Book Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi

Jamie’s dream was to hit the big time at a New York tech start-up. Jamie’s reality was a humiliating lay-off. Things look beyond grim, until a chance delivery to an old acquaintance. Tom has an urgent vacancy on his team: the pay is great and Jamie has debts – it’s a no-brainer choice. Yet, once again, reality fails to match expectations. Only this time it could be fatal.

It seems Tom’s ‘animal rights organization’ is way more than it appears. The animals aren’t even on Earth – or not our Earth, anyway. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures roam a tropical, human-free world. And although Kaiju are their universe’s largest and most dangerous animal, they need support to survive.

“So we’re the monster police, too?” I said to Tom.

“Correct,” he replied. “The only real question is, who are the monsters?”

“They ask that question in every monster movie, you know. It’s an actual trope.”

“I know,” Tom said. “What does it say about us that it’s relevant every single time they ask it?”

This is one of those novels which does exactly what you expect from the title!

There are Kaiju, albeit on a parallel Earth. An alternative Earth whose barrier with our Earth can, in certain conditions, thin enough to allow transportation in both directions. Kaiju who inspired Godzilla. It is exactly what Scalzi says in his Acknowledgements, a popcorn movie of a novel, a “pop song”, “light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses”. And it is exactly that, a great, fun novel.

We start, not on Kaiju Earth but on our familiar Earth, in a New York ravaged with covid and lockdowns and anxiety, as Jamie Gray is laid off from his executive position by their utter slimeball of a boss, Rob Sanders. A slimeball who returns later in the novel. No longer an executive at fudmud, Jamie is forced by necessity to accept a job as a “deliverator”, which brings him into contact with Tom Stevens, an old college friend, who offers them a job with the eponymous KPS, who needs someone to lift stuff.

Along with a bunch of other newbies to KPS, Jamie is kept in the dark until taken through to Kaiju Earth and exposed to the oxygen-rich, tropical, human-free, Kaiju-rife alternate parallel version of Earth. Some pseudo-science exposition ensues which doesn’t really attempt to make sense of things – and we, along with Jamie and his ragtag crew mates, are thrown into a new environment of tree crabs, mountainous Kaiju and Kaiju parasites, pheromones and banter.

And there is a lot of banter! Jamie with a humanities background is thrown together with Aparna, Kahurangi and Niamh all of whom have relevant doctorates in science, biology and physics etc. And their default method of communication is, well, banter. Haranguing each other. Sniping at each other. But with a real and genuine warmth behind it. These are characters who listen to each other and care for each other, not because of their qualifications or doctorates but as people. Jamie, with their focus on manual labour, is listened to as much as Niamh with her expertise in astronomy and physics. And they are a delight to listen to: Scalzi has a great ear for light, dialogue and banter! Which is just as well: there is a lot of dialogue in this novel and limited description or narrative.

The novel explores the Kaiju world in the main, introducing us to the Kaiju – more walking ecosystems than individuals and powered by organic nuclear reactors, supported by a range of parasites – and is an homage and a paean to all those B-grade monster flicks that I loved as a kid. As well as all the trashy and less trashy science fiction works out there: Jurassic Park references abound, Lovecraft, Neal Stephenson, even Doom are all referenced as characters deeply steeped in nerdese tease each other, quip and joke. As we enter Kaiju Earth, we are told

You have no idea how difficult it was for me to not say, ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park!’ to all of you just now.

When we meet the Kaiju we are told that

That thing looks like H. P. Lovecraft’s panic attack.

There is a plot, as it transpires, although it doesn’t really kick off until two-thirds of the way in and the slimey Sanders makes his return visit but the plot doesn’t matter. It is just another device to show the camaraderie and teamwork and, dare I say, family of the KPS team and Jamie and his friends. A nesting Kaiju gets stolen; its internal reactor threatens to explode is our Earth; Jamie hatches a plan to recover her

“Do we care about that?” Niamh asked. “Whether she lives?”

“Well,” I said, “we are the Kaiju Preservation Society.”

They all stared at me for a moment.

“Just like you to name-drop that shit on us, Jamie,” Niamh said eventually,

The team do not put their lives on the line for Bella, the Kaiju, because she is sentient – Scalzi’s Kaiju are in fact intensely dim and seem to need prodding and prompting even to breed – or because she is cute but because she, like all of us, have a right to exist without being kidnapped and experimented on because of the simple fact that she, like us, is.

And, man, the grammar in that sentence is so tortured!

This was my first ever Scalzi book and it was, at this point, everything I wanted in a novel to be read alongside the Women’s Prize Longlist. This one may not ever win a prize, but it is sure to make Scalzi and awful lot of cash because, well, who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend immersed in a wonderful family of teammates and Kaiju?

What I Liked

  • Kaiju!
  • Jamie and his team, a delightful found family reminiscent of The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet.
  • The banter between the teammates.
  • Sheer exuberant fun!

What Could Have Been Different

  • Perhaps a little more description of the Kaiju, a more visual sense of them would have been great.

Ratings:

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Page Count:

272 pages

Publisher:

Tor

Date:

17th March 2022

Available:

Amazon, Publisher

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