‘Kaiju Preservation Society’ by John Scalzi: It’s a damn good time

This Kaiju Preservation Society book review is a spoiler-free discussion of John Scalzi’s latest addition to the science fiction genre.

Before I get into my actual review, I have to put my reading experience into a little bit of context. I just finished Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin, which was an event unto itself. That book is visceral and intelligent and oh-so-brutal. I felt like I’d run a marathon after I put it down.

Picking up Kaiju Preservation Society immediately afterwards was exactly the kind of salve I needed. As good as Manhunt is, it also weighs heavily on the mind. I needed a pick-me-up, and John Scalzi delivered better than I ever could have imagined.

John, if you’re reading this, I need you to know this is the most fun I’ve had reading a book in…a decade? More? My entire life? Look, I’m trying to avoid being hyperbolic here, but it was a damn good time. Thank you for writing it. Sincerely.

If you’ve watched Godzilla or Pacific Rim, chances are you know what a kaiju is (basically, a “strange creature” of monstrous proportions). Therefore, the title speaks for itself—this book is about protecting kaiju from whatever could possibly threaten their existence. Before I even cracked this one open, I figured the answer was probably, you know, us.

I hate to admit this, but Kaiju Preservation Society is the first book I’ve ever read by John Scalzi. I’ve been following him on Twitter for years because he’s smart and hilarious and often posts about his cats (hi, Smudge). I’ve always wanted to read him, but you know how life goes. And we’ve all gotta start somewhere.

I’m glad I started here. Kaiju Preservation Society follows Jamie Gray as he’s unceremoniously fired from his job. I groaned a little when I realized the story kicked off in New York City as it entered the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Everyone’s wearing masks and the vaccine was still in its experimental phase, not yet ready to be rolled out to the general public.

Reading books about highly contagious viruses has been especially difficult since the pandemic hit, but for the most part, I’ve been able to separate it from reality (especially when the symptoms aren’t the same). But this was specifically about COVID-19, and it immediately brought me back to those early days. It was a tough time for everyone. It still is. I’ll admit I didn’t want to read something so true to life. I wanted to escape, like most of us do these days.

But if you’re about to cross this one off your list, let me stop you right there. The pandemic simply sets the scene; it does not play a large role in the entire book.

After I read the author’s note and acknowledgments (one of my favorite things to do after I finish a novel), I’m glad Scalzi chose to include the coronavirus in KPS. He details how he struggled to write a different book due to the stresses of the pandemic, finally admitting to his editor that he had to give up the ghost. That other book was officially dead in the water and taken off the schedule.

Luckily for us, Kaiju Preservation Society rose from the ashes. I can see now how including COVID-19 into the story was cathartic. For many of us, the pandemic has not left our conscious minds (or our subconscious ones) for two years. Jamie’s situation—getting laid off, picking up a food delivery job, and struggling financially—is more than a little relatable to a good portion of the country (and the world). Watching something good come out of that, even in fiction, was rewarding.

But like I said, COVID-19 is only the inciting incident. After being invited to apply for a mysterious job taking care of large animals, Jamie finds himself hopping on a plane and heading for Greenland. What he doesn’t expect is to set foot in an entirely new world.

kaiju preservation society book review

And that’s where the book goes from drab gray to technicolor. From there, it’s a whirlwind of fun. Sure, it’s dangerous to hang around kaiju, but it’s also a wonder to behold. Nearly all of the characters in this book are good people, working toward a common goal. I specifically mention that because it reminds me of the early days of the pandemic, when masks and vaccines were less politicized and we tried our hardest to do our part and uphold each other. It’s always a good feeling to see the world—or a hundred or so scientists—come together for the greater good.

And don’t even get me started on the dialogue in this book! The banter is smart and quippy and perfectly timed. I legitimately laughed out loud at least once a chapter. Actual cackles escaped my mouth. This novel is one of the funniest I’ve ever read. I had such a good time, I didn’t want it to end, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

I know it’s a bit late into this Kaiju Preservation Society book review to get into the meat of the story, but I do want to talk about the science at play here. Look, I’m not an expert and the only doctorate I have is in suspending my disbelief, but one of the things I really enjoyed about this book was Scalzi’s attention to detail. He made KPS as realistic as he possibly could.

Every time I had a question about how this worked or why they did that, one of the main characters asked exactly what was on my mind. He didn’t shy away from getting into the nitty-gritty of the science, but wasn’t afraid to have someone say, “We don’t know exactly how this works, but here are our theories.” I imagine that if kaiju were real, we’d still have plenty of questions even after decades of research.

For a good two-thirds of the book, we’re offered quite a bit of explanation. Tiny discoveries. Excited nerds. Playful ribbing. I know some people out there will wish Scalzi got to the action faster, but I appreciated the way he built the foundation of this book. The humor and fascinating topic didn’t make any of it seem like a chore. I really wanted to know the daily minutia of what it would be like working in a facility whose sole purpose was to observe and preserve giant monsters.

That said, there is a plot, with plenty of action, high-stakes, and real consequences. This is a fast-paced book, and there isn’t a single character or piece of knowledge that isn’t important to understanding the whole story. Every moment leads us one step closer to the epic conclusion, and I was beyond satisfied with the payoff.

Taking this Kaiju Preservation Society book review full circle, I want to go back to the author’s note and acknowledgements at the end of the novel. Scalzi writes, “KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with, and then you’re done and you go on with your day, hopefully with a smile on your face. I had fun writing this, and I needed to have fun writing this.”

I have no better explanation for what kind of book this is and why you should read it than that. It’s almost like Scalzi is pretty good at this writing thing. Who knew.

‘Kaiju Preservation Society’ hit store shelves on March 15, 2022

Buy Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

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