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📚 What to Read Next (No. 216): Out of This World
On a bookish podcast interview this week, the host asked me if I was into a particular genre or subject matter these days. It was pretty easy for me to tell him that I’ve been really enjoying books that have fully taken me out of our current time and place — sci-fi and fantasy especially, but also thrillers and historical fiction. Hence the Stephen King project.
Non-fiction has been much slower going for me, as have fiction titles that deal with our real, lived experience here in the modern age. The world is a lot right now. And frankly, my own household is a lot right now. Three kids ages 6 and under is . . . bananas. So when I have the chance to dig into a book, it’s nice to fully escape to someplace else.
This week, then, I bring you a brand new sci-fi title as well as one of my favorite reads from 2021 — which I realized, just this week, I had neglected to tell you about.
Let’s jump in, and, as always, let me know what you’re reading and enjoying. I love to hear!
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
Given my everlasting love for Pacific Rim and giant monsters in general, I’ve had my eye on Scalzi’s newest book since I first came across it a few months ago.
Kaiju, for the uninitiated, are skyscraper-sized monsters that come from another dimension and end up on our planet through time-space fissures. Godzilla is the most famous example from the genre and they always make a fun and impressive showing on the big screen.
I had high expectations for The Kaiju Preservation Society, but unfortunately ended up a little disappointed.
The premise is killer: “In an alternate dimension . . . Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They're the universe's largest and most dangerous panda and they're in trouble. . . . It's not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that's found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too — and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.”
So, the KPS is charged not only with studying and protecting kaiju, but also keeping greedy capitalists out of the way.
Overall, it’s a fun romp through a giant-filled alternate world.
But, I had two less-than-minor complaints with the story, which led to my 3.5-star rating:
1) Scalzi relies too heavily on sarcasm. I really enjoy a sarcastic character or two in a thriller — it can provide some much-needed levity when things get too dark and/or serious. The problem here is that nearly every interaction between every character is laced with sarcasm. It’s a bit much and there’s not much a whole lot of balance until the final quarter of the book, when the storyline gets more serious.
2) The reader doesn’t get much of a description of the kaiju, so I had a hard time visualizing their place in the story. With a giant monster storyline, the visual element is hugely important, but I just couldn’t picture this world very well — outside of the rampant giant parasites, which were everywhere and described in great detail.
That said, it was a really quick read and still enjoyable enough. If you’re a fan of the genre, I doubt that anything I’d say would keep you from reading it (and I wouldn’t want it to).
Long live the kaiju.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
“A story is a way of stretching time.”
I’ve never read a book quite like Cloud Cuckoo Land.
It’s part sci-fi, part historical fiction, part thrilling crime novel — and, remarkably, it works. Spanning distinct genres (which is so hard to do) and centuries, Doerr tells three very different, though eventually connected stories while celebrating the enduring power of storytelling.
Not only is the story itself utterly unique and captivating, but even the formatting and fonts are as well, which keeps the pages turning through all 660+ pages. The use of white space, big block letters for sections and headings, and short chapters are so different from what’s often found in big literary works.
As with All the Light We Cannot See, the sentences are impeccably crafted. Doerr is lyrical without ever being pretentious, which, in my opinion, is the most impressive kind of writing to encounter as a reader.
And the story itself (well, stories, really) is compelling without being too propulsive. Sometimes I get into a fast-paced plot and end up skimming the individual words in order to get to the next point in the story. Not the case here. Even though it felt a touch slow in a couple spots, I flew through its pages in less than a week.
As with Rules of Civility, which I haven’t written about in this newsletter outside of my Best of 2021 list, I so enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land that I actually have a hard time writing about it. I almost don’t want to analyze the why too much and just let the fantastic reading experience live in my memory without enumerating the exact reasons for my enjoyment.
In short, it’s the perfect mix of story and character and prose. In fact, it might be among my favorite books of all-time. (I’m aware of the gravity of that statement.)
I can see that it might not be for everyone, but again, I’ve just never read anything like it. That quality alone, which is so terribly hard to come by in modern fiction, allows it to stand above so many others.
I’d love to hear what you think of this one!
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