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A Month of The Kaiju Preservation Society

The Hungarian Cover of The Kaiju Preservation Society

It’s now been a month (and change) of The Kaiju Preservation Society being out in the world, so I thought this would be a nice moment to catch up with the book and answer some questions I’ve been asked about it, and also talk (very briefly) about what’s next for me. Because that’s what having a personal site is all about, yes?

So how did Kaiju do commercially in its first month? Pretty well, and honestly, better than I had hoped for. The book is a light romp, and I’d not put out a novel in 2021 (Kaiju was originally slotted for October ’21 and then Tor moved it, sensibly as it turned out, due to Omicron and paper shortages), and other publishers put out a number of heavy-hitting titles in the week of, and in the weeks immediately previous to, its release. I would have been content with it just being out in the world and selling to the usual crowd (hello!). So having it chart on two separate New York Times Best Seller lists (Combined Print/eBook; Audio Fiction), as well as a healthy number of other national and regional bestseller lists, was gratifying. The book has also hung in there through the month in terms of sales (doing the book tour helped), and the raw number of sales in this first month across all formats is encouraging in terms of the book having “legs” from here on out.

In short, it outperformed my expectations, and has made my publishers pretty happy. Hooray!

Okay, but how did it do with readers? Also pretty well as far as I can tell. I’ve gotten more fan mail about Kaiju than I’ve gotten for any of my books since Redshirts, so as an anecdotal barometer, that’s pretty encouraging. In terms of both the press and regular readers leaving reviews, it seems like the sort out has been 85%-90% positive and 10%-15% less so. The ones that have been positive have generally bought into the idea of Kaiju being a “pop song” of a book, i.e., light and fast moving and leaving you with a smile on your face and a spring in your step; the negative reviews seem to be of two varieties, with some overlap: Irritation with the tone and style of the book, and annoyance that a book that takes place during the height of the COVID pandemic might have a bit of contemporary political/social commentary to it.

Valid criticisms? Sure, for the person for whom these things are an annoyance. No one likes everything! My personal thought toward both these criticisms is: fine, this book isn’t for you, and that’s okay. Also, given your specific criticisms, you might skip the rest of my books, because, as Mike Wazowski might say, these are the jokes, kid. I like my schtick, and also it does well for me financially, so I’m inclined to continue it, for both personal and professional reasons. It’s not for everyone! However, clearly, it’s for enough people that I’m going to keep at it.

Can you talk about the thing you did with your protagonist? What thing?

You know, the thing. I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.

(Exasperated sigh) Jamie doesn’t have an obvious gender! I mean, sometimes people don’t have obvious genders.

But you know, right? I don’t! Also, I think it’s fine for people to decide for themselves what gender if any Jaime is; what they decide brings an interesting and personal spin to the book, and I like that. It’s also fun for people to interrogate their own defaults and what they mean for them as a reader and human. As a caveat, I’ll note that since the audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, people encountering the book in audio may assume Jaime is the same gender as Wil; I would only remind them that Wil also narrated my Interdependency series of audiobooks, where two of the three main characters were women (as was the primary antagonist). Audible pairs Wil with me because, from a sales point of view, people seem to like the match; it’s not a hand tip to the character’s gender.

You also have clearly trans and/or non-binary characters in Kaiju. Yup, because I know trans and non-binary people, so I’m reflecting the world I know. Also, given the context of the characters — theater folks, academics, scientists — it makes sense to me for there to be trans and non-binary folks in the story, and for the cis people they know and work with to consider their presence non-controversial and commonplace.

Not everyone is cool with trans and/or non-binary folks. They wouldn’t last long in the Kaiju Preservation Society, then. Nor would any other type of obvious bigot, as KPS is clearly a diverse, international organization with no time for that sort of bullshit. It’s my world, I get to write it the way I want it.

Kaiju seems thinner than your other novels. It doesn’t just seem thinner, it is thinner! It’s 280ish pages where my novels are usually 300+ pages. And yet, the book has the same number of words, more or less, as the last several of my books. The thing is, there’s been a worldwide printing paper shortage, so Tor made the decision to design the pages to have the same number of words on slightly fewer pages. This is how the global supply chain issues of the last couple of years affected this particular book. I assure you, however, you have not lost word count. I am as wordy as I have ever been.

What’s the current status of the Kaiju TV option? It’s active and I’m happy with the choices that are being made so far, and other than that I can’t say anything, partly because it’s not the time or place, and partly because there’s not all that much to say at this point. I’m optimistic! But then, I always am.

Have you given any thought to a Kaiju sequel? Not at the moment, because I have other things I’m working on, and also, a sequel is not accounted for in my current contract. Which is not to say that a sequel is impossible, if there’s reader interest and if Tor wants another. I never say never about this stuff. But I’m also happy if this is a “one and done.” Standalones are fun too, you know?

What are you writing next, then? The thing I am currently writing is a) another standalone, b) not dissimilar to Kaiju in tone and feel and the fact that it’s a “high concept” idea whose gist will be easily grasped by the title alone. So if you liked Kaiju, you’ll hopefully like the one I’m working on now. That’s tentatively scheduled for next year (assuming I finish it in the next couple of months, which I am supposed to).

What else do we get from you in 2022? Well, has it happens, the third volume of Love Death & Robots was announced just yesterday. It will be on Netflix on May 20, and it’s already been long established that a sequel episode of “Three Robots” is part of that line-up, so: that’s one thing. Also, Dispatcher 3 has been written for a while, so depending on other factors a 2022 release is possible. You’ll know when I know. Beyond that, well. We’ll all just have to wait, won’t we?

Final thoughts (for this piece) on Kaiju?

First, at this point what’s really going to keep the book finding new readers is word of mouth, so if you liked Kaiju, please consider suggesting it to friends who are looking for new, fun things to read. I would very much appreciate it.

Second, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Kaiju has a special place in my heart. It was such an unexpected book, coming out of the wreckage of a difficult year and writing process. It was a joy to write, and reminded me why I like being a writer. Is it a great book? Probably not, but is a really good book, and the book I needed to write for myself. So to see it succeed and become a joy to others is something that has brought me contentment in the last month. This book has my affection in a real and specific way. I’m grateful it has earned affection from others, too. Thank you for that, folks.

— JS

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Steven Kotler

Some famous musicians once said that all you need is love. It’s a nice sentiment, but in this Big Idea for The Devil’s Dictionary, author Steven Kotler might instead recommend a different-yet-related emotional state as the one we all need.

STEVEN KOTLER:

I stopped trying to categorize my writing a long time ago. Still, if I wanted to slot my latest book, The Devil’s Dictionary, into a recognizable genre of literature, I’d call it two parts cyberpunk to one part climate fiction—with a twist.

The twist is this: The Devil’s Dictionary is not a dystopian novel. As a rule, cyberpunk and climate fiction are set in dark, post-eco disaster worlds. Now, for certain, the world I built is dark. There are menacing shadow corporations, creepy genetics experiments, and the occasional Blade Runner reference—it is a cyberpunk thriller, after all. There are also plenty of ecological nightmares with which to contend. Yet, the most familiar nightmare—impending climate disaster—has been avoided.

I wrote The Devil’s Dictionary to provide an alternative vision of our environmental future. If we can’t imagine this possibility, we’ll never create this future. I wanted to bridge that gap, but had no interest in creating a perfect utopian world. I wanted a near-term version of our world where we’ve battled back the worst parts of species die-off and climate change.

Yet my desire to create a non-dystopian future raised the question: How could this eco-friendly world come into existence? What changes in ourselves and society would be needed to create a greener tomorrow? And this brings us to “Empathy-for-All,” which is the big idea at the center of The Devil’s Dictionary.

“Empathy-for-all” is the ability to feel empathy for all beings. Sure, it means feeling empathy for humans. Really, it means feeling for plants, animals, and eco-systems—or what scientists call “cross-species empathy.”

To rise above our environmental challenges, we need a massive shift in consciousness. Technically-speaking, we need to expand what psychologists call “our sphere of caring.” We need to feel about forests the way we now feel about family. We need to love the planet like we love our children. We need empathy-for-all.

There’s no choice really, not if we want this better future. The problem lives in our brain. It’s an information-processing bottleneck.

Every second of every day, our senses gather millions of bits of information. Yet, the conscious mind can only process a few thousand bits at once. As a result, filtration is the first order of business for brains. We constantly sift and sort data, trying to tease apart the crucial from the casual.

So what gets filtered out? Anything not critical to our survival. Anything that doesn’t align with our goals and needs.

And this is an issue in the modern world. Today, we live in boxes. We spend our days staring at other boxes. Sometimes, we live in boxes while staring at inboxes. So the brain believes box-world is what’s most important and filters out all the rest.  The natural world gets erased from our field of attention. Plants, animals and eco-systems become mostly invisible. Our values and lifestyles blind us to the web of life. This is to say, if you ask psychologists why we’re in the middle of a giant biodiversity crisis, one common answer: we can no longer see the very things we’re trying to save.

How do we reboot “ecological perception”? Simple. Empathy. This is the tool evolution designed for exactly this challenge. Empathy is perceptual bridge building. Empathy both tells the brain to pay attention and widens our sphere of caring.

If our species is interested in solving the ecological challenges we now face, empathy-for-all is the critical next step. And if you’re interested in what this world might look like, The Devil’s Dictionary is one glimpse of that future.

Also, there are killer robotic polar bears in the book. And, seriously, who doesn’t love a good killer robotic polar bear tale…


The Devil’s Dictionary: Amazon|Barnes & Noble| Indiebound |Powell’s

Visit the author’s website. Follow Steven on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram.

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