Tuesday 18 July 2023
CBR15 Book 28: "The Kaiju Preservation Society" by John Scalzi
Audio book length: 8 hrs 2 mins
Rating: 4 stars
CBR15 Bingo: Strange Worlds
15-word-review: Delivering food during the pandemic leads Jamie Gray to a monstrously exciting new career opportunity.
Longer review: During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jamie Gray is working a dead-end job as a delivery driver for the very same company he got fired from. One day, when delivering food, Jamie runs into an old acquaintance, Tom, who remembers that Jamie's thesis was on science-fiction and therefore thinks the job opportunity that KPS, the "animal rights organisation" that Tom works for might be a good fit for Jamie. Open to do anything rather than deliver fast food, Jamie agrees and is shocked to realise that the job is a bit more unusual than Tom let on.
KPS is the Kaiju Preservation Society, and the animal rights they try to protect are those of gigantic, prehistoric monster-like creatures on an alternate Earth. The KPS crews (who all work on six-month rotations on the alternate Earth base) are the only humans there. They do their best both to preserve the kaiju, research their biology and make sure they continue to thrive (which is harder than you might think, some of them are like pandas the size of actual multi-story buildings). Of course, any organisation like this is dependent on funding both from governments and the private sector and not everyone who visits the alternate Earth to ensure their investments are paying off is as altruistic as the scientists of KPS. Soon, Jamie, with the help of several other new KPS recruits is having to risk life and limb to make sure someone doesn't cause a multi-dimensional disaster.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton, and because of this, in my head, Jamie Grey is a man. However, in the book's promo material and nowhere in the actual novel is Jamie's gender ever clearly stated. Because the book is narrated in first person, the main pronouns used by our narrator are obviously I/me, and as one of the trans members of my fantasy/sci-fi book club (this was our book pick for April) pointed out during the discussion, Scalzi has actually been very careful to make sure any reader could put themselves into Jamie's position, no matter what gender they identify with. There is another prominent supporting non-binary character with they/them pronouns, and even though I'm pretty sure that one of the other new recruits Jamie befriends is male and the other is female, I could very well be wrong about that too. It's been far too long since I actually read the book for me to remember. Either way, each of the characters we follow, primarily Jamie, and also the three friends Jamie makes, are rather non-descript and really mostly a blank slate for the reader to project their own expectations and impressions onto.
This is not a book written for the intricate characterisation of the cast, it's an adventure romp in the same vein as B-movies featuring kaiju like Godzilla, King Gidorah, Mothra and Rodan. Pacific Rim is referenced, which only seems fair. In the author's note at the end of the book, John Scalzi explains that during the pandemic, he was originally scheduled to write a big, serious epic novel and he kept trying until he eventually just had to give up. Shortly after, he apparently had the idea for this book fully formed in his head and wrote it very quickly. He describes it as a pop song. It's light, breezy, it's a popcorn flick full of big monsters and unlikely adventure and it was what his brain needed during and after the covid-19 crisis. It's a quick read, the audio book is only 8 hours. The whole book is very cinematic in its presentation. To me, that's fine - some of the members of my book club thought it was bit too inconsequential and fluffy to really make an impact.
Judging a book by its cover: I much prefer the UK cover of the novel with an actual kaiju in profile on the cover to the company ID-badge mock-up of the US cover. I like the electric blue and the black and the kaiju looks very happy.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.