Light but clever

Looking for a time-out from some of the more intense stories I have been reading lately, I picked up science fiction author John Scalzi’s latest stand-alone, The Kaiju Preservation Society, for some light relief, and it was just the break I needed.

Protagonist Jamie Gray, a mid-level executive of the food delivery service füd-müd (you do get the significance of the umlauts, right?), is laid off during the Covid 19 pandemic with the option to take up a “career” as a delivery driver for that same company—which he does, because there’s nothing else on offer in the closed-door economy. He is saved from this mundane and less-than-lucrative existence when he makes multiple deliveries to a former college classmate, Tom, who solicits Jamie to join his team to work at an “animal rights organization” that is targeted towards “large animals.”

Tom has all the big-brained doctors of various subjects that he needs; what he doesn’t have, due to a last-minute dropout, is someone to do the grunt work of “lifting things,” which Jamie decides is a step up from pizza guy. Tom is a little cagey about the precise details, and Jamie will have to make a six-month commitment, but it still sounds better than what he has going on. So Jamie accepts Tom’s offer, only to discover that the endangered animal actually exists on an Earth that is an alternate, parallel reality to this one, and his job is to help the team keep the animals safely on their side of the border.

The Kaiju are the creatures who served as models for the movie monster Godzilla, and they’re not just big and hangry, they also happen to carry the capacity for nuclear explosions in their guts. Naturally, there are people in our Earth reality who are wanting to exploit this, and it’s the team’s mandate to protect “the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda.”

“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.”

— Scalzi’s Author’s Note.

This book is every bit as goofy as it sounds, and the suspension of disbelief is gigantic, but it’s also witty, clever, and surprisingly relevant, with great world-building, a diverse cast, some fun science talk, and a lot of entertaining banter as a counterpoint to the crapfest that was the height of the pandemic. Finally, it was refreshing, in our current context, to have the rich and entitled tool of a bad guy get his comeuppance in several ways (minor spoiler). One Goodreads reviewer described this book as “Guardians of the Galaxy meets Jurassic Park,” and that’s a pretty solid vision of this cathartic distraction.

It’s not my favorite stand-alone by Scalzi (that would have to be The Android’s Dream, which is one of the consistently most entertaining books ever), but it’s definitely a pop treat.

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