There will always be a place for sprawling literary novels, filled with characters’ suffering while espousing big ideas. But sometimes, one needs to escape into a fantasy world and have a purely fun reading experience. Especially with the way the world has been these past few years, now feels like the perfect time for a bit of “mindless” adventure. The latest from best-selling author John Scalzi is a perfect fit, though not nearly as mindless as it may first seem.
We first meet our hero Jamie Gray as he is being called into a meeting with his boss at delivery app füdmüd. He thinks he’s going in to pitch his big idea for the company, but the legacy-billionaire owner is actually planning to fire him just to win a small bet. As a result, he finds himself forced to start delivering meals for his ex-employer just to try to make ends meet. One delivery turns out to be an old acquaintance from school named Tom Stevens, who thinks that Jamie would be a great fit at the very secretive animal rights NGO that he works for. The job would require him to be away from home for long stretches of time and is very dangerous, but the pay and benefits are far more generous than what he was getting before he was fired. So, after a brief bit of deliberation, he agrees to take the job.
He quickly finds himself being jetted off to Thule Air Base in Greenland, where he meets a group of fellow new recruits, all of whom have specialized scientific degrees. They, along with all of the returning staff are then taken through a portal to an alternate Earth, where evolution took a different turn millions of years ago and resulted in a planet dominated by unimaginably huge creatures known as Kaiju, each powered by internal nuclear reactors and so massive that they contain entire ecosystems on their bodies. As it happens, large quantities of nuclear energy are required to travel between the 2 worlds, and so in addition to studying the creatures, it is the job of the Kaiju Preservation Society to try to prevent them from inadvertently making their way to our Earth (again), and to also make sure no one with nefarious intentions tries to travel the other direction.
Things are given satisfying-enough explanations throughout without the book ever feeling like a giant exposition dump. The plot moves along quickly, buoyed by the characters’ quick and amusingly juvenile banter. While most of the cast are only given perfunctory backstories, they are still an easy bunch to want to spend time with. It is also refreshing to see such a diverse group of characters that are allowed to simply be who they are, without the need for everyone to comment on it or for it to be a major plot point. Touching on the mix of hubris and ignorance displayed by some who are so willing to blindly ignore the advice of scientists in pursuit of their own personal gain makes the book surprisingly timely, though the point isn’t to preach but instead to give readers a memorable thrill or two. In that regard, it’s a monster success. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor