How do I know that I’m good at suspending my disbelief? I survived watching Dude, Where’s My Car? more than once. Granted, I turned off many of my vital and logical functions to accomplish this small feat. That was only possible for one good reason: I didn’t expect realism.
A story’s world sets my expectations, as it should. With children’s movies, I expect heroic little people to overcome big mean adults. In cartoons, I know physics won’t adhere to any known laws. Within tropes and genres we anticipate certain assumptions: good guys win, the romantic leads get together in the end, they all live happily ever after (or not).
I think that’s why I have such a hard time engaging my disbelief with genre fiction that utilizes Aussie Rules Science without consequence.
There’s only so far I can hold back my “yeah right” card.
Warning: there are spoilers ahead for James Patterson’s Zoo.
If you want your enjoyment of James Patterson’s Zoo to remain pristine, stop reading now and check out my wordless Wednesday post instead.
I haven’t read much of James Patterson’s works, even though his books occupy a lot of room on the bookshelves in my house. My husband is the Patterson reader. However, when CBS announced the television version of his book, Zoo, it caught my interest. Weirdness in the natural world? Science gone haywire? Sign me up.
Jackson Oz faces a world-wide biological event when animals begin targeting humans. Human-generated hydrocarbons change the way animals behave and interact. Jackson, and the team that sprouts up around him, must uncover the cure before it’s too late for humankind.
Despite the on-and-off plodding of the story line, I stuck with the first two seasons. Yes, I’ll believe in lions that communicate telepathically and bats that attack airplanes. I cringed mightily at the sloth that induces earthquakes (yes, I see what you did there), but I stayed with them.
But season three picked at the scab of disbelief one too many times, and as of the most recent episode, I’m done.
No, it wasn’t that the muscular safari guide Abraham becoming an uber-scientist that irked me, or the blogger-turned-novelist-turned-vigilante (I’m-so-rich-I-own-a-jumbo-jet-that-flies-itself) Jaime. I can even buy that hybrid animals are burrowing beneath the earth and causing volcanoes… just.
Two things killed the rest of the season for me: Jackson’s method of obtaining Abby’s spinal fluid, and the “special” substance that can defeat all pathogens.
It makes no sense that one substance can defeat all pathogens (unless it’s the core of the sun). Pathogens do not share a genetic or structural commonality, which is what makes them very effective as pathogens. How can one substance eradicate DNA-based pathogens universally without affecting humans?
For some ridiculous reason, much like the “we need to puzzle together a sampling of animals” from earlier seasons (including a sabre tooth tiger), the latest plot arc demands the collection of hybrid spinal fluid to cure human sterility. First of all, there is a huge amount of biological “stuff” that goes into making a baby but none of these steps, structures, or compounds are addressed as the cause of world-wide infertility. Humans can’t have babies “just because.” Honestly, if they can keep Mitch alive in a tank, and do a fetal transfusion for Clem when she is likewise suspended in liquid, why can’t the medicine of this high-tech fictional world grow a baby in a tank? #TheMatrix #Matrix
Secondly, in order to obtain the last sample, Jackson flips his unconscious sister over and stabs her in the back with a big-ass needle and giant syringe.
Now, I’ve assisted in spinal taps before. They are done under sterile conditions, with suitable patient positioning, and require sensitive placement of the needle. This is no easy task. Plowing a giant needle in a person’s lower back like Jackson did to Abby will either shove the needle right into her spinal bone or go through her spinal cord to pierce her bowels on the other side. I know it was supposed to look dramatic, but the mechanics were so unrealistic that it cut the last threat of my commitment as a viewer.
I’m already expected by the entertainment industry to ignore the truth that you can’t shock flatline when someone dies. I get it. Most people don’t know the electrical-mechanics of the heart (but it’s not hard to learn!). And I know that we’re all supposed to ignore the mechanics with mere mortals because it’s more dramatic when the bad guys can’t land punches or shoot targets unless it moves the story along.
However, if the backstory of a narrative has a basis in science, then is it unrealistic to want the science to make at least some sense? And if the audience is expected to suspend all disbelief for all things, what does that mean for authors and creators? Do we have to follow any rules?