BOOK REVIEW: The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel
  • Published by Tor in March 2022
  • A monster-filled alternate history
  • 268 pages

Jamie Gray is out of a job, and the Coronavirus pandemic is only making life more difficult. So when a chance encounter with an old friend leads to a job interview, Jamie grabs the opportunity with both hands. But the KPS is a preservation society like no other, and the animals they preserve are pretty unique too . . .

This is the thirteenth John Scalzi novel I’ve read, so by now I sort of know what to expect. Snappy dialogue, fast pacing, accessible writing, and a big idea or two thrown into the mix. All of that is on display here, and is in keeping with his previous works. But this is also the first Scalzi book in a while that just hasn’t worked for me. And for once in my life, I know exactly why that is.

The word of the day is fun. Scalzi says as much in his afterword. This book is intended to be light reading that puts a smile on your face. There are times when it succeeds in that. But The Kaiju Preservation Society is also exhibit A in why ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyable’ are not the same thing. There is no depth here. At all. Roughly put, it’s the story of a group that works across two parallel Earths. One is ours, and the other is home to Godzillas. Literally. In this book, Godzilla was directly influenced by one of these monsters crossing over from the other side. Now, I’m not a fan of Godzilla. Or King Kong, or any other big monster movie. Brainless destruction does very little for me. And while destruction is quite literally the opposite of what Scalzi sets out to do here, the connotations remain. It’s about big monsters, and I just find those a bit boring.

Then there’s the writing itself. For a novel about bloated behemoths, it’s ironically lean on the bone. I know Scalzi removes dialogue tags for the sake of audio versions, and that works quite well. But it feels pushed too far here. There’s very little description. I couldn’t even tell you what a kaiju looks like beyond ‘dragon Godzilla,’ and that’s not enough for me. There are times when this feels more like the script for an audio drama than a novel. Especially in hardback form, this book feels painfully thin. And then there’s the ending, which has always been an area where I find Scalzi’s writing lacking. The Kaiju Preservation is stronger than Redshirts in this regard, but it all feels rather predicable. What’s that, a businessman is evil? What a shocker. I’m not saying that Elon Musk is the saviour of the world, but if there’s one trope I’d like to see subverted, it’s the idea that anyone with money must be a terrible person. The joke’s old by now.

For all these problems, The Kaiju Preservation Society is fun. There’s no denying that. Scalzi is good at writing modern dialogue. The book is peppered with pop culture and science-fiction references that actually matter to the plot. The humour doesn’t always land (as is the way with humour) but it’s a refreshing book to read between heavier tomes. This also marks the first book I have read that directly mentions COVID-19. It’s inevitable that a historical outbreak such as this feeds into fiction sooner rather than later, and I appreciate Scalzi using it as an inciting instinct without dwelling on the matter. I suppose he’s already written his plague books, and can focus on cheerier matters here.

In all honesty, this one probably isn’t worth shelling out for the hardback. But if you can wait a little while, this is one to hold back for when you need something a bit breezy to cheer you up.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
The Recollection, by Gareth L. Powell
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Lock In, by John Scalzi

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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