Review – The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

dragon zoo

“I know where they’ll go,” CJ said flatly. “They’ll go to the larger nest and open it.”

“Where is that?”

“I have an idea. And I have to get there fast to stop them, or else the whole world is going to have an unstoppable dragon problem.”

But I want the whole world to have an unstoppable dragon problem.

Jurassic World may be dumb, but at least it understands whose side we’re on. The film unnecessarily stacks the deck with villainous private military contractors, a British woman, and a genetically engineered dinosaur we’re told “kills for sport”, but it doesn’t need any of that. The filmmakers know we’re there to see dinosaurs. And we don’t really care if two kids, Chris Pratt, or thousands of people crowding the observation decks with cell phones survive. We brought dinosaurs back from the dead! They’re a precious, expensive, endangered resource, and if people have to get eaten to keep them alive, tough. There’s a lot more people where they came from.

The Great Zoo of China greatly misjudges readers’ sympathies. Once the dragons at the zoo break free from their constraints and start killing their masters, the protagonists spend the rest of the story trying to keep them contained. As the dragons get closer to escaping the electromagnetic fence that keeps them locked in an artificially created crater, our heroes start killing the dragons. In the end, unflappable veterinarian CJ Cameron unleashes “nearly every grenade she had in her grenade launcher” into a giant nest of dragon eggs, collapsing the cavern, killing hundreds of infant dragons, and possibly extinguishing creatures she thought to be mythical just 24 hours before.

Who the fuck would do that?

Like Jurassic World, the book tries to manipulate our sympathies away from the dragons by focusing on the evil black red-bellies, who work together not only to torment our ostensible heroes, but to wipe out the other dragon breeds as well. It’s a cheat which reaches its apex when the princeling red-bellies free their superking and superemperor from the chains of the breeding pit, and the two boss dragons summarily roast the other nicer dragon rulers. It’s unnecessarily cruel and convenient. Lesser dragons tear through everything else, how the hell did these things stay locked up in chains?

That may seem pointlessly nitpicky, but it’s the same lame technique used in Jurassic World. “Oh, these fantastic, amazing, super smart animals that we’ve only known existed for a day are the bad ones, so it’s okay if we kill them.” Why not write them so they actually behave like animals? Instead, they’re portrayed like Billy Zane in Titanic. It’s not enough for him to be a romantic rival, he has to hit women and have a personal hitman, too.

Reilly glosses over it, but there is at least one very clever idea at work here. The question in a Jurassic Park sequel has to be, “But who would build or visit another Jurassic Park?” In The Great Zoo of China, CJ saves a similar question for one of many forced dramatic cliffhangers. Touring the park as a member of an exclusive press tour, she finally asks, “Mr. Hu, exactly how many people have your dragons killed so far?” He lies and tells her none. China, of course, would be a perfect place to secretly build a dragon park where nature always finds a way of murdering people and cover it up. So the security measures are easily evaded. And, okay, let’s say a couple hundred people who worked on building the park know too much. And let’s not forget a bunch of trainers got eaten. Well, this is China. Anyone who might speak out can be silenced, arrested, or otherwise disappeared. It’s the perfect place to build a tourist death trap.

Given the nature of their discovery, it’s hard not to root for the craven scientist who wants to keep the dragons alive and the corrupt Chinese officials on this one. They did someone no one else has done– they made a great zoo with dragons. So their methods might be suspect and some boring humans died. You don’t build a great Chinese dragon zoo without breaking some nosy foreign imperialist eggs.

And screw the risks. I’d take my chances at Jurassic World, and I’d sure as hell go to a dragon zoo. I would die as I lived, wanting to see dragons.

The Artist’s Way – Replacing Creative Blocks With Cool Lego Blocks

As much as I hated, hated, hated it, that week of reading deprivation really helped me. (Again, I feel it only fair to provide a disclaimer. I deprived myself of reading, but I was not entirely abstinent. I will not be getting my 30 Days Without A Vampire Romance chip anytime soon.) In addition to breaking some bad habits, I’ve been writing more, and I’ve also discovered some additional creative blocks.

I used to think of writer’s block as staring at a blank page, unable to imagine what happens next. “There is a man. A man in a blue suit and a red tie. The man… The man… WHAT DOES HE DO?!?” (That man…was Dean Koontz.) Reading The Artist’s Way again, I’ve been able to see it differently. Writer’s block is anything that keeps me from writing. And one of the things that keeps me from writing is my compulsion to categorize everything.


Remember when you could just write stuff? That was fun.

Not a day goes by where I don’t write something. I text. I carry a journal everywhere. I post self-deprecating stuff on Facebook. I make fun of movies on Twitter. And when a new podcast comes out, I write an iTunes summary, a blog post, a Facebook post about the blog post, and if I’m feeling up to it, a couple of tweets. Because that’s how you’re supposed to do things now.

If I have a funny thought that’s too short for a blog post? Well, that goes on Twitter. Unless it’s too objectionable, then it goes on Facebook. And if it’s really objectionable? Clearly, I should just text it to someone instead. And the awesome idea I came up with in the ensuing text conversation? Well, it goes down in my notebook to save for a time when I can flesh it out into a full blog post. But does it really fit the format of my blog? Everything here is divided into review categories, and it’s not really a review… Oh! And I’ll have to find an image to go with it, because otherwise there’s too much white space. I can’t think of a good companion image, though. Maybe I should just hold on to that idea forever until I finally open Word again and write it up as a real article! But what sites would I submit it to? And shouldn’t I join their community and get involved on the forums and check their writer’s guidelines first?

In short, my biggest writer’s block is Greg.



So what to do? Well, I can’t really get rid of Greg. He may just be a bag of meat with delusions of sentience, but I live in him. But I also want to write as freely as I used to without getting bogged down in format, categories, notifications, page views. hashtags, and what goes where. And ideally I’d like to avoid seeing the social part of social media whenever I log in to write something.

So as an experiment, I started fooling around with Tumblr last week. (I almost wrote “Tinder” again, and I certainly thought it. Oops.) It’s already pretty freeing. I’ll probably cross-post review stuff here as I go forward, but that’s me thinking ahead and getting in my own way again.

You’re the worst, Greg!

It’s cool, though. You’re also the best.


The Virus Of The Illusion Of Choice That Lives Parasitically Inside Your Non-Sentient Meat

(Check out the Virus’ Tumblr at at the link below. Catch the virus!)


I’m a thing!

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Concordia Walk-Through – How To Get Back To Shooting Guys

After completing the introductory missions, defeating Deadlift, and unlocking the Moon Zoomy vehicle, players can finally enter the city of Concordia. Concordia serves as the central inventory hub for the game, allowing you to store weapons, buy upgrades, and respec action skills. Just follow these simple steps to complete this chapter and get back to furious first-person action!

Summon a Moon Zoomy in Serenity’s Waste.

Use the Moon Zoomy to hop the chasm to the Concordia gate.

Use Concordia gate.

Find Claptrap.

Wait for Claptrap to stop talking.

Follow Claptrap.

Wait for Claptrap to stop talking.

Give Orbitron to Claptrap.

Wait for doors to open.

Find Nina.

Wait for Nina to stop talking.

Use decontamination chamber.

Wait for Nina to stop talking.

Grab health.

Find elevator.

Use elevator.

(Elevator will refuse access.)

Wait for Jack to stop talking.

Find Roland.

Wait for Roland to stop talking.

Find Moxxi.

Wait for Moxxi to stop talking.

Find Claptrap to get moonstones.

(Claptrap does not have moonstones.)

Use bank.

(Bank does not have moonstones.)

Follow Claptrap.

Use stash.

(Stash does not have moonstones.)

Wait for Claptrap to stop talking.

(Claptrap had moonstones all along!)

Take moonstones.

Find black market.

Wait for Crazy Earl to stop talking.

Use black market.

Buy any upgrade.

Find first transmitter location on Concordia rooftops.

Attach transmitter.

Hit transmitter.

Wait for characters to stop talking.

Find second transmitter location on Concordia rooftops.

(Location is blocked by electricity.)

Find fuse box on Concordia rooftops.

Shoot fuse box.

Return to second transmitter location.

Attach transmitter.

Wait for characters to stop talking.

Find third transmitter location on Concordia rooftops.

Shoot turret.

Attach transmitter.

Grab turret part.

Attach turret part to transmitter.

Wait for characters to stop talking.

Find control panel on Concordia rooftops.

Use control panel.

Find gate to Crisis Scar.

Use gate to Crisis Scar.

(Gate will refuse access.)

Wait for Jack to stop talking.

Return to Moxxi’s bar.

Wait for Claptrap to stop talking.

Enter back room of Moxxi’s bar.

Use jukebox to access secret workshop.

Wait for Moxxi to stop talking.

Follow Moxxi.

Wait for Moxxi to stop talking.

Turn in quest to Moxxi.

Use secret gate to Crisis Scar.

Sure, it sounds a little tricky. But don’t worry, you’ll get to run through this scenario every time you create a new character! By the time you bring your second Vault Hunter in new game plus mode, you’ll know these 61 steps like the back of your hand!

Midnight Skull Sessions – Episode 43

I don’t understand Tumblr. In fact, I’m pretty sure whenever I try to talk about it I say “Tinder” instead, which explains the weird looks I get from my girlfriend. “What did you do today, Greg?” “Oh, I was just reading some short stories by a girl on Tinder. You might like her. She’s Filipino, too! Hey, what are you doing with that knife?”

I also haven’t quite figured out Audacity yet, so the podcast is still a little fuzzy. I had a choice last week between learning how to record a cleaner podcast on my PC or get accustomed to new software for work. I chose the one that would afford me the opportunity to buy more books. Rest assured that getting the new setup to record crisply is a priority, right after getting frustrated with the Borderlands Prequel, doing my morning pages, and watching the final season of Glee.

Please forget about that last thing.

Stories discussed this episode include: City Living by Will McIntosh, Last Son of Tomorrow and Far As You Can Go by Greg van Eekhout, The Fisher Queen and Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong, Happy Hour In Hell by Tad Williams, and The Anti-Christ Handbook by Fred Clark.

I caught up on a bunch of short stories after my week of reading deprivation was over, and The Fisher Queen is up there with Litany of Earth and Whom The Gods Would Destroy as one of my new favorites. Santos de Sampaguitas is wicked cool, too– it has my favorite kind of vampire in it. You can currently read them both for free by clicking the links above or checking out Alyssa Wong’s Tumblr.

I was also really impressed with Fred Clark’s Anti-Christ Handbook, a page by page breakdown of (most of) the first Left Behind novel. As a guy who should have gone for a Master’s in Christian apocalypse fiction, even I learned some new things.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but why didn’t anyone tell me you were allowed to study stuff you were actually interested in at grad school? It certainly wasn’t encouraged when I was an undergrad. “You’re interested in genre fiction and criticism, huh? Well, too bad! It’s all terrible and you’re bad for liking it. Go read my slice of life fiction and these plays. And don’t you dare have fun with any of it!”

One final note. I did not attempt to say “Santos de Sampaguitas” on the podcast. I should have asked someone how to pronounce “aswang” and “mananangal”, though.

You know, “mananangal”, just like the Girl Scout cookies.

Midnight Skull Sessions Episode 34 is available for free on the iTunes store. It can also be downloaded directly from the link below:

The Artist’s Way – Help, I’m A Prisoner Not Allowed In The Library

I am currently undergoing the fifth day of reading deprivation treatments as prescribed in The Artist’s Way. In week four, adherents are asked to avoid reading for a period of seven days.

I will die in seven days.

I imagine that for most people in Los Angeles this is not a problem. Here you pay people– Well, okay, you offer unpaid interns the opportunity to read things for you. But for me, a guy who reads at least a book every week, this is a significant thing to ask.

Now before you get all snarky (“There’s always reading somewhere!”), remember what happened to the guy in Gremlins 2 who questioned the rules. Yes, it’s probably impossible to go without reading anything for a week without blinding yourself. This is not a valid excuse to ignore your bills, and you’re still allowed to check the expiration dates on your food. And as one person in my group suggested, it might be best to read stop signs. Although as he pointed out, this is LA, so careening through intersections screaming, “I’M AN ARTIST!” would probably get you a pass.

The pArtistsWayurpose of this exercise is to free up your time for creativity and break you out of the habit of compulsive reading. Adjusted for the Internet age, that means compulsive website browsing. And I’m totally on board with that aspect of it. I’m really uncomfortable with how much time I spend checking the same five websites three times a day, hoping I might stumble across a single article that’s actually interesting or has some significant content.

I was much more resistant to the idea of giving up books. I mean, I get it. I know what we’re going for here. But asking a newly recovering writer to give up books struck me about as misguided as asking a newly sober alcoholic to give up cigarettes. (Something I know absolutely nothing about, by the way. I’ve never smoked cigarettes.) So I had a lot of resistance to the idea. Not just because Julia Cameron seemed so smug about it, but because the fact that reading is my passion is one of the things I’m most proud of.

When I started this site, I committed myself to reading a book a week, and reviewing all that I could. This came about after a period of time where dark mysterious past stuff happened– the sort of stuff you’d find out about in a movie in a third act character reveal, but in my life I’m more likely to accidentally mention on a first date. (“That person sure reminds me of someone I met in the psych ward…while playing Arkham Asylum.”) I hadn’t read regularly in years. So being able to go back and prioritize that means the world to me. I can only think of one thing more important, and that’s how, as I’ve alluded to before, I’m secretly Batman. Giving up either is unthinkable.

As it happens, I also suffer from nocturnal ruminations. They’re like nocturnal emissions, but a bit more embarrassing. Simply put, I can’t stop thinking about things when I try to sleep at night. It’s a side effect of being a millionaire playboy who has to plan for every possible scenario to go wrong. Reading at night puts me in a meditative state, or at least distracts my brain enough so that I can go to sleep. I’ve tried other methods, but books are the best option if I don’t want to play in Arkham Asylum again.

However, I didn’t want to use that as an excuse, and I didn’t want my pride or resentments to keep me from participating in this part of The Artist’s Way. So I settled on the following criteria for the week:

  • No reading stuff on the Internet
  • No browsing social media
  • No reading books during the day, I can only pick up a book when I’m in bed with the intention of going to sleep
  • If possible, call people instead of texting
  • And if you can’t call people, text them! You’re being creative!

So far it’s gone rather well. I accidentally read a few posts on Facebook yesterday and got really pissed off, so it was good incentive not to do that again. The urge to mindlessly browse pop culture news sites has been extremely strong in the last 24 hours (What are people supposed to DO when they eat food? Sit quietly and enjoy their food?), but as far as I can tell, the only thing I’ve missed is that there’s a dress and people can’t tell whether it’s blue or not. I think that’s enough reason to stay off the Internet forever in itself.

As for what I’ve been doing with all this time, I’ll get to that later. But rest assured, although I am learning from and enjoying the fruits of this exercise, Julia Cameron will not come out of this unscathed. I will have my revenge for not being able to read whenever I want for a week.

braingremlinAlways reading somewhere, plotting revenge.