#296 – The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

I’m not a huge fan of kaiju (literally “strange beast” in Japanese—aka Godzilla stuff) for reasons that will become clear later, but I am a huge fan of this book.

The Kaiju Preservation Society is exactly what it says on the tin. Our protagonist, Jamie Gray, thinks they’re about to hit the big time as an executive for a food delivery startup, only to find themself delivering the food instead. Fortune smiles on Jamie as an old acquaintance from university convinces them to join an “animal rights organization,” only the friend can’t provide any real details, other than his role will be to “lift things” (which becomes a running gag for Jamie when describing his job: “I lift things”).

But this animal rights organization isn’t protecting pandas. It studies and protects monsters the size of skyscrapers. Of course, those can’t exist on earth, right? No, not this earth, but an earth that sits right next door to us in the multiverse. One where an extinction level event never wiped out the dinosaurs. Not that these kaiju are giant dinosaurs. No, they are much stranger than that.

John Scalzi is my favourite kind of science fiction writer. He’s funny, the story is written funny, the characters often crack jokes. Yet I almost hesitate to call it a comedy. Because the story itself isn’t trying to be a comedy, everything around it is. To me, that’s a good thing. I like it when a story knows how to have fun and when to take itself seriously.

Despite how ridiculous the idea of giant kaiju is to anyone with a passing knowledge of biology, Scalzi provides a convincing scenario for their existence. For one thing, they don’t exist on our earth; they exist on one with a much thicker atmosphere (like the Earth used to have, back when insects existed that were the size and weight of a crow). For another, they don’t operate on our level of biology. No, they are much, much stranger than that.

I don’t want to imply that there is hard science behind any of this. The author himself calls his book “a pop song… 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.” And on that front, he delivers.

While the explanations for the existence of kaijus are interesting, they are, more importantly, internally consistent. Scalzi doesn’t just consider how something works, but the ramifications of it wherever he can. How they live, how they die, what they live on, what lives off them, what impact they have on the world and, inadvertently, ours.

But there is more to this book than a trip to super-sized Jurassic Park. Like most good monster movies, there is a message here. Commentary. In many monster movies, the question is raised as to whether humans are the real monster, and this is no exception.

It’s also a product of the Covid pandemic, and takes place smack dab in the middle of it. Ever since the pandemic started, I wondered how it was going to be worked into contemporary stories—would it simply be ignored and glossed over, or would the way it impacted every part of our lives be acknowledged? Many are the former. This book is definitely the latter.

While this is on the bubblegum side of science fiction, sometimes we can really use a bit of bubblegum in our lives. Especially after the last few years.

The most important part of this book, to me, is the hope it carries with it, perhaps without even realizing it. Do you remember that sense of wonder that Jurassic Park brought? That part of you that wished it was real? And then, of course, it all goes wrong. It always goes wrong. The dinosaurs ultimately are things that need to be contained, controlled, destroyed if necessary.

I kinda hate that. I kinda love this.

The Kaiju Preservation Society is exactly that. The monsters aren’t here to destroy Tokyo or anywhere else. It’s happened, yes, but they don’t live very long in our world. And they don’t come to our world on purpose. This really is about studying them in their natural habitat, learning what we can of them, and trying not to impact their world more than we have to.

What a wonderful idea.

Of course, it’s also about rich jerks who only see them in terms of the money they can make. But while those humans are the real monsters, they’re not in charge. Not only do I wish this alternate earth was real, I wish the Society was real. I’d join up in a heartbeat. I mean, I can lift things…

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