Review by Roz Gibson
At first glance Safari City seems to be a typical furry dystopian story, with reptiles and amphibians forming a subjugated underclass fighting for equal rights. Early on it briefly switches to SF/action-adventure, with an elite team of super-soldiers chasing a bad guy, only to run afoul of an unexpected time-portal device. Then the story switches to family drama, which takes up the bulk of the book.
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Gecko is a gecko (obviously) from the wrong side of the tracks. Living with an abusive criminal father, a brother who is attempting to earn a decent living honestly, and a handicapped younger sister she considers a burden, Liz is lonely, defensive and perpetually angry. A good portion of the early part of the book is taken up with flashbacks detailing her miserable existence, which includes mean girls being nasty to her and her father beating her mother.
On the right side of the track is Florence “Flo” Deer, the sheltered (to the point of utter isolation) and pampered daughter of a wealthy attorney. When she’s kidnapped by Liz’s criminal father, Liz rescues her, and the two girls strike up a tenuous friendship. When Liz gets sent back ten years into the past by the time machine, she seeks out Florence, who by this time is a respected attorney herself. Although the friends have been estranged for years in Liz’s future, Florence is the only one who can help her in the past. Luckily, in the past the ‘real’ Liz is off at army training camp, so there’s no danger of her turning up and seeing her future self.
Liz seeks out the time machine scientist, hoping he can send her back to the future (!), and he agrees to help, if Liz can get some info on a Panda woman the scientist evidently has the hots for (a plot development that is never really followed up on). That segues into a sequence of Liz befriending the Panda, named Jade, who is caring for a bunch of adorable orphans and dealing with gangsters attempting to evict her from the orphanage.
Against her better judgment, Liz in the past gets drawn back to her dysfunctional family, and that’s really what the book is about. The time travel SF elements are barely touched on, with no technology other than that different from our contemporary world. So if you’re looking for a hard SF or dystopian novel, this isn’t it. However, if you want family and friendship drama, look no further.
The author handles the technical aspects of writing well enough, and each chapter and POV switch has dates and character names at the beginning of it, which is helpful in a story that is full of flashbacks. But the ‘furry factor’ in this book is very low. The reptile characters have head hair, sweat and nurse their babies with bottles. The only actual gecko thing Liz can do is climb walls (and I don’t remember if she has to take her shoes off to do that). The characters could all be swapped out with humans without changing the plot, substituting any human minority group for the reptiles and amphibians.
One major problem I had with the book was when the scientist sends Liz off to get (molten) plutonium from a nuclear plant that had a meltdown. Anyone who’s watched Chernobyl knows what happens if you get anywhere near that stuff, and it isn’t pretty. But Liz and her companions waltz right in and scoop up the melted plutonium with no ill effects. You’d like to think the scientist would at least warn them about radiation poisoning. That whole sequence had a very WTF??? vibe.
A secondary problem is that Liz isn’t a very sympathetic character, and after a while the reader is left wondering why Flo Deer and Jade the panda are so relentlessly friendly with someone who always argues with them, doesn’t listen to any advice, and is often simply mean and ungrateful. On the plus side, this is a stand-alone book, and not part of a trilogy or endless series, so you can go into it knowing the story reaches a definite conclusion.