Book: The Kaiju Preservation Society


The Kaiju Preservation Society

English Book Title

The Kaiju Preservation Society - Audible Audiobook


John Scalzi


Audio book - 8 hours 2 minutes with narration by Wil Wheaton





By: Nicholas Driscoll

I wasn’t expecting to review this book for Toho Kingdom. It isn’t really a Toho book, after all—I just picked it up because I love giant monsters, and I really enjoyed John Scalzi’s Dispatcher short stories/novellas in the past on Audible. Perhaps best known for his Old Man’s War series about elderly people recruited to fight a war in outer space, Scalzi is a prolific writer with over fifteen novels published so far, in various series, as well as short stories, novellas, and non-fiction. The Kaiju Preservation Society is a standalone work, but it incorporates some of Scalzi’s common themes, such as a main character recruited into a job outside of his world, a dose of humor, and some military themes. It’s just that The Kaiju Preservation Society also purports to explain the origins of Godzilla... and thus this review.

To explain what I mean, I will have to explore some spoilers, so if you don’t want anything much revealed, jump to the final paragraph. Basically, the conceit of the novel is that, when humanity started developing nuclear weaponry, the explosions ripped interdimensional holes into an alternate earth—an alternate earth that was the home to giant monsters. Those giant monsters were attracted by the explosions, as they consumed nuclear energy, and thus, when one of those monsters crossed over, it became the inspiration for Godzilla (though the kaiju in this story are quite different from everyone’s favorite kaiju king). Afterwards, the governments of the world managed to keep the coming of “Godzilla” and subsequent kaiju incursions secret from the public (despite the Godzilla film series being made based off the rumors), and now a number of bases used to study and preserve the monsters have been set up in the alternate earth.

The main character of our novel is a loser named Jamie Gray who, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, loses his job due to the machinations of a comically evil CEO named Rob Sanders. Jamie ends up working with the titular KPS due to random chance despite his lack of qualifications—his job is to “lift things.” Pretty soon Jamie is helping “lift things” while also getting a close-up look at nasty parasites, the private parts of giant monsters, and endless snark.

To be quite honest, despite the widely positive reviews the novel has received, I hated it. While the book relishes its Toho inspirations (with the bases named after kaiju luminaries such as Tomoyuki Tanaka and Ishiro Honda, and an alternate-earth dirigible given the name “the Shobijin”), the humor manifests largely as endless snark and stupidity. I just got SO sick of the characters and their never-ending sarcasm, “funny” comments, and groan-inducing scenarios; there were multiple times I stopped the audio book just because I was so annoyed. It doesn’t help that the characters are just not interesting at all. I couldn’t take any of them seriously, as their comments always felt like another (usually completely unfunny) joke. We are talking “Wouldn’t this gross word combination make a good band name” level of humor, or constant high-school-type backtalk in the face of danger, or “funny” awards with ridiculous names given out to the characters after a narrow escape from nebulously described critters. I saw another reviewer noting that we never get any physical descriptions of the characters, either, which is true—no physical description, but also, on a character level, I got little sense of who these people were outside of broad brush strokes and their status as snark-cannons. The eventual villain of the piece, too, is about as one-dimensional as they come, and just absurdly, maniacally evil to the extreme.

So much of the story is just set up that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, with the obnoxious characters doing dumb things and throwing quirky parties while coaxing the monsters to mate because they are TOO STUPID to have sex. Thus, an early “action sequence” dealt with spraying pheromones and luring a big-dumb male to a big-dumb female so they could get it on, and the characters recording some kaiju mating action and making more jokes and commentary and—my gosh I hated this book. The monsters have terrible names, too. One of them is Kevin, perhaps a nod to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019—come to think of it, that also had its share of kaiju sex jokes), but the romantic pair are named Bella and Edward after Twilight because it’s so funny and ironically cool. (There are more genre references to Starcrash the novel and Doom Eternal, and they are also used for allegedly comic effect.) But just like with the human cast, the giant monsters get relatively little physical description (they are big, covered in squirming parasites, they manifest glowing patches for eyes—did I mention they are big?). But worst of all, I felt like nothing much of narrative consequence happened for two thirds of the book—several incidents of limited narrative or emotional impact and lots of world-building. Then suddenly we get an evil plot that is executed suddenly, and just as suddenly deterred, and then a few more chapters of snark and jokes, and done.

I wondered if perhaps I might not have reacted so vehemently to the humor of the book had it not been for the sneering performance of Wil Wheaton on the Audible version. The former Star Trek: the Next Generation star seemed to be hyuk-hyuk-hyuking it up for almost the entire book, so when a few mostly nameless characters towards the end get slaughtered, and Wheaton attempts a touch of gravitas as the joke-machine main characters suddenly get sad for a minute, I finally laughed out of derision because I just could not eke out even a smidgeon of emotional connection to anything that was happening in the story.

The best part of the book for me was the world building. The ways in which the kaiju operate, how they parasites work in conjunction with the larger monsters, the dangerous alternate world, even the construction of the Shobijin dirigible (which felt like something out of Monster Hunter to me), or the use of pheromone sprays, or the tree crabs—there is a lot to enjoy in the imagination in this book. I loved that Scalzi put a lot of effort into how the alternate universe worked.

I was also intrigued by the fact that the novel actually takes place during the Covid pandemic—making it the first kaiju media that I have consumed that actively acknowledges the hellish conditions the world has been in these past few years (Yuzo The Biggest Battle In Tokyo hasn’t been released yet). I started to wonder as I was listening whether Scalzi had written the book as a means to blow off stress. Scalzi includes an afterword which confirmed my suspicions—he had originally been working on something much darker, but couldn’t maintain the impetus to continue with it given the bleak world we ended up living in over the past few years. Which… you know, I get that. I totally resonate with what he was trying to do, even though I couldn’t connect with his book.

And you know, I am in the minority here. Most reviews are very positive, to a degree which bewilders me slightly. But I am glad that people enjoyed the book and found something refreshing in it, and I wish I could say I liked the story half as much as many professional critics and general audience members did. But the thin characterizations, dramatically catatonic plot, and overwhelming injection of lame (to me) humor really turned me off. Again, many other critics found the book exciting, fun, and even insightful—the book makes open criticisms of nasty capitalistic practices and includes a number of none-too-subtle jabs at Trump and our messy current-day society. For me, though, the only clever bits were the world building, and that wasn’t enough to preserve my kaiju enjoyment. Toho kaiju fans particularly will enjoy some of the references and might like the idea of this alternate-world take on the origins of Godzilla and kaiju cinema, but I just can’t get behind it. Not recommended.