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Thursday September 6, 2012
Zoo by James Patterson is a Warning to Good Writers Everywhere
I do not ordinarily write negative book reviews. This is mostly because these days I can read nothing but good books by friends of mine, and if one of them happens to be less good than I'd like, the author is still a friend, so I don't write anything at all.
(Note: if you've given me a book and I haven't reviewed it, I'm sure it's because I didn't have time to write the review, because obviously the book you gave me was excellent.)
I'm making an exception for Zoo, because I don't know James Patterson, and because this book is so bad we can learn from it.
Here, in short, is what I found: POV errors, tell-don't-show, artificial pacing, bad dialog, dimensionless characters, horrible science, and arrogant moral posturing wrapped around an interesting premise and three decent action scenes.
If you'd like to see for yourself, there's a free sample available here that gives you the first twenty-three chapters. Note, however, that the average chapter length is maybe 1000 words (see "artificial pacing" above), so it's not like you're getting all that much book for your no money.
SPOILER ALERT: human-induced ecological collapse is a neat premise. The accidental generation of a pheromone that makes all mammals (except humans!) hate humans is a bit of a stretch. That it can be turned off in a few days of blackout-by-fiat is ridiculous. The way in which these premises and plot-whoppers are worked into the preachy, disappointing finish is stupefyingly clumsy to the point of being insulting. Ecologists and "green" folks everywhere should bury all the remaindered copies of this book, because the best use it can serve for our ecology is as a carbon sink.
Fortunately, all the electrons in my Kindle version of the book can be recycled.
The publisher says "Zoo is the thriller he was born to write." That's a little bit like saying "this cardboard box is the mansion he was born to build," or "this steaming pile of excrement is the meal he was born to eat." My only consolation for having my intelligence insulted by Patterson is that Patterson's publisher has inadvertently insulted him with the glowing praise.
Now, for all the dissing I've heaped on Mr. Patterson, I suspect his only real failing was putting his name on this "co-authored" book in the first place. I don't know how much of Zoo was written by Patterson, and how much by Michael Ledwidge, but it would not surprise me one bit if every one of the ham-handed, amateurish mistakes made in the writing were made by somebody who does NOT, in fact, have sixty-plus New York Times bestsellers under his belt.
If you're a fan of Writing Excuses, you're probably well-equipped to critique the first 23 chapters and learn from the exercise yourself. But if you want to read something you can learn from, try reading the firstthreeJimButcher novels and observing how much better he gets with each one. You'll enjoy the exercise a lot more.