattle), or Raymond Shackleford III before he was crippled. The way the story is written, as a memoir, the authors do a good job of introducing people so that no prior knowledge of the characters is required. There’s not a lot of character development in this book – once Chad graduates from training with MHI, he stays pretty much the same for the remainder of the novel; but it still makes an excellent introduction to the monster hunting world as it was and sets the stage for Chad’s career.
In addition to new characters, Grunge continues to reveal the enormous worldbuilding in the MHI setting. New-to-us supernatural creatures, interacting with the Court of Faerie (never a fun thing), a little more of the history of the odious Monster Control Bureau, a little more of the international view of monster hunting (yakuza don’t like the supernatural, who knew?), and why Seattle has so many out-of-town vampires all the time, all come into play. The cosmological angle comes in a little bit – our old friend Pete from Nemesis makes a brief appearance, there’s a tantalizing hint with Franks, and the various supernatural factions finally get a big-picture outline – but most of the focus is on the everyday life of monster hunters, such as it is. Where the mainline MHI books focus on rather world-altering catastrophic events, the issues in Grunge are more local: a town with a giant spider problem, a new vampire in town, getting to know the local sasquatch, things like that. Oh, and repeatedly dealing with a demonically-infested software company that totally isn’t Microsoft.
Given the authors involved it’s no surprise, but Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge is a great addition to the Monster Hunter universe. It hits all the expected notes for an MHI book while still giving us new stories, new characters, and a very different narrator from any before. Those with kids and teens should be warned, the sexual references are not as subtle as when Correia is writing solo. There’s nothing very graphic, no actual sex scenes, but references are frequent. Profanity is heavier and more frequent than the mainline books as well. The book is violent and sometimes gory, which is expected for a series about shooting evil in the face. Political and religious comments by the narrator may annoy the theologically sensitive. The sequel, Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, is due out the first week of December
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, is a fantastic read that (in many ways) harkens back to the action adventure movies of the 1980s and 1990s, that once it grabs a hold of you can be a tough fight to put down. A wonderful addition to the MHI series. Unforunately, it will not appeal to everyone out there. If you are an urban fantasy, survival horror, or action adventure buff then you will definitely have a blast reading the latest addition to the Monster Hunter International series is one that you have to read today. Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge can be found at your local bookstore, or online at Amazon.