The Great Zoo of China is my first book by Matthew Reilly and I had enough fun to check out his other books.
Fun is really what this book is all about, and the author interview at the end bears this out. He isn’t attempting to write serious fiction with this one. If you are looking for a serious sci-fi or techno thriller a la Michael Crichton this won’t do it for you. If you are put off by action that is so over the top that it becomes totally unrealistic and cartoonish, don’t buy a ticket to the Great Zoo of China. If you want a thriller that is non-stop and done entirely for the fun of it, then push your way through the turnstile because you have come to the right place.
Just try not to get eaten.
I only gave this three stars (which for me means that “I liked it”) because if this were an amusement park ride, it really is nothing more than a roller coaster, not one of the rides that build another world for the participant. I like roller-coasters, but I like the other more involved and imaginative rides better. But it is a good roller-coaster—so three stars. Opinions may vary. I have friends that LOVE roller coasters.
I would rank this book, reality wise, in the Edgar Rice Burroughs style. Characters are able to vanquish large numbers of foes or truly bad-assed creatures with little more than the lint that they find in their pockets—combined with other items in a very clever fashion, of course. The bad guys are very delicate in comparison to our heroes. There are bit players, so obviously placed there as bit players that I remember thinking several times that one particular character will be dead by the end of the page and, sure enough, he was. The main characters are virtually impossible to kill and survive drops from heights, severe wounds that are patched up and seem to not be a hinderance in a matter of minutes, and multiple encounters with huge creatures in which their only weapon is their knowledge of anatomy and their fists. Miraculous (to the point that I rolled my eyes several times) rescues happen repeatedly. Characters revel in their one-dimensionality.
Most of the action is telegraphed way in advance, with characters actually mulling over something to the point that they think out loud—“that will be important later.” This is the stuff of Saturday matinees if it weren’t so gory. I remember thinking several times that this would be a great kids book if you cleaned up the language, there weren’t so much spillage of internal organs, and maybe a few less heads got bitten off.
With all this criticism, why did I like it?
Well….it was fun and never stopped being fun. It never took itself too seriously and clearly played for the thrill of the ride and I enjoyed it for what it was and what it was clearly intended to be. A roller coaster ride from start to finish.