Thursday, January 8, 2015

First big tech thriller of 2014?

 The Great Zoo of China

By Matthew Reilly


Publisher: Gallery Books

Pub Date:  January 27, 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The heights of effort and methodology that the PR campaign invested on this best seller hopeful is a little intriguing. Nothing in their description and hype says what the astounding creatures, that China created an entire zoo for, are. It is equally puzzling since the cover pretty much gives it away and you find out the secret about 10 minutes into the novel. So no one can accuse the writer or the publisher for draggin' (cough!) it out.

OK. Bad pun accomplished. On to the review.

I have not been familiar with the author until now. Yet Matthew Reilly has a fast readable style perfectly made for bestselling fiction, especially the high tech sci-fi thriller of the Michael Crichton variety. In fact, Reilly reads a lot like Crichton and the plot of The Great Zoo of China owes everything to Jurassic Park. The basic plot is this. The Chinese are unveiling to carefully picked Americans a new attraction with which they hope to heighten respect scientifically and culturally in the world. One of these hand picked persons is Dr. Cassandra Jane "CJ" Cameron, an respected herpetologist, one who studies reptiles. Also included are two journalists, CJ's photographer brother, plus the US ambassador to China and his assistant who seems to be a little more than just an assistant. As the secret is revealed, we are introduced to a fantastical scenario which the author mires in high tech and speculative science. Some of it seems way too speculative. It is just the type of place I would love to visit. But being the thriller it is, nothing is as it seems and all hell eventually breaks out.

Reilly gets off to a enviable start. His prologue brings world politics and status into perspective. The next quarter of the novel gives us a detailed explanation of the zoo and all of its workings. Reilly sets up his dominoes with the reader's knowledge that they are bound to fall. This part of the book is the author's first strength: a believable technology for a far fetched idea.

Then the action starts and we come to the author's second strength; A gift for fast paced and epic action scenes. Reilly's style of writing is almost cinematic. This book has "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture!" written all over it. The author's action scenes read well and fast giving the reader no problem in visualizing the most hard-to-believe sequences. And that brings up the weakness of the novel. There are plenty of hard to believe sequences. As our heroine goes from one peril to another, it gets to the point that I was saying, "Geesh! Come on now". By the ending I was elated with the ride but i was also yearning for some of that intelligent nerdiness in the beginning of the book.

However Reilly manages to make it all work. This is a real page turner in the true bestseller sense. Best seller thrillers are meant to be an escape. The good ones allow you to use your imagination even when the plot goes brain dead. The Great Zoo of China is one of the good ones. No one will mistake it for War and Peace. For that matter, no one will mistake it for Jurassic Park which is kind of a classic of its type. Yet The Great Zoo of China has the earmark and pedigree to become the first talked about sci-fi thriller of the year. For pure fun, it will do.

And mark my words! When it comes to the movie, they won't be draggin' (cough!) their feet!

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