‘Kaiju’ Highlights Fun in Scalzi’s Latest

I love literature that makes me think. Stories that expand my horizons, that make me think, that make me feel and see more fully what it means to be human.

I also love literature that just wants to have fun and doesn’t care who knows it.

John Scalzi’s newest novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society, is fully, intentionally, and unapologetically the latter. And honestly, it’s a breath of fresh, poopfruit-scented air.

A gif of Eddie Munson as he shreds guitar in the Upside Down during Stranger Things Season 4. The background is dark and bits of ash swirl around him, but he is a head-banging metal hero despite it all.
This is the scene I kept thinking of as I read KPS. But don’t worry, things do end up better for Jamie than they did for Eddie.

In the early months of 2020, Jamie Gray is a PhD dropout and marketing specialist at a food-delivery company, and he’s got some big ideas on how the company can capitalize on the encroaching pandemic to put itself above its competitors. His boss, Rob Sanders, loves his ideas—and promptly fires Jamie, uses his ideas to gain the promised market share, and is getting bought out for billions. Meanwhile, Jamie is delivering for the same company he was fired from, and will probably be fired from delivering as soon as the deal goes through. But by chance, he delivers to the door of an old friend, Tom Stevens, who just happens to need another body on the crew of his top-secret job.

Jamie jumps at the chance, but no number of sci-fi movies could prepare him for what the job at the eponymous society actually entails: manning a research station on another version of Earth where nuclear reactor-powered kaiju roam free and fruit that looks like piles of poop grow on trees. Jamie’s duties consist basically of doing the grunt work for the administrators and scientists, which means he hits the ground running spraying pheromones from a helicopter to try to get two kaiju to mate, protecting other scientists from tree crabs and wolf-sized kaiju parasites when the team gathers data, and playing tour guide for a bunch of defense contractors and billionaires who come to tour the facility—including his old boss Rob Sanders.

But he doesn’t have time to dwell on having to spend time with Rob again, because the pheromones were successful and the kaiju have mated, but one has laid her eggs at a spot where another kaiju melted down. Nuclear explosions thin the barriers between this Earth and ours, and it soon becomes apparent that the society, or the kaiju it has sworn to protect, are not as secret as Tom and Jamie think. Jamie may be grunt labor, but he’s also one of only a few workers who can stop tragedy from striking on both Earths.

The cover to John Scalzi's The Kaiju Preservation Society, featuring the text in black and teal lettering on what looks like a dirty white work badge sitti
Really disappointed the cover didn’t give us an image of the tree crabs. I could really use some more nightmare fodder.

I’ve given more of the plot than I ordinary would have, because the main thrust of the plot doesn’t really solidify until the second half of the book. Sometimes, this is a problem, a disappointment from a story that started out strong but took too long figuring out what it wanted to be. The Kaiju Preservation Society, though, is mostly vibes to begin with—and that’s not a bad thing. Scalzi knows his premise is fun, he knows his characters are fun, he knows kaiju are fun, and I am not the least bit mad that he doesn’t settle into the meat of the story until he does.

Because fun is what The Kaiju Preservation Society is. I could go on about how relatable Jamie’s predicament is, how Scalzi somehow manages to capture the feeling of a pandemic that is at once terrifying and remarkably boring, how extremely well Rob Sanders lives up to his douchebag startup CEO character. But those are all just pieces of this whole that is meant to be fun. A palate cleanser from heavy reads, and heavy life. It’s meant to be that for the reader, but it was that for Scalzi, too, per his acknowledgments. In early 2020, he was supposed to be finishing a very different book, he tells us, but the pandemic and everything that went along with it sapped him of the creative juice he needed to finish that other story. When he eventually gave up on it, The Kaiju Preservation Society emerged fully formed, like Athena from Zeus’s head.

KPS is not, and I say this with absolutely no slight intended, a brooding symphony of a novel,” Scalzi writes. “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. I had fun writing this and I needed to have fun writing this. We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness.”

I’ve read enough Scalzi to know he can pull off surprisingly heartwarming stories even amid the irreverence his characters are known for—I’m not ashamed to admit that Redshirts left me misty-eyed. That makes me appreciate so much more the pulsing, unending groove that permeates this novel. The Kaiju Preservation Society did not expand my horizons. But it did remind me of the beauty of those horizons. It let me catch my breath with every turn of the page. It let me rest, even as its characters were running for their lives. Literature can be so many things, and The Kaiju Preservation Society reminds us in the best way that one of those things is entertainment. I can think of no better prescription for a reading slump or the doldrums of winter.

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