New York Times bestselling author Alan Dean Foster has written over one hundred novels. Star Wars fans may remember that he wrote the first two Star Wars novels ever – ghost-writing the novelization of George Lucas’s movie, published in 1976 before the film hit theaters, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (1978), a Luke and Leia adventure set before Episode V – as well as The Approaching Storm (2002), which featured Jedi Master Luminara Unduli and her Padawan Barriss Offee in major roles alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on their mission to Ansion in the weeks leading up to Episode II.
The worlds created in his storytelling can seem beyond the imagination, but often they are rooted in the reality of truly fantastical places that exist right here on Earth. Over the last forty years, Mr. Foster has journeyed around the world: “His travels have taken him into the heart of the Amazon rain forest on the trail of deadly tangarana ants, on an elephant ride across the sweeping green plains of central India in search of the elusive Bengal tiger, and into the waters of the Australian coast to come face-to-face with great white sharks.”
He has chronicled these adventures in the memoir Predators I Have Known. From the Introduction:
I write a fair amount of science fiction. If you think back on the stories you’ve read in that genre, or the films you’ve seen, some of the most powerful images (visual or literary) are those that feature beings that pose a physical threat to our existence. From H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds to Alien and Predator, we savor the frisson of fear that comes with imagining there are things Out There that might find us edible, or at the very least would be pleased to extinguish our existence.
What many readers or moviegoers don’t know is that such experiences are present right here on Earth, if one is willing to step outside the boundaries of the familiar and the comfortable and meet those experiences on their own territory. Often such an encounter, as with white sharks or tigers or poisonous snakes, will lead to straightforward renderings of these creatures in the tales I tell. Other times, they’ll provide inspiration, a carnivorous springboard, to the invention of predators more alien and outré than those that actually live here on our planet, as in books like Midworld, Sentenced to Prism, and the Journeys of the Catechist trilogy.
Starting with the first chapter, Mr. Foster’s adventures captivate the imagination. From Chapter 1: Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright… East Central India, April 2003:
Lulled into a semi-somnambulistic state by the heat and the steady, monotonous plodding of our patient elephant, I didn’t see the tiger until our excited mahout quietly pointed it out, and then I had to look twice. The powerful, muscular two-year-old male was relaxing on his belly to the left of a tree, as inconspicuous and hard to pick out as one of its roots. He was not trying to hide. He didn’t have to try. Nature took care of that for him. Had it not been for the sharp and experienced eyes of the mahout, we would have ambled right past without detecting him.
Now that I knew where to look, however, I could see it clearly. How could I possibly have missed it before? The cat was huge, between 300 and 400 pounds of pure predatory power at rest. Stripes blending into coat. Coat seeping into trees and bush and rocks. I immediately found myself mesmerized by two particular components of this magnificent representative of the order Felidae. It was not so much that wanted to focus on them. They compelled me to do so. I found myself inexorably drawn to them.
They were the eyes and the teeth.
At the moment, the eyes were inclined upward. Tracking the arc of a bird, perhaps, or checking some suggestive rustling in the branches overhead. The deceptively soft mouth was open as the tiger, panting, sought relief from the midday heat. The exposed canines – they were longer than my middle finger – bright and gleaming and perfectly white, as if their owner had just had them cleaned by a local dentist. Reposing in the cooling shade as if fully aware of his own inescapable majesty, thick tongue flopping, massive body heaving slightly, he was just as I might have imagined him: all barely contained brawn and quiet magnificence. Then, almost absently, he lowered his eyes and looked straight at me. We locked. This is what his eyes said, accentuated with mild interest and palpable speculation.
I can kill you if I want.
In that instant, my tiger looked something other than magnificent. A connection had been made as piercingly and effectively as if I had stuck a finger into a wall socket. It was not the first time a glance from a carnivore had made me feel like meat, but it was the first time I had sense genuine contemplation behind the look: calculation in addition to evaluation.
I can kill you if I want.
That stare shrank the distance between us as effectively as a fold in space-time. Though I had been told that the tiger would consider me as part of the elephant atop which I fortunately was riding, I no longer felt completely at ease. My belly was calm and relaxed, but mentally the relationship between the cat and I had undergone a radical change. I knew what that gaze meant. Knew instinctively. Remembered it from thousands of years of my forebears having been torn apart and consumed by long-dead relatives of what had instantly morphed into something far more immediate and visceral than a singular tourist attraction.
Want to read more? The ebook is available from most major booksellers. Open Road Media is also offering two fans the opportunity to win a copy of Alan Dean Foster’s Predators I Have Known. In the comments, tell them one of your most wild animal encounters. One winner will be selected by Open Road Media for the best tale of a wild animal encounter and a second winner will be selected randomly. The contest will run until 11:59p.m. EDT, July 7, 2012. Winners will be notified by email by July 14, 2012. Open to contestants in the United States and Canada.
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