Monday, May 09, 2022

Book Review: "The Kaiju Preservation Society" by John Scalzi

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (Tor, 2022)

At the start of the pandemic, Scalzi had embarked on writing a “dark, heavy, complex, and broodingly ambitious” novel but was flummoxed by COVID-19 and other world events, including losing some of what he’d written. So he set the book aside, and last spring—in February and March 2021—Scalzi turned his attention to something smaller and lighter. That something is this less than 300-page novel, which he developed within a day of setting aside the potential magnum opus that was blocking him and backing out of his previous contract. It’s a fun and palate-cleansing read, not too serious, but not a throwaway. And it was just what I needed when it arrived from the Science Fiction Book Club.

The gist of the novel is this: A laid-off dotcom employee turned delivery worker gets hired by an animal rights organization that tends to kaiju—in the traditional sense—that reside in an adjacent alternate dimension. Think Pacific Rim, Cloverfield, and more traditional kaiju movies such as Godzilla; Gamera, the Giant Monster; and Mothra. The book, though brief, does a good job detailing the history of the organization and its caretaking, gives some sense of the biology (and reproductive biology) of the kaiju, connects them to nuclear energy—a nice parallel to Godzilla—and features a threat to the secrecy of the project, the kaiju themselves, and our world next door. The wall between the dimensions is thinner than one might hope in some situations.

One of the highlights of the novel is the reintroduction of the dotcom executive who fired the protagonist, their interactions, and the business leader’s connection to a previous disaster involving the organization. The book is quite humorous, with friendly sparring among the caregivers, puerile jokes, and fictional band names. Scalzi is also quite conscious about incorporating a diverse cast of characters and using gender-neutral pronouns, which is occasionally distracting, but only because it’s not yet that common a practice. The book doesn’t get bogged down by that, however, and remains a quick and breezy read.

All in all, I’m glad Scalzi was able to recover from his health concerns and writer's block during the pandemic. Not having read any of his other books, I don’t know how representative of his work this is. But it’s an enjoyable read, and interesting enough in terms of ideas that I’m curious about his other writing. I’m also thankful for the included “Author’s Note and Acknowledgments,” which offers useful context for the book.

No comments: