REVIEW: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
The Kaiju Preservation Society is John Scalzi’s first standalone adventure since the conclusion of his New York Times bestselling Interdependency trilogy.
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.
What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.
It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society who have found their way to the alternate world. Others have, too. And their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.
Dear Mr. Scalzi,
I should preface this review by saying I’ve never read one of your books but have always meant to. This one sounded fun and I thought, “Hey, why not?” Godzilla-Dinosaurs in another dimension with people trying to save them much as if they are giant pandas but much, much bigger. Parts of the book worked well for me but I also discovered that I’m probably not the right reader for it. How did I know that? For one thing, I didn’t know what the word “kaiju” means and I’m not exactly a fan of Japanese monster movies unless MST3K is skewering it. That’s my bad.
So onwards and upwards. The story rockets out of the gate to a fun start involving our MC Jamie going in for what they think is their six month review but which actually ends up with them being fired as Covid lockdowns start to shut down New York City. They finds themself delivering a lot of food to one guy named Tom who lives in a nice condo and has an eclectic taste in food. The two chat over the course of deliveries after which Jamie is offered a job, takes it, and finds themself in a world they never knew existed and tasked with saving the day. Because of course the newbies, who up until a few weeks ago had no idea kaijus even existed, always save the day.
The backstory and world building are carried out via long explanations to and among the newbies at Kaiju Preservation Society (KPS) one of whom, as I’ve mentioned, is our MC who gets recruited to the team because years ago, while a grad student, they urged Tom to read “Snow Crash” which opened Tom’s imagination or something. So Jamie gets involved with this because they’re available, they can “lift things,” (the first time or two we hear this it’s funny but the repetition [11 times] of that phrase got old) and they have a masters degree in science fiction. Yes, they’re an expert in science fiction.
There are plenty of clues dropped early on that warned me that eventually bad things would happen such as when Tom explained that his job is keeping things going and fixing things when they go wrong. I mentally cued the ominous music. Along with that, several seasoned veterans of Kaiju Earth keep telling the newbies that in the time they’ve been there “such and such” a dangerous thing has never happened. As Jamie playfully intones “Dun dun dunnnnnnn!’
Ah yes, the snark and wisecracking is abundant especially among the clever newbies who employ it in almost every other sentence. All of them usually have a snarky zinger response ready at hand so as the book starts, they all sound alike. They all sound exactly alike. This did not change a bit over the entire story. One funny person who is there to inject humor is great. Four of them begin to sound like a tiresome echo chamber. They did, however, form a bond of newbiehood that stood them in good stead when shit got real.
We’re supposed to believe that apparently lots of governments and businesses in Our Earth know about this Kaiju Earth or else how would our intrepid KPS have the mega amounts of money needed to do whatever it is they’re doing. Yeah, but I thought about how no one can keep a secret and rolled my eyes at this remaining so hush-hush. But wait! Jamie, the one with the masters in literature, has an explanation. Reverse lampshade. “It’s a literary term. It means calling attention to something improbable, acknowledging its improbability in the text, and then moving on.” Apparently all the people who know about Kaiju Earth are counting on humans to think such a thing would be too outlandish to be real.
Science gets discussed only to then handwave it away as needed when veterans say things like how the kaiju’s unique biology allows for this or that (that shouldn’t be able to happen) to happen. But just when it is necessary to tell the reader what’s going on, there’s always someone there to (usually snarkily) natter on. It’s info-dumping via too much talking but to be fair, there’s no “as you know, Bob.” Yet there are times when I wanted more description. The whole reason all this is taking place is to save the panda kaiju creatures but I honestly have little to no idea what they were supposed to look like. BIG and SCARY is about all I got. There is one smaller nasty creature that is described as looking like palm crabs which are nasty looking things, IMO. The villain, who is little more than a flat caricature, is described as a Dartmouth legacy with too much money and an insatiable desire for more so … basically a rich white guy.
The initial third of the book is fun and engaged me in figuring out this crazy concept. The middle third sags under too much exposition and snark and action that doesn’t actually go anywhere. The final third is non-stop action during which our newbies figure out how to save the day and then do it. Rereading this review, I sound like such a curmudgeon and I think how readers will feel about the book will depend on how willing they are to just roll with the intended fun and not mind that it’s crammed with pop culture references. I can easily see this being made into a blockbuster movie and that would probably get a much better grade from me. The author’s note states that it was written as more or less an escapist book from the pandemic and as that, it succeeds nicely. But it’s not a book that I’ll probably read again. C