A Complete Zoo
- Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Author: James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
As post-apocalypic doomsday scenarios go, the one behind James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge's latest, Zoo, is a try-not-to-snicker tweaking of Planet of the Apes that adds up to calamity and chaos, but not exactly a respectable story. Of course, anyone who takes seriously the when-animals-attack premise should probably stop visiting those conspiracy theory websites. Plausibility isn't the point of Zoo. Entertainment is. And who better than the reigning kind of popular fiction to bring us the story of an entire planetfull of animals suddenly making the destruction of the human race their sole mission. Terminator with cockatoos? Something like that.
After the obligatory mauling at the Los Angeles Zoo in the first few chapters, we meet the main character, former Columbia University biology student Jackson Oz, who connects the seemingly isolated acts of animal aggression to his life's work: a theory called HAC, or Human-Animal Conflict. As he explains, "it was my belief that all throughout the world, animal behavior was changing … On every continent, species after species was suddenly displaying hyperaggressive behavior toward one particular animal. The enemy was us."
There are two main problems with Oz's theory. First, he can't seem to figure out what's the trigger for this evolutionary change. And, if he could, he can't get anyone to listen. So he trots off to Botswana, responding to an S.O.S from Abraham Bindix, a big game hunter who's seen the carnage first-hand. Once there, Oz is caught in the middle of a massive lion attack, made more improbably by the fact that there are multiple male lions on the prowl, a definite sociological no-no. Oz barely makes it out alive, in the process rescuing an alluring ecologist named Chloe Tousignant.
When Oz and Chloe return to New York City, he finds the government's more inclined to take him seriously. Then, it's a matter of figuring out how to stop every species on the planet of turning on us. In its final third, Patterson & Ledwidge cook up a few unexpected plot twists which raise Zoo from the level of ridiculous to mildly enjoyable. Taking a left turn when right is anticipated is always a good idea in plotting. And Patterson and Ledwidge deliver, using a nifty flash-forward time jump to shift the story into a new realm.
This combined with the mile-a-minute narrative voice of Oz might be the novel's saving grace. Oz is an Indiana Jones-type who lives fast and flies by the seat of his pants. He's clever, witty, and likable, and of course the odds are stacked in his favor when it comes to rooting for him to defeat the animals. Nobody wants grizzlies and chimpanzees prowling around their back door looking for a meal.
Zoo is full of Jurassic Park-type encounters between vicious animals and unsuspecting humans. It helps to establish the ominous tone of the book, but Patterson and Ledwidge seem to revel in the gore. Some of these scenes seem to be included simply to satisfy some sort of blood lust.
Suffice it to say only James Patterson could have pulled off getting this book published without receiving a hearty round of laughter at the premise. Then again, in this era of global paranoia, it was probably just a matter of time until someone came up with this premise. It's not without its B-movie charm, but at the end of the day, it's hard to see the point under all the panic and the massive body count.
*This Review First Published 9/26/2012
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