Sci-fi Novel Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

I had absolutely zero interest in The Kaiju Preservation Society when it came out. I’d heard good things about John Scalzi, but the Pacific Rim comparisons weren’t a selling point, nor was the description as a popcorn novel that required little of the reader. I figured I’d skip it and maybe try another of his works later, but its appearance on the Hugo shortlist for Best Novel forced me to reconsider. 

The Kaiju Preservation Society takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the first-person lead forced to work for a delivery app before being pulled out of gig drudgery by an offer to work for a mysterious organization that, as it turns out, travels to an alternate Earth and helps keep kaiju (1) alive and (2) from breaking through to regular Earth. Sarcasm ensues, along with some explosions and lots of poop jokes. 

That description sounds like extremely not my thing, and indeed, the book had me near DNF in the opening chapter due to a villain who just seemed cobbled together from a checklist of villain traits. Trust fund kid? Yep. Ivy League legacy? Also yep. Family in defense contracting? Extremely smarmy, and also remarkably disloyal? Yes, yes, and yes. If you like a punchable villain, you’ve got one. For me, he was so over-the-top that I nearly put the book down after five pages. 

But the story moves along at a good clip, and the parts that bothered me were over quickly. Granted, they were replaced by other parts that I didn’t find especially fascinating—the aforementioned explosions and poop jokes—but there’s something to be said for holding the reader’s attention and keeping the momentum driving forward. And while the cast seemed like an endless parade of snarky scientists blending together, descriptions of the mundane rhythms of life on an alternate Earth and the little ceremonies and gestures that helped keep morale up were very nicely done. The plot itself wasn’t especially surprising, but if you like snark, monsters, and explosions, it will keep you satisfied for the length of a mere 250-page novel, and the ending is undoubtedly served with a satisfying bit of comeuppance. 

Reviews of The Kaiju Preservation Society generally note how nobody ever uses pronouns to refer to the main character, allowing the reader to treat the lead as something of a blank slate, while perhaps also challenging their assumptions about the default gender of sci-fi leads. Personally, I didn’t find this especially smooth, as references to “The World’s Okayest Dad” and “rubbing one out” came off as heavily male-coded, even if they aren’t necessarily male. To me, it makes the ambiguous gender feel a little bit sloppy, though it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story, and other readers of different genders have reported successfully reading the lead as a self-insert. 

Additionally, seemingly every review of The Kaiju Preservation Society cites the author’s note where he compares the book to a catchy pop song and contrasts it with a brooding symphony. If I may carry that metaphor forward, I certainly found a catchy riff or two, and it didn’t overstay its welcome, but the chorus relied so heavily on a grating trend (what’s a grating pop trend? I don’t know—we’re about a decade past autotune) that made it hard to fully enjoy and would drive me crazy if it were played constantly all summer. There were enough positive elements that I can’t dip below three stars, but this really wasn’t the book for me, and the generic snarkers and mustache-twirling villain were a real struggle. 

Recommended if you like: monsters, explosions, crude humor. 

Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Multiverses and Mythical Beasts. It’s also a Book Club book, and while it’s debatable for Mundane Jobs, the lead certainly starts with a mundane job and ends with a job description of “lifts things,” so I’d argue it fits there too. 

Overall rating: 11 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads. 

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