This book is…interesting. It’s not super clever (if you can’t see the villain coming then you need to get out more), it’s not super novel (the kaiju are the kaiju types that have been populating Japanese cinema from time immemorial), and it doesn’t have too much tension (because…it’s a standalone book, the good guys presumably will figure out a way to make the bad guys pay).
But while it doesn’t do any one thing amazingly well, it does everything just well enough to make for a great all around book. One friend told me that the writing reminded her of golden age Gilmore Girls, even–I can’t say I agree but it certainly gives you a sense of the shine that Scalzi got onto his concept.
In the author’s note, he talks about the utter nightmare that was trying to be an author in the midst of the pandemic. Other novels that he started and didn’t end up finishing were too much to do, if I remember correctly, until he came to this one. The premise even weaves in COVID as a plot point, so we’re not talking about futuristic sci-fi or fantasy land. The book blurb doesn’t pull any punches: in our world, this world, the year 2020 that never ended, there are alternate universes where kaijuu (the nuclear-reaction powered giant monsters of Godzilla fame) exist, and the barrier between worlds thins due to nuclear radioactivity.
That’s it, that’s the conceit, and our main character Jamie is pulled into being a delivery runner for the organization that deals with the protection. And then things go haywire, of course, and there’s a devious organization afoot who needs to be taken down.
Everyone is sardonic, and there’s no shortage of nerdy science people making nerdy science jokes or doing very realistic explainers for us, the audience. The thing is, a biologist is going to ask how gigantic kaijuu can survive given the known issue of surface area to volume that occurs with land-based mammals. Does it have the side effect of also explaining Scalzi’s though process for us, the reader? Yes, yes it does.
I wish I’d picked this up sooner, when we were still in an active pandemic as opposed to one we’ve decided is over. I think I would have appreciated the “stuck in a dead-end job amidst a lockdown and then in an alternate world with kaijuu” of it all a bit more. As it were it feels a bit like a time capsule of a time long long ago (it was…barely a year ago when we were all in the Hunger Games for vaccines, people! what even is time???).