The Kaiju Preservation Society
(2022) John Scalzi, Tor, £9.99, pbk, 264pp, ISBN 978-1-509-83531-7
Jaime Gray is a graduate, albeit with a failed doctorate on the role of bioengineering in SF “from Frankenstein to the Murderbot novellas.” (And if you don’t know those references, this may not necessarily be the book for you.) When dismissed from his job by an evil corporate boss, he is given a lifeline though Tom, an old acquaintance who has suddenly got an opening for a job where he works, the KPS, which he describes as ‘an animal rights organisation’. The work isn’t much, Jamie thinks but it is a job, and a well-paid one at that.
What Tom doesn’t reveal is that the animals are part of a top-secret project, living on an alternate Earth. They are kaiju, “a giant monster of a type featured in Japanese fantasy and science fiction films and television programmes.” (Thank you, internet!)
So what we basically have here is Godzilla meets Jurassic Park, albeit with more swearing, with a group of highly educated geeks and nerds on a top-secret mission guarding the boundaries between our Earth and another safe and ensuring that kaiju do not wander from that Earth to this. It has happened in the past (see Godzilla).
This all becomes important when events happen that threaten both sides of the barrier.
There’s a lot to enjoy here, but it isn’t perfect. Scalzi’s descriptions of the new planet and the creatures that live there are well done and often quite scary. Scalzi also has a lot of fun telling Jamie (and therefore us) the pseudo-history of the kaiju and how a kaiju could survive – their biology, food sources, symbiotic relationships with some other quite nasty creatures, even their reproductive patterns. I was impressed at how much this had been thought out, to give the story a semblance of reality to the events. There’s some nice little touches too – the base on the new planet is named Tanaka Base, a name kaiju fans might recognise. References to Jurassic Park, Godzilla films and Stranger Things keep things contemporary.
The negative side of this is that a lot of the book is about how scientists and technicians have to bring Jamie up to speed on his new job, which really means lots of “tell”, from the lifestyle of the kaiju to survival techniques to weapons training. Amusingly, for all of his knowledge and skills Jamie is “the uneducated one”, being one of the few, if not the only, staff member without a doctorate, something that becomes a bit of a running joke through the novel. “I lift stuff” is his catchphrase.
I found the big reveal of the nature of this “animal preservation group” to be rather underwhelming, that being the title of the book, never mind the cover on my copy, pretty much gave it away before I started reading. It took about 30 pages to tell Jamie what we knew already.
More worrisome for me was that generally to me the geeky scientists’ banter became increasingly and annoyingly immature. Remember the annoying comedy sidekick in all the monster films? That happens here, with characters continuously trying to outwit their colleagues with a geeky quip. Whilst Scalzi does well to create a sense of wonder and even horror at some of the creatures willing to eat people, I found this setup degraded by the relentless “Whoo-woop” activity of the scientists. For every genre reference that works, there’s a geeky in-joke that doesn’t – for example, a native fruit described as “poopfruit” because of its appearance may make some readers laugh until they cry whilst for me it just seemed childish.
It may not therefore be to everyone’s taste.
Nevertheless, with an appropriate snook at corporate management, Scalzi manages to celebrate science-fictional tropes by adding an engaging level of contemporary style and prose. Whilst at times some of the character’s enthusiasm leads to wincingly poor childish in-jokes and behaviour, it can be said of The Kaiju Preservation Society is that it is undemandingly entertaining. Please note that that is not meant to be a criticism – rather, it signifies a thoroughly enjoyable tale that knows its purpose and its limits. Scalzi says in his afterword that writing this in a couple of months got him out of writer’s block created by the CoVID lockdown. It is fun, and that’s how this one should be seen. (Scalzi also promises more complex stuff next time around.)
I suspect that The Kaiju Preservation Society will be a book that will be enthusiastically greeted by ‘stans’, enjoyed but then forgotten. And sometimes that’s all you need. Like Godzilla, approach with caution.
You may also want to see Jonathan's review of The Kaiju Preservation Society.
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