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‘The Kaiju Preservation Society’ a monstrously good read

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As someone who often finds himself defending the literary merits of speculative fiction, I sometimes forget that, for all the thematic and narrative complexity that genre can evoke, it’s okay for a book’s primary aim to be entertaining the reader.

In short: sometimes you just want a thrilling, compelling yarn, one that is exciting and funny and imaginative. One where the other stuff – the “important” stuff – is still present, but still less vital to the experience than the pure story.

At the risk of damning him with faint praise, John Scalzi is one of the best around at crafting these sorts of high-concept, humorous sci-fi riffs. Best known for works like “Old Man’s War” and “Redshirts,” as well as his bestselling Interdependency trilogy, Scalzi’s latest is “The Kaiju Preservation Society” (Tor, $26.99). It’s a smart and timely and often hilarious work, a quick page-turner that fills the reader with a sense of speculative adventure even as its underlying ethos worms its way into your brain.

Plus, it has giant monsters in it.

Jamie Gray works in development for a food-delivery app startup called füdmüd based in New York City. At least, he does until he gets pushed out. He leaves the company, only to be forced to come crawling back in need of a job, so he winds up as one of their delivery people. It’s a job he hates; his distaste grows even more as the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up.

It all changes when Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance. Tom is someone that Jamie knew back in the day but hasn’t really seen in some time. As it turns out, Tom’s company – an organization he vaguely describes as an animal rights group – has a last-minute open for an entry-level grunt for their next operation. Despite the mystery, Jamie signs on – anything is better than food delivery, especially as things stand.

Jamie’s in for quite a surprise when he learns that the animals his new employers monitor and protect aren’t like any creatures he’s ever seen before. In fact, only a scant handful of people have ever seen these creatures in the flesh. They can’t be found anywhere on Earth.

Well … this Earth, at any rate.

Jamie’s new employer is the Kaiju Preservation Society, or KPS, a quasi-governmental agency dedicated to protecting and monitoring the monstrous denizens of this alternate Earth. The barriers between dimensions are weakened by high-level nuclear activity, which is what led to the discovery of this new Earth and these enormous, physics-defying beasts. Their energy is also capable of weakening those dimensional barriers, leading to the need to strike a delicate balance.

But when a confluence of events leads to a possible breakdown of that barrier – and a breakthrough of a Kaiju from its own world into ours – Jamie and the rest of the KPS team must do whatever it takes to save the day from both the Kaiju and from the bureaucracy and entitlement of those in power on our world.

“The Kaiju Preservation Society” is an absolute delight. Too often, science fiction gets bogged down in self-seriousness. If anything, this book is the opposite – there’s a clear and present joy in the storytelling that shines through on every page. The book’s gleefully chaotic energy makes for a wildly entertaining read.

However, do not equate this lack of self-seriousness to unseriousness. Scalzi takes his job very seriously, crafting his narrative world with a delicacy of detail; just because he’s obviously having a marvelous time telling this tale, that doesn’t mean that he lacks commitment to the quality of the work.

And this book is of the utmost quality. Scalzi has a gift for coming up with intriguing central concepts and then spinning them out into sharp and compelling narratives. “The Kaiju Preservation Society” is another example of that gift in action, its central story an ideal framework on which to hang quick-witted dialogue and situational humor and assorted other stylistic Scalzi hallmarks.

I keep finding my way back to the details; Scalzi knows just what to include and what to imply. He does a wonderful job of creating a sense of plausibility; obviously, there’s no other Earth where mountain-sized monsters roam freely (as far as you know, at any rate), but everything about this story – from the inadvertent recruitment to the methodology of the operation to the underlying science and logistics feels possible. Of course, there’s a little bit of hand-waving involved in some of the larger leaps, but those moments are surprisingly few and far between considering the nature of the story.

Because again – this is a book about a more-or-less regular guy who winds up going to another dimension in order to help care for and protect Godzilla. It’s a workplace comedy by way of Tojo Films, with a fair helping of commentary about ecological conservation and economic disparity on the side. If you can read that description and NOT want to read this book, well … you should really make room for more joy in your life.

“The Kaiju Preservation Society” is smart and well-written, to be sure, but most importantly – it’s FUN. If you’re in the mood to go on a reading rampage, then you could do a lot worse than do so in the company of John Scalzi and his massive, monstrous creations.

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 March 2022 12:00

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