Book Review:  The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Although John Scalzi is a best-selling author in the science fiction field, I have never read any of his novels until now. I remember reading and enjoying the occasional short story or novelette I encountered in an anthology, but that’s about it. I came across The Kaiju Preservation Society, though, on a new arrivals book shelf of the library, read the cover blurbs, and thought: why not?

This is a short, light, fun novel with an outrageous premise that never promises to be anything more than it is: an homage to Japanese monster flicks such as Godzilla liberally sprinkled with pop culture references from science fiction and fantasy books and films. The story commences with the outbreak of COVID in early 2020; a tech worker is fired from his office job and demoted to delivery boy. When he is about to be sacked from his delivery position too, he meets an old acquaintance who offers him a position with the KPS (the Kaiju Preservation Society).

It turns out that the KPS operates in a parallel world to our own that is populated by monsters of Godzilla stature (complete with internal biological nuclear reactors) called kaiju and a host of other nasty creatures intent on devouring anything that moves, especially humans. The KPS outposts on this world have existed for decades, and their purpose is scientific research and yes – protecting and keeping healthy the enormous Kaiju creatures. The narrator fits right in with the rest of the eclectic team, which is composed mainly of scientists and administrators.

Scalzi does some fun world-building here in creating a deadly ecosystem as well as the technology to keep humans alive while they observe and protect its inhabitants. However, one frustrating thing about this novel is that Scalzi makes this wild world so intensely fascinating but never really directly describes it. Most of the book is advanced through dialog, as characters discuss the world and their knowledge and impressions of it, so readers are only allowed to develop a picture of it that is slightly out of focus and filtered through various points of view. There are no real descriptions of the kaiju, other than that they are really huge monsters kind of like Godzilla, or of the other predators in the ubiquitous jungles, other than that they are frighteningly dangerous. I would like to have learned more about exactly what these beasts and their environment look like. Instead, the story moves rapidly along and we learn of situations and events, as I said, mainly through dialog.

I’m not saying that it’s not a lot of fun, because it is, in the same way that comics or some of the modern fast-paced action films are fun. I’m just saying that I would have loved some lush, complex descriptions of the world and its denizens. We don’t really learn much about the various characters either, except for what they do; it would have been nice to know something of their backgrounds, motivations, what resonates with them emotionally, and so on. For instance, I kept wondering where the supporting characters are from on our Earth, but this information is not provided, except for the narrator and one or two others.

Still, it is the outlandish premise that drives the novel. It reminded me of The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, another loosely plotted story in which the unique and fascinating strange world that the protagonists encounter is the real main character. Another example is Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, in which the characters are secondary to the immense internal world of the alien spacecraft.

Despite the lack of focused description and character details, though, The Kaiju Preservation Society works because it is similar to old-school science fiction in which the ideas are preeminent. As I advanced through the story, I found myself looking forward to each reading session. Escapism is what it is, and as escapism it is very well executed.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s