Book Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (March 15, 2022)
Length: 272 pages
John Scalzi is at his best when he’s not taking himself too seriously, and books like The Kaiju Preservation Society are the proof. He stated as much in his author’s afterword that he wrote this novel as an escape, a way to let loose and take a break from the crappiness of what’s happening in the world, and the results are something we can all be thankful for.
The story follows Jamie Gray, an ambitious go-getter who has all kinds of great ideas for the online food ordering and delivery service company he works for, and he just can’t wait to share them all during his six-month performance review. Too bad Jamie’s boss has no interest in hearing them, however, and our hapless protagonist ends up losing his job right as the world enters the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As luck would have it though, he soon reconnects with his old friend Tom Stevens who presents him with a new opportunity: a chance to work with an “animal rights organization” called KPS as a laborer in the field, with duties to include some heavy lifting and large wildlife care. Nothing too complicated, even if the job description is suspiciously vague. Still, desperate for anything that will help pay the bills, Jamie signs on, and the next thing he knows, he’s jetting off with his new team to Greenland where they’re told they’ll be doing fieldwork for the next little while.
But soon after they arrive, Jamie realizes why Tom had been so tight-lipped. As it turns out, KPS actually stands for a top-secret organization called the Kaiju Preservation Society, and though their location might be Greenland, in fact they have traveled to an alternate Earth. Here, giant creatures similar to those featured in Japanese fantasy and sci-fi monster movies called kaiju get to roam freely, and it is KPS’s mission to not only study them but also to keep them breaking through the barrier between worlds into our Earth. Because obviously, that would be very, very bad.
In describing the process of writing The Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzi likened the book to a pop song, and that pop songs are sometimes what we all need. Amen to that! Everyone has that favorite catchy song they like to put on, a guilty pleasure to turn to when life is getting you down and you need something to cheer you up and lighten the mood. Well, what we have here is pretty much the literary equivalent.
Putting myself in that frame of mind, it was super easy to just kick back and enjoy myself. The story was also popcorny and fun, and as long as you’re aware of that going in, chances are high you’ll have a pretty damn good time as well. The prose is pure Scalzi when he’s not trying too hard to be all deep and meaningful; unlike some of his more recent projects, there is no whiff of pretention here, just his quirky sense of humor coming through in all its snarky glory. Hey, nothing wrong with some easy, breezy entertainment once in a while! Sure, this might feel liked fluff, but it’s also refreshingly earnest and completely satisfying.
That said, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that the story was all superficial, because we have some superb characterization and great world-building ideas here too. In fact, if I have one criticism, it might be that the book was frontloaded was too much setup, with the explanations and descriptions bordering on info-dumping. There’s a lot to take in, and not much attempt on the author’s part to spread all those details out or present it with any kind of panache. Also, ironically enough, for a book that’s all about kaiju, time spent with actual kaiju was in rather short supply, and I would have really liked to see more action involving these giant monsters.
At the end of the day though, John Scalzi clearly wanted to write a particular kind of story, and he definitely achieved that goal, ultimately delivering his most entertaining novel in years. It certainly put me in mind of the atmosphere and mood of another one of my favorite books of his, Old Man’s War, whose humor and accessibility I’ve always credited for igniting my interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres way back when I read it. With The Kaiju Preservation Society, I felt all those vibes as well, making this one a must-read for any fan of the author.