Monday, April 11, 2016

Zoo (Zoo #1) by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Animal attacks are starting to occur at a startling frequency.  The only scientist in the world tracking this development is Jackson Oz.  He is ABD on his PhD but cannot stop working on the attacks, despite becoming the laughing stock of the scientific community.  Oz is certain that if something isn't done soon, they may reach a point of no return.  Finally, the animal attacks reach a level which the world can no longer deny and Oz and a group of scientists are in a race against time to figure out what is setting the animals off.  It's no understatement to say that the fate of civilization rests in the balance and Oz feels the weight of it all solidly on his shoulders.

I picked up this book because of the CBS show Zoo. I love examining how media changes across format.  Those who are worried about spoilers can rest assured because while the basic premise of the book and the television show are the same, quite a few characters are different and the cause of the animal revolt is different.

Zoo gives us several different POV throughout the story.  Unfortunately, they pretty much all sound the same.  I like the idea of learning what is going through the various minds of the animals who are attacking but they shouldn't sound just like Oz, the protagonist.  It's a basic rule in writing a novel, all characters should have their own unique voice to tell an interesting novel and at least on this level, I would say that Patterson and Ledwidge failed.

Jackson Oz is ADD and is therefore a disabled protagonist.  That being said, none of the issues which people who have ADD deal with on a daily basis ever really appear in the story. It's as though he is ADD in name only. In my head, Oz sounded a lot like any character played by Bruce Willis. When the Humvee Oz is riding in gets attacked by a bear, he snarks to himself about the bears not being sent by AAA.  It's the typical action hero banter coupled with some ridiculous hypermasculinity and by about halfway through the story, I was really tired of it.   Oz is essentially set up as the white man saving the world which is an annoying trope all too common in dystopian style books.  He's the lone voice in the dark sounding the alarm and the only person capable of putting the pieces together regarding the cause. Anyone who challenges his assertions is obviously an asshole trying to make Oz feel small.  He's actually insulted by being called his own damn name.  ABD does not make one a doctor, no matter how much his sensitive little fee fees were wounded by being reminded of the truth.

Despite all of Oz's bluster, we are supposed to believe that at the end of the day, Oz is simply a brilliant man who has been discounted by the powers that be.  Any every man that we are all meant to relate to. Here's the deal, if Oz is so smart, why did he ask his ex girlfriend to check in on his pet chimp Attila while he went off to Africa to investigate lion attacks?  Why would anyone put someone they care about at risk that way, particularly given that even without the supposed pheromone which has been sending out attack signals to all animals, chimps are dangerous to be around? It's particularly problematic that Oz even acknowledges that the day is coming when Attila won't be able to live with him anymore. According to Scientific American, "Chimpanzee males have been measured as having five times the arm strength as a human male," and if that doesn't get you they also have huge canine teeth. Chimps have been known to be aggressive if approached or if they feel threatened.  Oz makes a big deal about the fact that Attila was not a fan of his ex girlfriend and still yet, he asked her to feed him once a day.  Obviously, it was no surprise that she ended up dead because of Oz's conceit.  Years later, though he made this mistake with Atilla, he is absolutely incredulous when the public doesn't want to believe that their pet dogs are dangerous.  If  the great and supposedly intelligent Oz didn't figure it out, why should the rest of humanity just jump to get rid of their beloved pets?

We all know that the protagonist at the end of times story cannot be without a love interest.  After Attila mauls Natalie to death, Oz ends up marrying biologist Chloe Tousignant, whom he saves from a group of crocodile. Chloe, unlike Oz is credentialed and yet, she offers very little competency to the search for the origin of HAC.  If that were not enough, each time Oz mentions her or thinks about her, all he talks about is Chloe's physical beauty. Not once does he mention her intelligence.  Like her husband, Chloe also deals with a disability and has a history of anxiety and panic attacks; however, Chloe's disability manifests itself when she and her son are threatened.  It feels like it is play on the part of the authors to further play up on Chloe's vulnerability and waif like countenance.

There are no strong female characters in this book.  Yes, Patterson and Ledwidge did include a female president but she was promoted to obscurity and had very little to do with the story itself. We are however told that she is emotional after the loss of her daughter to the family pet and that is why she doesn't think rationally and accept that Oz is the man with all of the answers. Essentially, not listening to man is what makes her irrational, thanks for that Patterson and Ledwidge.

Patterson and Ledwidge do include a few characters of colour but they can largely be described as less than side characters. The majority of the characters of colour appear only once in this story.  The only one who rises to the level of side characters is Leahy, who works for the NSA.  Leahy is essentially the go between for Oz and the U.S. government.  We learn very little about him and his time is largely spent trying to get Oz access to funding and the president. Apparently, despite his title, he is not deemed worthy of characterisation.

LGBT people fare even worse than POC in Zoo. The only lesbian couple in this novel are Barbara and Sylvia. Barbara is a primatologist who convinced her girlfriend Sylvia to accompany her to Rwanda to work at a mountain range gorilla research camp.  By the time we are introduced to them, Sylvia has already died in a gorilla attack. Yes,  that means we were introduced to a dead lesbian so that we could briefly focus on her partner's grief.  We never even learn for certain if Barbara is able to make it out of the jungle after the animals briefly retreat. I guess that means they weren't deemed important enough to have even their brief storylines finished.

Much of the plot in Zoo has to do with the fact that humanity is actively changing the world environment and though we have been able to identify some of the disasters we are actively creating, we cannot be certain of exactly the extant of the damage that we have caused.  Patterson and Ledwidge also focus in on the fact that much of humanity has become disconnected from animals. There was a time when travel meant getting into to a coach or hopping on a horse and when farming meant hooking up a team of oxen. The further we move into industrialization, the less connected with our environment we become.  This is all a very salient message given that we live in a world where people still deny that climate change is caused by humanity.  There's also some discussion of how dependent we have become on the tools of modernity.  Things like cell phones are ubiquitous and the very idea of going without electricity or access to fossil fuels is enough to drive society to a grinding halt. As humans, we see all of this as progress, regardless of the cost. While I think that the aforementioned are good points to make, it all came across as ridiculously heavy handed with no nuance whatsoever.

I kept wading through Zoo hoping for at least an ending which justified all of the gore.  Animal attack after animal attack was described in gory detail.  If that were not enough, we got graphic descriptions of the dead animals and the dead humans.  The ending was an absolute cop out and basically came down to humanity refuses to change and therefore the entire world is doomed. Apparently, special snowflakes think that there should be no exceptions and therefore just start driving and using cell phones again.  Of course, once again, it's Oz who sees this coming.  It seems that no one is smart enough to turn the power back on slowly, or even to wait to make sure the air is completely normal before going back to life as though nothing has happened.  Once again, Oz is the only one who knows best.  At the end, Oz is up north with what remains of the government and scientists and he is tasked with finding a solution.  He's safe though because they are so far up north that no mammals live in the region.  We learn that the station is still getting regular deliveries of food which are not explained and that they run generators.  How does this even make sense, if functioning society has fallen apart? It makes as much sense as Attila running around in the same red hat (not to worry folks it's slightly faded) for FOUR YEARS.

I can deal with an ending not being wrapped up in a pretty bow but what Patterson and Ledwidge did was a half measure in case they decided to write a part two to this story. It's a gutless way to end Zoo and we are left with nothing but questions to the many parts of the plot which make no sense. It doesn't make all the crap I had to wade through to get to the end of this book worth it.