THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY by John Scalzi (BOOK REVIEW)
“We spotted the smoke before we spotted the kaiju itself, the smoke curled into the sky and hung in thick and listless air. There was more than one area offering up smoke. Dark smudges traced a path toward the creature, and we followed it.
“Do they usually set things on fire?” I asked.
Satie shook his head.
“Then why is this one doing it?””
The Kaiju Preservation Society is the upcoming standalone novel by John Scalzi. Although Scalzi is a prolific writer, I’ve always been intimidated by his work assuming that his sci-fi elements would be too technical, and as I’m not exactly scientifically nor technologically minded, I feared I wouldn’t understand key parts of his stories. Yet when I heard about this book, a Jurassic Park-esque tale, full of banter and mayhem, I was certain this would be right up my street. I was right. It was!
The novel begins with a job performance review, an unruly beanbag, a job frustratingly lost and then an unexpected offer quite like no other. The year is 2020, the year of the plague I shall not utter hear of, and we meet Jamie Gray, our narrator who finds himself forced into being a delivery driver for füdmüd just to make ends meet. That is until one day he delivers food to an old acquaintance, Tom Stevens, who offers him a job that will solve all his money problems and then some. Tom describes the organisation he works for as an ‘animal rights organisation’, the animals are big and in need of preservation, and the team are down a labourer, a grunt to ‘lift things’. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Simple job, fantastic pay, and you get to help animals, who we all know are better than humans anyway. Jamie obviously immediately signs up, but what he goes on to discover is far from a simple job, in fact, it’s quite deadly.
Over time nuclear blasts have weakened the barrier between our Earth and another Earth where huge dinosaur-sized creatures, Kaiju, roam freely. It is essentially Kaiju Earth, and the humans are there only to observe, protect and stop the Kaiju from entering our Earth as they previously had done. As Jamie and a team of scientists enter Kaiju Earth, their whole sense of reality is shattered. What follows from then is one hell of a lot of mayhem!
“We think we’re smart,” Niamh repeated. “And because we think we’re smart, we only looked at what we wanted to look at and didn’t think to look past it. We were looking at creating nuclear bombs and didn’t think about how nuclear energy might mess with a multiverse. We didn’t consider there was a multiverse. It’s not built into our model.”
I was first drawn into the novel by Scalzi’s quick-witted prose. His tone was immediately breezy, with an air of cynicism and he executed banter with razor-sharp precision. I laughed immensely not only at all the pop-culture references, particularly the chosen names given to the Kaiju, and all the Kaiju chasing chaos, but also at the way the characters interacted with each other. As Jamie is introduced to the team he’ll be spending the length of his tour on Kaiju Earth with, we meet Kahurangi, Aparna, and my two favourites Niamh, who it’s fair to say has some anger issues, and Satie, their batshit crazy pilot. Scalzi truly brought these characters to life in such a humorous way, his fast-flowing dialogue making for an easily immersive read. Throughout the course of the narrative, although they all jibe and tease each other they also become the best of friends and their bond was exactly the heartwarming kind of read I needed.
It also needs to be said how wonderfully diverse the characters are and how that is treated as a given. For example, Niamh is non-binary and their pronouns are respected by all. No prejudice, no judgement. The villains in this tale are not people with any form of bigotry, Scalzi doesn’t use it as a point of conflict which I very much appreciated. Instead the villains are corporate, they are in the field of business, of getting disgustingly rich and not giving one damn about the cost to the environment or other lives.
“What were you thinking when you started beating the shit out of that thing?” Kahurangi asked Niamh. We were at the point in the video where Niamh had gone ham on the creature, but not yet where they had zapped it.
”What does it look like I was thinking? I was pissed.”
“You have very deep wells of rage, my friend,” Kahurangi observed.
“You have no idea.”
To my complete surprise, I never found myself overwhelmed by Scalzi’s sci-fi elements. I believe what makes The Kaiju Presevation Society so accessible is that although the majority of the characters are scientific experts in their given field, Niamh with astrology, Kahurangi with chemistry, and Aparna with biology, having Jamie as a labourer whose main area of expertise lies in films he’s seen, made those characters have to explain certain theories to him in simple ways. I particularly loved how the Kaiju were realised to be integral to the ecosystem of the planet. The Kaiju may be nuclear reactors, prone to explosion, but on this earth nuclear blasts breed life. For the Kaiju, a nuclear explosion makes for the perfect nesting site, where large creatures can feed on Kaiju eggs, and the Kaiju parasites in turn feed on the creatures, eventually giving nutrients back to the Kaiju, giving them the means to produce more eggs. As Jamie quite aptly puts it “the circle of life, as Mufasa said.”
The Kaiju Preservation Society pays homage to monster-movies such as Godzilla and Jurassic Park, but with a twist. Scalzi superbly delivers a tale where the humans don’t need saving from gigantic creatures, this is where the gigantic creatures need saving from humans. I urge everyone to read this, it’s fun, it’s clever and best of all it has so much heart.
ARC provided by Jamie at Blackcrow_PR & UK Tor. Thank you for the copy. All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is out 17th March, you can pre-order your copy HERE