Travel literature review: Predators I Have Known

Predators I Have Known by Alan Dean Foster

Rating: 4 out 5

Reviewed by Wayne Murphy

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

Okay, there weren’t any bears in this book, but prolific science-fiction author Alan Dean Foster manages to pack a posse of other predators into his piece of prose. Fans of Foster’s Science Fiction work may be disappointed not to find flying snakes or intelligent insectoids, but the dangerous wonders Foster tracks down during his travels more than make up for the lack of such fantastic creatures.

Foster unashamedly states that his writing success has allowed him the luxury of travelling to almost every continent in search of dangerous creatures, ostensibly to inform his fictional tales with more realistic details, but surely also for his own entertainment. Predators I Have Known allows those of us with more limited travel budgets to live vicariously through his experiences. Structured as a series of essays concentrating on different animals, Foster takes the reader to 13 different countries across five continents, and there’s barely a dull moment within the entire set.

Focussing on creatures as large and popularly predatory as the great white shark and African lion down to the smaller but no less voracious army ants and giant leeches, Foster’s tales are delivered with subtle wit and an engaging style that begs the reader to devour the entire book as quickly as a coyote scoffs down an unwitting Chihuahua. From the ‘air jaws’ of South Africa (momentarily airborne sharks - yes, airborne sharks) to playful giant otters, Foster’s tales grab hold and refuse to let go until you’ve finished them off. And, unlike most stalkers of predatory game, Foster’s weapon of choice is not a hunting rifle but rather a camera, so you know no animals were harmed during the production of his tales. Well, except the leeches and tsetse flies.

Whether you enjoy tales of environments as beautiful as the Great Barrier Reef or Papua New Guinea, or as remote as Namibia or Gabon, Foster’s collection of tales is sure to entertain. Be they feathered, furry, scaled or slimy, the predators Foster has known will intrigue and engross until you reach the last tasty morsel of text.

Wayne Murphy is a cartographic designer who works in Lonely Planet’s Melbourne office. His upbringing on a farm in rural Victoria has brought him into contact with redback spiders, brown snakes and goannas, whose dangerous nature would surely make them candidates for inclusion in their own book.

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