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Archive for the tag “John Scalzi”

The Kaiju Preservation Society

Fantasy / Sci-fi Book Review

Scalzi has crafted some pretty amazing, award winning science fiction.  The thing I love most about all of his writing is that he never takes himself too seriously.  The Kaiju Preservation Society is more tongue-in-cheek than most of his stuff and that includes Red Shirts.  Yet, he can take an idea that is a little ridiculous then add a Michael Crichton pacing to it that completely drags you in.  You happily chase him down each absurd rabbit hole and find yourself wanting more at the end.

In the Kaiju Preservation Society, our protagonist is a motivated young professional marketing / customer service director that is taking the corporate world by storm.  He works for one of the hot new delivery service companies, by the name of füdmüd, which puts the mood in food.  I can’t imagine having to type all of those umlauts while writing the book. I had to look up how to put one in the text ( Ctrl :  – then type the vowel if you’re wondering).

Anyway, he is a young corporate hotshot for all of the first half of chapter one before getting fired by his douchebag CEO, a Travis Kalanick clone, by the CEO offering him a job as a deliverator.  That’s the other great thing about this book.  Scalzi assumes that you are well read in all the nerd greats like Snow Crash and he lavishly spreads the references around like a sci-fi Easter Bunny.  He doesn’t make you work too hard for it as the main character or some side character will inevitably call out all references somewhere in the text because the author wants you in on the joke.

After he gets fired, thanks partly to the pandemic rolling in, our main character swallows his pride and starts deliverating food.  This is where he meets an old buddy of his from college who offers him a very black ops role that he refuses to tell Jamie (protagonist) anything about.  This is when the fun begins.  Jamie and the others who sign up with him get a baptism by fire of sorts where they are introduced to the kaiju firsthand.  The Kaiju Preservation Society (KPS) has found over time that this is only the real way to convince people that the kaiju are real.

For those unfamiliar, the most famous of the kaiju is Godzilla.  This was followed up with movies like Pacific Rim (surprisingly good) and several other poorly thought out and horribly Americanized Godzilla sequels.  The primary question is: if these things are real, where could they possibly be hiding?  The easiest answer – another dimension.  Sometimes, due to interesting circumstances detailed in the book, the barrier between dimensions can be breached and that’s how Godzilla pops in on Tokyo like some terrible monster in law.

Scalzi doesn’t spend a ton of time on the science that would make all this possible but he spends enough.  Namely, he talks us through how the square-cube law is not broken by their unique biology which actually makes these creatures their own walking ecosystems.  It’s a stretch, but it’s a fun one.

Things go great for Jamie in the other dimension.  He loves the job and he loves who he is working with.  The whole concept of the kaiju is fascinating enough that he completely forgets about the pandemic.  I think this is a nod towards staying busy by finding something you can be passionate about.  This approach always pays far greater dividends than sitting on your couch watching Tiger King.

Everything is going great until the bad guy with the money shows up.  The sleaze that oozes from this character is Carter J Burke (Paul Reiser’s annoying character in Aliens) worthy.  There’s always an ulterior motive and that motive is meant to make cash even if it means some or a lot of people are going to die.  The bad guy becomes the turd in the KPS’s stew and the main characters are all forced to make difficult decisions.  Lest you worry, there is great schadenfreude to be had in the end.

Just read it.  It’s no David Foster Wallace because it’s too damn fun.  There’s not a ton but there is deeper meaning to be found here.  You get the sense that this was the book that helped Scalzi get through the pandemic, the insurrection and every other turd sandwich that 2020 and 2021 shot at us even before he confirms this in his author’s note at the end.  I’d look forward to a second one even though I don’t think it’s coming.

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War Book 2)

Science Fiction Book Review

Science Fiction Book Review

Scalzi is the new master of science fiction.  The first book of his that I ever read was Old Man’s War.  That novel took military science fiction in a cool new direction.  The central concept behind it was that when folks age to a certain point, mid seventies being most common, one has the option of trading in an old broken down husk of a body for an upgraded slightly saurian version.  The trade-off is that you have to join the military.  This gives doddering old grandmothers and grandfathers the ability to get a 1UP on life, but in a brand new game.  In that first novel, he hits all the right notes.  The characters are well done, the plot moves you forward at just the right pace and he puts the reader right next to our protagonists as if you had just joined the military yourself.  Only the greats can bring you there.  I know I’m ready to sign up once I reach the Alzheimer years.

One of my big concerns about sequels is that it just tastes like the same old crackers the second time around.  Scalzi gets out in front of this brilliantly.  We are introduced to a brand new cast of characters but this time instead of the enlisted folks we get introduced to the special forces, aka the Ghost Brigade.  Don’t want to throw any spoilers in there for those that haven’t been introduced to the series but to join the special forces requires an even greater jump than just getting old.  The ‘Ghost’ moniker should give you some idea of how they pull in new recruits.  This somewhat grizzly aspect of enlistment leads to all sorts of interesting philosophical conundrums.  These are all acknowledged and dealt with without resorting to any lazy deus ex machina shortcuts.

The thing I like most about Scalzi’s books, and this is not exception, is that they bring all the ingredients of good science fiction into a delectable stew that just doesn’t get old.  Let’s start with the technology.  Good sci-fi treats technology in the same way that good fantasy treats magic.  It’s got to be fresh and it has to take you somewhere new.  The Ghost Brigades takes you places that you could not have gotten on your own.  Their recruitment methodology and their means of communication are incredibly fresh.  The author also makes you feel a little bit of discomfort from both which is always a good thing.  Anytime I get out of my comfort zone while reading a book, I know that something new is happening.

The world building is also enjoyable.  For sci-fi you have the entire universe to play with but sadly, many authors seem to get hemmed in by those that defined the genre before them.  Not true of this universe.  We’re dealing with just a few alien races and we get the sense that these races are still in the stage of feeling each other out.  This is fertile ground to take diplomacy in to new and interesting places.

Finally, the character building is excellent.  We are introduced to a full squad of special forces folks and this is military sci-fi, so you know that the folks we start with are not all going to be there at the end of the book.  Scalzi does a great job of making each loss painfully felt.  Each loss has the added benefit of determining and hardening the characters that make it out alive.  He does his best to answer the question of ‘what would I have done if I was thrown into that situation?’  The answers aren’t all the heroic, easy way out, ones either.  This is definitely not a Disney story and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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