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SternReads: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

You will enjoy this if:you are looking for a light-hearted sci-fi novel, you enjoyed the nerdy exposition in The Martian or Project Hail Mary, you want to read a less serious Jurassic Park, you enjoyed Murderbot!

Not long after I moved to New York, I hit what avid readers would call a reading slump.

Whether it was the stress of moving to a new city, homesickness, the anxiety of recruiting or a combination of the three, I could not say. Whereas stories were once an escape, now reading anything at all felt too hard. For someone who could once read a thousand-page tome while standing in a six o’clock rush hour train, this was nothing short of a nightmare. If I had The Kaiju Preservation Society at hand in October of last year, I would not have had this problem.

In his author’s note, John Scalzi writes “KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s 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, hopefully with a smile on your face.” And KPS succeeds in doing exactly that.

With The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi delivers a delightful, light-hearted “pop song” of a novel while making some sharp points about ethics, capitalism, and friendship. The story begins just as the pandemic begins and is set in a parallel universe complete with mythical monsters, a group of nerds thrown into the unknown, a witty, unlikely protagonist and a thrilling finish.

As COVID-19 is shutting down NYC, Jamie Grey loses her* job and is forced to become a food delivery person or a “deliverator” as her ex-boss of the obnoxiously named food delivery app “füdmüd” (pronounced “foodmood”) calls it. As start-ups often are, füdmüd is bought out by a competitor who wants to shut it down for being annoying, and Jamie is faced with the prospect of losing her job. So, when Tom Stevens offers her a job at an “animal rights organization”, Jamie willingly takes it. What she doesn’t know is that the “animals” refers to the once-thought-of-as-fictional beings called kaijus (who, it turns out, inadvertently inspired Godzilla) on an alternate earth. There is, of course, a mustache twirling capitalist who wants to exploit the kaijus for his own nefarious purposes and it’s up to Jamie and her friends to save these monsters from the worst of humanity.

Yes, “who is the monster here, really?” is a trope and it is readily acknowledged as such in the story. But as one of the characters says, “What does it say about us that it’s relevant every time they ask it?

The plot and the characters of this book are not particularly deep, but for a book that’s meant to let you escape into another world for a few moments, that’s not the point. The joyful banter and the wholesome relationships between the characters are the lifeblood of this story and the kaijus themselves are majestic and fascinating creatures, with the world-building of the alternate earth sufficiently convincing and extraordinary to push the story forward. As littered with faux-scientific exposition as this book sometimes is, it is nevertheless paced well with heart-pounding action scenes as any good popcorn flick should be, delivering a climax that ties up all the loose ends. This is a story that does not take itself seriously and delivers exactly what you would expect it to, with enough twists and turns to keep you satisfied till the end. I finished this one in less than a day and it was exactly the breath of fresh air my reading routine needed!

*I hesitate to address the main character by any gender pronoun as they are not specifically identified in any manner in the book. I read Jamie as a woman, but there are others who read Jamie as male or as gender-fluid. This is not unusual for John Scalzi – he did something similar in his Lock In series as addressed by him in his blog here.

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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57693406-the-kaiju-preservation-society
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