Look, I kind of slept on John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society. I got the ARC during the pandemic, read the first scenes set in the last few minutes of pre-pandemic New York, with the protagonist worried about shutdowns and making rent, and I just noped out of it. Sorry, Scalzi, no amount of love for Old Man’s War could make me read more about pandemic life. Just not happening.
But, it’s ok now. I’m no longer in early covid life, where the borders were closing and student visas were getting cancelled, and ESL schools were closing for the duration and then straight-up closing. Instead, I’m in the teacher shortage of late-stage covid life. Any teachers still standing are dancing around our classrooms, TikTok syncing to UNTOUCHABLE. And, ok, I might have done a little dance of joy when I returned to the classroom and moved chairs around for small groups card games. These things too have passed. Ok, I can try a pandemic read now.
Anyway, our hero Jamie has just been laid off from a tech job and starts driving for an UberEats knockoff food delivery app. He’s a deliverator, like Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash, which is entirely lost on the tech bro founder. Jamie’s delivery life is a pretty standard regular-life opening before the heroic adventure, if you are not ready to cry over the missed opportunities of pandemic life. Jamie delivers a meal to a friend-of-a-friend, Tom, and gets chatting about Tom’s job, doing high-security work for some animal rights organization. Tom offers Jamie a vaguely defined low-level job, but it’s a job! With benefits! That’s not a gig worked deliverator for a terrible tech bro! Of course he takes it because, well, it’s a job. In covid times. Jamie isn’t too worried when the job description stays vague or the job location is vague or that there’s a 6-month contract where he won’t be able to call home or… I loved this part. Readers know that total adventure escapism is coming, while our hero looks forward to paying his student loans by lifting heavy objects or something.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the kaiju, because discovering them, their world and their total stunning weirdness along with Jamie and his friends is a real joy. Jamie’s new scientist friends are very smart nerds, having a great time on their research adventure. And that’s the overall mood the story — research adventure. This wonderful feel of exploration and discovery, with a strong streak of nerdiness, is what I always respond to in classic scifi. And this scifi novel even has women characters in it, too! There’s a non-binary character, as well, which I really enjoyed. Queer characters without tragic backstories! Just going around being good at their jobs and having adventures! Yes. Perfect.
As I read this, I thought several times of Charlie in Venus Plus X, the everyday working man who lands in a wild scifi universe. (I will spare any itchy @-ing fingers: I’m fully aware this situation is also found in other novels!) The idea that this new world is just so strange, all the usual rules are off, and there’s the underlying question of whether humanity can be trusted with this knowledge or whether the worst instincts of greed and fear will win out.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is definitely a message scifi, the villain’s an evil billionaire with no consideration for human or kaiju lives. Baddies with money and power who want more money and power feel like a comic book staple. The villain here has a fun bit of backstory, but I forgot his name already. Anyway, Evil Elon Musk is more like a device to power the friendship story here, and and provide a dark, greedy counterpoint to the optimistic discovery of KPS life. Yes, sure, they’ve gotta save the world, but it’s still a friendship story first.
Overall, The Kaiju Preservation Society is a scifi adventure, with a nerdy, loyal friend group at the heart.
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