I recently had the opportunity to chat with Alan Dean Foster about his new book Predators I have Known. Mr. Foster is a highly regarded and best selling author with over 30 years worth of published material. He is considered to be a Grand Master of movie novelization. He wrote the official novels for some movies you might recognize like Star Wars, Aliens, Star Trek, Transformers, and many others. He is also the author of the popular Humanx Commonwealth novels, as well as the fantasy series Spellsinger. He is a prolific traveler and explorer, drawing inspiration for his stories from the many exotic places he’s visited. Predators I have known is a collection of some of the more harrowing encounters he’s had over the years. I have read Predators and enjoyed it a great deal, so I jumped at the chance to talk to him about it.
Justin: Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me. You have quite a following in the SFF community and it’s an honor to get chance to ask you some questions. I want to ask you specifically about the book, but I also want to ask about traveling in general. I’m sure you plan on having more adventures in the near future. Why did you decide to write Predators now?
Alan Dean Foster: People have been after me for years to write a travel book. I could never think of an approach that interested me enough to sit down and start writing one. It occurred to me that everyone likes stories about animals. And the more drama, the better. So one day I just started jotting down the encounters I’ve been lucky enough to have, and this expanded into a book. I’m certainly not done with travel, or with critters.
Justin: The tips and instructions, along with names and specific locales all gave Predators I Have Known an almost “travel guide” feel at times. Was this intentional? As an aspiring traveler I appreciated the tips and advice sprinkled throughout the narrative.
ADF: Absolutely intentional. More than anything else I want readers to have the feeling that they’re visiting these places with me, and that if they so desire they can visit them themselves. I wanted to show that you don’t have to be a funded scientist or a reporter for National Geographic to experience some of the great places and challenges that the planet has to offer.
Justin: That was something else I appreciated about the novel. All these amazing encounters you describe, and most of them are quite accessible to anyone who truly desires to experience them. Which reminds me a of an ad campaign The Travel Channel ran a few years ago where they would tell the viewer to “Be a Traveler, not a Tourist.” In your opinion, what’s the difference?
ADF: Tourists tend to travel in groups, like grapes. They follow more or less prearranged schedules that prevent them from delving deep into the places they visit. Whereas a traveler takes his or her time, lingers over that which piques their interest, and is able to skim over that which doesn’t engage them. A traveler takes the side roads, a tourist hits the high spots.
Justin: I’m not going to ask you your favorite place, I know from the book that’s an impossible question for you to answer. I would however like to ask which place, people, or animal surprised you the most? Surprised you by not being at all what you expected or had imagined?
ADF: I’d have to say northern Borneo, and sadly so. The days of Alfred Russell Wallace have been subsumed in humanity’s mad dash to the future. Flying into airports in cities with exotic monikers like Kota Kinabalu and Kuching only to find that they’re more modern and flashy than the airport in your home town is a bit disconcerting. Being able to access the internet from the depths of the jungle, or hitchhike back to your hotel after viewing orangutans in the wild, deflates the sense of exoticism that you previously connected with such places. The world is shrinking far faster than most people believe. All you need is to see an AC/DC concert shirt on a Huli tribesman in highland Papua New Guinea, or observe an Amazonian Indian on his cell phone.
Justin: I remember being in Boy Scouts and thinking that all you need to live in the wilds was a compass and a hatchet. Now I’m pretty sure cellphone has been added to that list. When traveling there are things you should always have on hand. I tell people to bring plenty of socks. Douglas Adams might tell you to bring a towel. What does Alan Dean Foster say?
ADF: Because the world has grown so small and commerce so widespread, you can usually buy much of what you might need at your destination. Always have with you (besides any personally necessary medication) aspirin and Imodium. I take a small, cheap, battery-powered electric toothbrush. A couple of band-aids. Daily vitamin (fills in what you don’t get from strange diets). Emergency dental swabs (for toothache). Coagulating powder (stops bleeding from most any minor cause). A compact and cheap rain poncho. Small roll of duct tape (repairs backpacks, suitcases… and sandal straps).
There’s more, but it depends where you’re going. Don’t need leech socks, for example, in Sweden.
Justin: Any plans to write more non-fiction in the same vein as Predators I Have Known?
ADF: I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of interaction with non-carnivorous animals as well as predators. I reckon that would make an interesting companion volume. Everything from hoatzins to hippos.
Justin: You have an incredible body of work, and a legion of fans. What if I were new to Alan Dean Foster, where would you recommend I start?
ADF: For SF, For Love of Mother-Not (the first Flinx & Pip book). For fantasy, Spellsinger (the first in the series). For horror, Into the Out of. For any of the foregoing, or just general interest, any of my short story collections.
Justin: Now I’m going to go a little off topic since I have the attention of a veteran author. I hear all the time about the publishing industry being in its death throes. Are e-books the end of physical books? Can they co-exist in the future market? Since Predators is exclusively digital, I’m guessing you’ve probably thought about this.
ADF: I believe there will always be physical books. E-books don’t look like much on a shelf. With an e-book you acquire memory but not physicality. There will always be a market for people who want to hold as well as read a book. The number of people who buy an e-book and then go out and buy a physical copy for their permanent collection has been something of a surprise to publishers, I think.
Justin: Does your curiosity and love for the outdoors and traveling have roots from anything specific from your childhood, or maybe your family?
ADF: I grew up reading Scrooge McDuck comics. Here was this little old man, with feathers. He needed to wear glasses and he used a cane. None of which stopped him from traveling all over the world and having the most marvelous adventures. I figured if an old man could do it, so could I. And thanks to Scrooge, I never had any fear of growing old. Still don’t. My family was exclusively, almost obsessively, urban. When my mother got my sister and I our one dog, she got a basenji, an African dog that doesn’t bark. I still remember her reaction when an oppossum appeared in the walnut tree in our San Fernando Valley backyard. You would’ve thought it was a T-rex. I wanted to try and pet it (I was six at the time). For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world, to the point of ultimately inventing dozens that I can only visit in my imagination.
If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a tour guide.
Justin: Thank you again for chatting with me. I highly recommend Predators I have known to anyone who enjoys traveling, animals, or any good true to life adventure stories. I found your accounts to be exciting, humble, and informative… an excellent combination. Your fans will certainly not be disappointed, and I am looking forward to more. Predators I have known is being published as an E-riginal from Open Road Media. It is available for purchase at Amazon.