John Scalzi has a great line in satire, or at least books that play with genre, including the book he is possibly best known for: Redshirts, which drew on tropes from Star Trek and similar scifi franchises and went on to win the Hugo Award in 2013. But even his harder science fiction is often tinged with a wry sense of humour. His recent Interdependency Series had a space opera heart and was filled with memorable characters many of whom did not take themselves too seriously. Which brings us to The Kaiju Preservation Society, a book that draws on influences like Godzilla (and years of Japanese monster movies), Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park, and is full of action, comradery and good humour.
Jamie Gray thinks he is doing well at food delivery startup füdmüd until he finds himself not only fired but doing deliveries for the company in order to maintain his New York city apartment. A chance encounter with an old college friend gets him an interview with a group called KPS who he is told work with “big animals”. He soon finds himself on a steamy, alternate Earth where every creature has human on the menu. There he is employed as a dogsbody, supporting the research and conservation of impossibly giant deadly creatures which have entered human mythology, through some breaches of the barrier between worlds, as kaiju. Jamie’s qualifications are an unfinished doctorate on science fiction and his job is to “lift things”, but he soon fits in with the other new recruits, equally geeky scientists who have been taken on to support the research.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is a romp from start to finish. The plot turns on that old adage, common in many monster narratives at least from Frankenstein onwards, that when push comes to shove, humans are often the real monsters. Jamie, with his deep knowledge of the science fiction behind the “science”, is the everynerd guide to this world so that is not so much surprised when he learns something knew but rather thinks: well, that makes sense.
As Scalzi himself says in a lengthy note about the genesis of this novel in a time of Covid and other general upheavals in the United States: ‘We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness’. And The Kaiju Preservation Society is a great science fiction pop song, riffing on some well known tunes but delivering something new, exciting, engaging and fun.