Jurassic Jungle

Monday, March 30, 2009

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Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear (1998)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hardback cover blurb

It’s the year 1947, and nobody’s interested in dinosaurs anymore. Less than fifty years after Professor Challenger’s famed journey to the Lost World, America’s last dinosaur circus is closing down… but the adventure of a lifetime is about to begin. In a dramatic change of pace, multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction master Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars, Anvil of Stars and Queen of Angels, presents a lavishly illustrated thriller that is certain to become a new classic of adventure beyond time…


Peter Belzoni is dreading summer in Manhattan. Then his father, photojournalist Anthony Belzoni, offers the youth a job, and a byline in National Geographic… and a trip to South America. For Lothar Gluck Circus, once the world’s foremost dinosaur attraction, has gone bankrupt. Left behind is a menagerie of avisaurs, centrosaurs, and ankylosaurs, as well as one predatory raptor named Dagger. And now two filmmakers and the circus trainer plan to return the giants to the wild – with Peter and his dad chronicling the odyssey for Geographic. The task seems impossible. Many have died trying to bring beasts out of the Lost World, the plateau of El Grande in Venezuela, but nobody has ever attempted to transport nearly a dozen full-grown, multi-ton prehistoric creatures across continents, down rivers, through jungles, and up a mountain that has been isolated for 70,000,000 years…

The trek will strain the technologies of trains, cargo ships, barges, trucks… en route lurk robbers and hostile, trigger-happy soldiers… and each miles toward freedom excites Dagger toward an unstoppable, primal killing frenzy. When the unthinkable threatens to strand Peter and the rest of the crew in an uncharted realm, four modern Americans will face all the unknown dangers, mysteries, and terrors of El Grande…

My thoughts

Peter Belzoni gets to live out every boy’s dream: He will accompany his father on an adventure to a remote plateau in Venezuela where dinosaurs still roam. It’s a hell of a way to spend summer break.

It turns out that the Lost World discovered by one Professor Challenger is real. But in the 30 or so years since the discovery, things haven’t gone well. The Lost World was exploited for profit, and many of its animals were captured for zoos and circuses. While the public was at first captivated by the live dinosaurs, it soon lost interest as the fad came and went. King Kong, shot with real dinosaurs, was a box-office flop, and the last dinosaur circus is closing down. The owner of the circus, Lothar Gluck, wants to return his dinosaurs to the Lost World, now a protected sanctuary. Peter and his father will accompany the expedition, but after a bad turn of events, they’ll find themselves stranded in the Lost World, where things far more deadly than dinosaurs roam.

Dinosaur Summer is an unofficial sequel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World from Greg Bear, a writer better known for hard sci-fi. It’s a fun read that’s really meant for younger audiences. The illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi, while excellent, reinforce that fact. The book is a tribute to the filmmakers that Bear grew up with – stop-motion pioneers Ray Harryhousen and Willis O’Brien, and King Kong creators Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. In fact, all four have major roles in the novel.

A couple critics have complained that Dinosaur Summer was Bear’s overt attempt to write a novel that would be turned into a movie. And yes, it’s true the book was published while Jurassic Park was still all the rage (although, contrary to the cover blurb, the book doesn’t feature a “raptor,” but rather an allosaurus descendant referred to as a “venator”). I think this novel was a labor of love for Bear, an attempt by the author to recapture part of his childhood. It’s light, breezy entertainment and should be accepted as such.

  • Unlike in Doyle’s original novel, there are no ape men or Ice Age mammals roaming Bear’s lost world. However, there are several new creatures not known in the fossil record. Bear imagines a lost world where evolution doesn't stand still, so while there are dinosaurs that have changed very little in 65 million years, there are also animals that have evolved no where else, most noticeably the book’s villain, the Stratoraptor,
  • The illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi, is a well-known children's book illustrator. His web site includes several examples of his work, but nothing from Dinosaur Summer, unfortunately..
  • Dinosaur Summer won the first Endeavor Award, a science fiction award for writers from the Pacific Northwest.

Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick (2002)

Hardback cover blurb

Paleontologist Richard Leyster has achieved professional nirvana: a position with the Smithsonian Museum plus a groundbreaking dinosaur fossil site he can research, publish on, and learn from for years to come. There is nothing that could lure him away – until a disturbingly secretive stranger named Griffin enters Leyster's office with an ice cooler and a job offer. In the cooler is the head of a freshly killed Stegosaurus.

Griffin has been entrusted with an extraordinary gift, an impossible technology on loan to humanity from unknown beings for an undisclosed purpose. Time travel has become a reality millions of years before it rationally could be. With it, Richard Leyster and his colleagues can make their most cherished fantasy come true. They can study the dinosaurs up close, in their own time and milieu.

Now, suddenly, individual lives can turn back on themselves. People can meet, shake hands, and converse with their younger versions at various crossroads in time. One wrong word, a single misguided act, could be disastrous to the project and to the world. But Griffin must make sure everything that is supposed to happen does happen – no matter who is destined to be hurt... or die.

And then there's Dr. Gertrude Salley – passionate, fearless, and brutally ambitious – a genius rebel in the tight community of "bone men" and women. Alternately both Leyster's and Griffin's chief rival, trusted colleague, despised nemesis, and inscrutable lover at various junctures throughout time, Salley is relentlessly driven to screw with the working mechanisms of natural law, audaciously trespassing in forbidden areas, pushing paradox to the edge no matter what the consequences may be. And, when they concern the largest, most savage creatures that ever lived, the consequences may be terrifying indeed.

My thoughts

Few dinosaur novels came out with as much promotion as Bones of the Earth received when it was released in 2002 (the Jurassic Park novels being an obvious exception). Michael Swanwick already had won the Hugo award in 2000 for his short story, “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur,” which was something of early incarnation of “Bones of the Earth.” The publisher, Eos (a division of HarperCollins), heavily advertised the book though its web site, even allowing web users to e-mail a series of dinosaur-themed short stories to friends and family.

Bones of the Earth lived up to the hype. It’s easily one of the best dinosaur novels ever written. The story focuses on three protagonists: paleontologist Richard Leyster; his occasional lover Gertrude Salley, a woman who doesn’t like playing by the rules; and Griffin, Gertrude’s occasional lover and the man in charge of enforcing the rules. A mysterious race of beings has given humanity the gift of time travel, but there are complications. It turns out changing the past isn't so hard. Griffin’s job is to ensure that history stays history or the gift will be taken away. That’s not so easy, especially when creationist terrorists are determined to prove themselves right at all costs, and when Gertrude has plans of her own.

To give away more would be spoiling the fun of the novel. Bones of the Earth takes a little time to get going. It’s not until about halfway through the book that a story starts to materialize. But it’s a wonderful story, filled with believable characters and intriguing speculation about dinosaur ecology. The prose is a little lazy – sometimes the book reads more like a movie script than a novel. Yet that’s the only shortcoming I can come up with about this excellent work.

  • The cover art for "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur" (Asimov's Science Fiction, 1999) features the author with his wife.

Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker (1995)

Hardback cover blurb

A pair of fierce but beautiful eyes looks out from the dull green undergrowth. The eyes follow every movement in the great herd of plant-eating dinosaurs that mills around the open meadows, moving back and forth with the rapid scanning of a hunter who is thinking about everything she sees. She is an intelligent killer…

So begins one of the most extraordinary novels you will ever read. The time is 120 million years ago, the place is the plains of prehistoric Utah, and the eyes belong to one of the most unforgettable heroines you will ever meet. Her name is Raptor Red, and she is a female Utahraptor dinosaur.

Raptor Red’s tale begins with tragedy. She and her mate are stalking prey, a giant astrodon feeding in a nearby meadow. They approach silently and attack with deadly force. But at the moment of triumph, something goes terribly wrong and Raptor Red’s mate is killed. It is the beginning of a yearlong odyssey of survival, a thrilling story told by leading paleontologist Robert T. Bakker. Now, in Raptor Red, he dramatizes his revolutionary theories in a one-of-a-kind tale.

Raptor Red strikes out on her own, and before long she has rejoined her sister’s clan. Together they will hunt and devour iguanodons, brave a monstrous storm and the ensuing flash flood, migrate toward the western ocean to escape powerful predators, and eventually move north to a snowy mountain region in a desperate attempt to escape the threat of the deadly acrocanthosaurs.

At the same time, Raptor Red must obey nature’s command to find a new mate. But when a bold and graceful young male presents himself, she is stymied by her conflicting loyalties to her sister’s brood and her own powerful impulses to mate and produce chicks of her own. On a snowy mountaintop in the frozen north, Raptor Red’s search for a new home and a new mate will culminate in a thrilling climax.

Painting a rich and colorful picture of her lush, exotic prehistoric world, the novel is convincingly told from within Raptor Red’s mind, revealing the powerful instincts and Darwinian forces that shape her remarkable consciousness. Her story is filled with a unique cast of characters that includes a white pterodactyl, a giant prehistoric crocodile, a small furry aegialodon, hulking astrodons, and an incredible range of other exotic creatures.

Raptor Red is a completely unique and utterly compelling story of a year in the life of a dinosaur – and is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

My thoughts

The above cover blurb pretty much gives away the entire plot of the book, so there really isn’t any need to summarize it again. Raptor Red is told from the point of view of a female Utahraptor as she struggles to survive in her early Cretaceous world. Bakker, a famous paleontologist, is aiming for realism so this isn’t Watership Down with talking dinosaurs instead of rabbits. His animals behave more or less like the real thing, although Raptor Red herself comes across as a bit too smart and emotional at times.

One result of Bakker’s approach is that Raptor Red’s story is pretty simple as far as novels go. There are no plot twists or any attempts at grand themes. It’s simply a tale about an animal living in her environment. The exotic nature of the setting keeps the novel from becoming trite after the first few chapters, and Bakker’s quirky sense of humor comes across in several passages.

More than anything, Raptor Red serves as a vehicle for Bakker to give science lessons in a user-friendly format. The paleontologist is well-known for championing the idea of active, warm-blooded dinosaurs. It probably should come as no surprise then that the very first illustration in the novel features Raptor Red on a snowy mountainside, a place you wouldn’t find cold-blooded reptiles. Many of Bakker’s more radical theories are far from universally accepted, but other than in a few places, he doesn’t really delve into them.

Chances are you will still find Raptor Red in the science fiction section of your local bookstore, the paperback sporting a holographic cover. The book has had a remarkable shelf life for a work of paleofiction. It’s worth picking up a copy if you’re a fan of dinosaurs.


  • There seemed to be a time, not long ago, when every TV dinosaur documentary had to feature at least one interview with Bakker. He is instantly recognizable with his beat-up cowboy hat and his long hair and beard. He also served as the inspiration for the character of Dr. Robert Burke in the movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Burke meets a rather nasty end in the jaws of a T. rex in the film.
  • The Utahraptor was co-discovered by paleontologist James Kirkland, who has also authored a work of dinosaur fiction. He co-wrote the Star Trek novel First Frontier with Diane Carey.

Return to Eden by Harry Harrison (1988)

Note: This is the final book of the West of Eden trilogy, starting with West of Eden. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the first book, reviewed below.

Paperback cover blurb

In West of Eden and Winter in Eden, master novelist Harry Harrison broke new ground with his most ambitious project to date. He brought to vivid life the world as it might have been, where dinosaurs survived, where their intelligent descendants, the Yilane, challenged humans for mastery of the Earth, and where the human Kerrick, a young hunter of the Tanu tribe, grew among the dinosaurs and rose to become their most feared enemy. Working in collaboration with an international team of scientific experts, Harrison created a believable, richly detailed world rivaling Frank Herbert’s Dune and Jean Auels’s The Clan of the Cave Bear in the majesty of its scope and conception.

Now, in Return to Eden, Harrison brings the epic trilogy to a stunning conclusion. After Kerrick rescues his people from the warlike Yilane, they find a safe haven on an island and there begin to rebuild their shattered lives. But with fierce predators stalking the forests, how long can these unarmed human outcasts hope to survive? The small band of humans have no choice but to confront their fate head on. And, of course, Kerrick cannot forget Viante, his implacable Yilane enemy. She’s been cast out from her kind, under sentence of death, but how long will her banishment last? For her strange attraction to Kerrick has turned into a hatred even more powerful than her instincts – an obsession that compels her to hunt down Kerrick and kill him.

My thoughts

Return to Eden is the “threequel” that can be easily skipped without any worries that you have left the story arc started in West of Eden incomplete. Most of the plot threads are resolved in the second book of the series, Winter in Eden. The result is the characters in Return to Eden have nothing to do, and the book lacks any real plot, instead reading like a grossly bloated epilogue of the first two novels. Kerrick, having made the world safe for humanity, now focuses on raising his family and finding a home for his tribe. The Daughters of Life slowly build their peaceful society in the Amazon. And Viante, now an outcast, plots her revenge. These separate storylines are drawn out over a tedious 400 pages, coming together in the end in a whopping anticlimax.

By now the alternate world of the Yilane has lost its charm, and the lack of any real story makes this book a difficult one to read through to the end. The science, which was dated when West of Eden was first published six years previously, was even more dated when Return to Eden hit bookstores. And Harrison seems to have lost interest in the setting he created. The novel feels like it was written mainly to fulfill a contractual obligation to the publisher to turn out a trilogy. Unless you have a burning desire to learn about the ultimate fates of many of the characters to the first two books, there is no reason to pick up Return to Eden.


  • The entire trilogy was recently republished, although I’ve never had any trouble finding the original books in used bookstores.
Return in Eden has a short Wikipedia entry.

Winter in Eden by Harry Harrison (1986)

Note: This is the second book of the West of Eden trilogy, starting with West of Eden. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the first book, reviewed below.

Paperback cover blurb



Harry Harrison, an acknowledged master of imaginative fiction, broke new ground in West of Eden. He brought to vivid life the world as it might have been, where dinosaurs survived, where their intelligent descendants challenged humans for mastery of Earth, where a young hunter named Kerrick grew among the dinosaurs and rose to become their most feared enemy.

Now, the awesome saga continues in Winter in Eden… A new ice age threatens Earth. Facing extinction, the dinosaurs must employ their mastery of biology to swiftly reconquer human territory. Desperately, Kerrick launches an arduous quest to rally a final defense for humankind. With his beloved wife and young son, he heads north to the land of whale hunters, east into the enemy’s stronghold, and south to a fateful reckoning with destiny.

Not since Dune has there been a work of such majestic scope and conception – a monumental epic of passion, courage and triumph.

My thoughts

Winter in Eden starts almost immediately after the events of the first book, with the humans celebrating their victory in driving the Yilane from their shores. Kerrick, however, is troubled with the knowledge that it will be a short-lived celebration. The Yilane will return in full force, and despite their initial success, the Stone Age humans still are no match for the technologically superior reptiles. So Kerrick takes off on a journey to the Yialne homeland, hoping to find some way of single-handedly turning back their invasion.

Meanwhile, the Yilane Vinate is plotting her revenge against Kerrick, and hopes to lead the invasion force that will reclaim the lost territories. And while all this is happening, a group of peace-loving Yilane flee to the Amazon basin, where they seek to found a society radically different from that of the rest of their xenophobic species. Once there, they make a surprising discovery.

Winter in Eden is an entertaining sequel that nonetheless suffers from some of the “been there, done that” syndrome that plagues most sequels. This time, however, the story lets the reader to explore a larger portion of the world Harrison created, allowing the exotic setting to remain fresh. The story itself isn’t as well-paced as the one in the first book, so even though Winter in Eden is 100 pages shorter, it feels like a longer read. And the author had to once again rely on a dues ex machina ending to resolve the desperate situation he put his humans in. Many of the problems with the science in the first book remain in the sequel, although Harrison does introduce some interesting twists in evolution this time around.

Nitpicking aside, Winter in Eden remains a worthy follow-up to West of Eden. Most of the plot threads started in the first book are resolved in the sequel, so even if you never read the third book in the trilogy, you won’t be left feeling the story is incomplete.


  • The entire trilogy was recently republished, although I’ve never had any trouble finding the original books in used bookstores.
Winter in Eden has a short Wikipedia entry.

West of Eden by Harry Harrison (1984)

Paperback cover blurb



From a master of imaginative storytelling comes an epic tale of the world as it might have been, a world were the age of dinosaurs never ended, and their descendants clashed with a clan of humans in a tragic war for survival.

It is the tale of Kerrick, a young hunter who grows to manhood among the dinosaurs, escaping at last to rejoin his own kind. His knowledge of their strange customs makes him the humans’ leader, the dinosaurs’ most feared enemy.

My thoughts

West of Eden is the start of a trilogy of novels set on an alternate earth where the dinosaurs never went extinct and have survived to the modern day. The asteroid (or comet) that killed off the great reptiles missed entirely, so mammals never got the chance to take over. One group of reptiles, the mosasaurs, have evolved into the intelligent but cold-blooded Yilane. However, humans also have evolved in North America, where the chilly climate has allowed mammals to out-compete the cold-blooded dinosaurs of Harrison’s world. A coming ice age is forcing the Yilane to spread out to find new territory, resulting in a violent clash between the two species.

West of Eden is essentially a more literary take on One Million Years B.C., although Harrison would probably loathe hearing it described it as such. Nonetheless, through the genre of alternate history, he managed to figure out a way to place dinosaurs and cavemen side-by-side and still keep some measure of plausibility in the story (more on that in a bit). The plot isn’t as original as the setting, but it serves its purpose. Kerrick, the main character, is captured by the Yilane as a small boy after the intelligent reptiles wipe out his tribe. He grows up among them, learning their language, their customs and some of their technology, before he is rescued by the leader of another human tribe. The Yilane want to exterminate the humans, seeing them as little more than vermin. Only Kerrick’s special knowledge of the reptiles will be able to save the human race.

What works best about the novel is the Yilane. Harrison spent a great deal of time crafting the species and actually sought out the help of two scientists in designing their biology and their language. Females are dominant, with the males giving birth. Their entire society is defined by their cold-blooded physiologies: They have no concept of metallurgy, because their bodies can’t stand the heat of an open flame, so their civilization is instead based on millions of years of selective breeding and genetic manipulation of other organisms. They make fascinating villains. Still, from a purely scientific point of view, it should be pointed out that the Yilane are impossible given it takes a warm-blooded metabolism to support human-like intelligence. And the species seems a little too alien for anything that could have evolved on earth. Why Harrison chose to have them descend from mosasaurs rather than a land-dwelling dinosaur is a mystery to me.

Given the effort he put into his villains, it’s too bad Harrison didn’t spend any time fleshing out the rest of his alternate world. Instead of having dinosaurs evolve in new and weird forms after 65 million years of evolution, he just plops in creatures known from the fossil record, even if they were already extinct by the time the asteroid came crashing down. The same is true for the mammals, which have evolved into their ice age forms rather than into forms fitting the alien environments they live in. The dinosaurs of Harrison’s world also are depicted as sluggish and cold-blooded despite the fact that other science fiction writers had already embraced more modern theories about active dinosaurs by the time the author was penning West of Eden. Harrison shows a remarkable disinterest in paleontology given the subject matter of the novel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of his research of the science came from reading a couple children’s books about dinosaurs.

That said, West of Eden still works as an old-fashioned adventure story with a good sense of wonder. The Yilane are appropriately evil (although they do have good individuals), and it’s easy to sympathize with the Stone Age humans who are trying to avoid genocide at the hands of a technologically superior race. The only let down story-wise is the deus ex machina ending. It’s a book worth reading, even if more science-literate readers will be left wishing Harrison had used a little more imagination in crafting his world.


  • West of Eden was republished in 2004, although I’ve never had any trouble finding copies of the book in used-book stores.

Apparently, All the Interesting Dinosaurs Have Been Discovered

Monday, March 16, 2009

By: Michael Swaim

As a child of Jurassic Park, I still get a rush of adrenaline when one of my pals from the San Diego Junior Archaeological Society calls me on the phone I had installed just for the purpose (it’s shaped like a Dimetrodon) to tell me about a new species.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I was informed by a decidedly glum Tommy Franklin (Junior Dino-Cadet, Pteranodon Unit) that scientists have just discovered a dinosaur dubbed “the cow of the Mesozoic era.” I was so upset I dropped and shattered the commemorative Dr. Hammond glass I’d been holding.

A cow?! Dinosaurs are meant to strike awe and fear into the hearts of man, not remind them to pick up some brisket on the way home. Lest you think I’m overreacting, above’s a side-by-side comparison of the Nigersaurus and some other, more deserving animals granted the title “Dinosaur.”

7 Dinosaurs You Could Take In A Fight

By: Michael Swaim

So, you’ve traveled back to the age of the dinosaurs, and monsters that time forgot (but nerds remember) are towering over you. What’s a scientist, bumbling lab assistant or transdimensional God-being to do?

The important thing to remember is that ancient history is just like prison: to survive, you’ve got to either make someone your bitch, or become someone’s bitch. And unless you like the thought of gobbling down velociraptor dongs for 65 million years (and remember, there’s no fossil evidence indicating that they weren’t barbed), I suggest you start kicking some dino-tail.

Assuming your iPhone’s still got coverage, here’s a handy shopping list of dinosaurs to start beating with a mop handle posthaste.

7. Compsognathus

Why You Could Take It: Better known as “compys,” these are the little guys from Jurassic Park II that are basically the only dinosaurs in the movie the humans don’t consider a threat at all. In fact, in the video game version, you ate them for health. That’s how pathetic they are; they were relegated to the status of a power-up. To further their humiliation, Compsognathus were even the stars of their own childrens’ book, Pernix and Viva, which taught kids that it’s okay to be small as long as you have love (and don’t get devoured alive by bigger kids). Killing a mess of compys won’t do tons for your reputation, but at least the other dinosaurs will know you’re willing to crush those weaker than yourself.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: Boots. A club. Some dried mud. Basically anything you’ve got laying around.

Dino-Bonus: Compys are believed to have had a strong pack mentality, so there’s a good chance that if you can kill their leader the rest will follow you and do your bidding. Again, not really a formidable fighting force, but they could certainly fetch things for you or carry you around as a living throne.

6. and 5. Archaeopteryx and Microraptors

Why You Could Take It: These are a couple of winged dinosaurs, one with two wings and one with four. Together, they’re considered part of the evolutionary bridge between dinosaurs and birds. The downside of being an evolutionary bridge is that, while you’re good at getting creationists to shut the hell up, you’re not so good at any of the things your various component parts are good at.

It’s not like these are airborne stegasauri. No, these guys are basically dinosaurs with feathers instead of protective scales, who can’t fight and don’t really fly very well either. It’s thought that they probably just glided, and if they did fly, they did so clumsily. So in the end, you’re left with a dinosaur the size of a pigeon warbling drunkenly through the air a few feet off the ground.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: There’s something especially poetic about knocking one out of the air with a two-fisted hammer blow, stopping its vain quest for the sky and driving it back into the primordial ooze from whence it came.

Dino-Bonus: At four wings a pop, it should be fairly easy to gather enough feathers to make your own gliding outfit, or at the very least a kite.

4. Epidendrosaurus

Why You Could Take It: Take an Archaeopteryx and pluck all its feathers out, and you’ve basically got an Epidendrosaurus (plus you’ve given an Archaeopteryx a lot of pain; kudos!). Instead of flying, they climbed, probably to hide the fact that they look like boiled monkeys who are perpetually flipping you off as emphatically as possible. One of their finger-like claws was a third the length of their entire body, although in fact it’s not their middle fingers which were elongated, but their pinkies, meaning that they were also the fanciest dinosaurs of all time.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: Unlike the other birdlike dinosaurs on this list, Epidendrosaurus would actually be difficult to catch, because it didn’t waste all its time trying to fly like an asshole. You’d probably have to make a net or burn the trees down. I suggest the latter, as they fall pre-cooked.

Dino-Bonus: Their hands make perfect garden claws. Just be glad it wasn’t any other appendage that’s a third the length of their bodies.

3. Nigersaurus

Why You Could Take It: The Nigersaurus’ name means “Niger Lizard,” which qualifies it both as having the least imaginative dinosaur name ever and being only one letter away from having the most offensive dinosaur name ever. Although an herbivore, the Nigersaurus had 50 rows of teeth that got replaced at a rate of one a month per row. Luckily for you, those teeth were all oriented around a flapping, rubbery hole through which the animal sucked up its food, earning it the nickname “the vacuum of the dinosaur kingdom.” Not jet engine. Not Sarlacc pit. Vacuum.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: As many young boys have learned through erotic, but ultimately tragic run-ins with the pool intake, a vacuum is no place to wedge delicate body parts. But really, that’s all this thing’s got. Roll a grenade or two in front of it, let it suck them up and enjoy the grimy fireworks. If you didn’t bring grenades, you could always try clogging its vent with a few pinecones or some dead Compys.

Dino-Bonus: The Nigersaurus skull is believed to house the most teeth of any dinosaur, so they’re basically a one-stop shop for all your necklace and slingshot ammo needs.

2. Therizinosaurs

Why You Could Take It: Yes, they were huge (they can’t all be Compys). When you’re fighting dinosaurs, you’re going to have to down some big fellas. It’s all part of the game; ask Turok. In fact, Therizinosaurs grew up to 30 feet in length. Plus, they had giant claws and their name means “scythe lizard,” which conjures the image of a cloaked Grim Reaper with foot-long teeth and a reptilian tail.

Yet none of that changes the fact that these were basically giant turkeys. Or zebra-turkeys, depending on what tactic the illustrator used to try and make them look less awkward.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: As the geeky fatasses of the late Cretaceous, Therizinosaurs don’t have much going for them in a fight besides those ungainly claws and their ability to fall on you. My advice would be to hurl some rocks at their tiny heads, then run in a zig-zag pattern until they topple over or clothesline themselves on a low-hanging limb.

Then all it takes is one well-placed kick to their pipe cleaner-sized throats.

Dino-Bonus: They’re excellent stuffed with bread crumbs, apple chunks and cinnamon. For a crisp skin, bake at 400 degrees for 96 hours, or until golden brown. Serves everyone.

1. Carnotaurus

Why You Could Take It: The Carnotaurus is what happens when a T. Rex just kind of wanders off halfway through the dinosaur assembly process. While superficially resembling their more deadly cousins, Carneys are much smaller (only nine feet tall) have Gandalf-caliber eyebrows that they try to pass off as bull horns and were stuck with arms somehow even more retarded than Rex’s.

Not only are they smaller in comparison to their body (seriously, we’re talking Q-Tips here), but the hands are facing the wrong way, palms out, as if pathetically awaiting a high five that will never come, eternally left hanging by its less laughable counterparts.

Preferred Method of Dispatch: The Carnosaur is legitimately threatening, and, as its name suggest, carnivorous. It’s probably the highest level dinosaur you’re likely to kill without a minigun or a Timecop backing you up, so I’d only recommend tackling one after you’ve had plenty of experiencing wiping out the other species on this list. If you are going to go for it, my advice would be to capitalize on your natural advantages by challenging it to a sword fight or juggling competition. Then when its weeping in impotent frustration, stab it in the gut with a sharp stick.

Dino-Bonus: You can probably get away with telling the other dinosaurs you killed a T. Rex. They’re not that bright.

Final Note: Whatever you do, never fight this.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

These include the anthology The Complete Dinosaur, edited by J. O. Farlow and M. K. Brett- Surman; David Norman’s Illustrated Dinosaur Encyclopedia; John Noble Wilford’s The Riddle of the Dinosaur; and Don Lessem’s Dinosaurs Rediscovered (originally titled The Kings of Creation). Almost as valuable as the Farlow and Brett-Surman anthology is the Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (San Diego: Academic Press, 1997), edited by P. J. Currie and K. Padian. Good books on particular types of dinosaurs include John Horner and Don Lessem’s The Complete T. rex (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993) and Peter Dodson’s The Horned Dinosaurs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996). Gregory S. Paul’s Predatory Dinosaurs of the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988) is interesting and contains the author’s own excellent illustrations but makes many very controversial claims about how fast these creatures ran and how they lived.

Some of the most interesting recent books on dinosaurs attempt to reconstruct their lives and habits. John Horner’s books can be particularly recommended as works that try to tell us about dinosaur behavior and lifestyles. His book Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs (New York: Workman, 1988), cowritten with J. Gorman, tells about his discovery of dinosaur eggs and nests. These discoveries prompted Horner to name one dinosaur Maiasaura, which means “good mother lizard,” because of evidence that it kept nests and nurtured its young. A more recent book coauthored with E. Dobb, Dinosaur Lives: Unearthing an Evolutionary Saga (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1997), gives evidence for other aspects of dinosaur behavior.

There are two college-level textbooks on dinosaurs, Dinosaurs: The Textbook by Spencer G. Lucas (Dubuque, IA:William C. Brown Publishers, 1994) and The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs by David E. Fastovsky and David B. Weishampel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Both are very good, well illustrated, and considerably livelier than the usual cut-and-dried textbooks.

A word of caution: There are many good books on dinosaurs. I have been able to list only a few of them here. However, there are also many very bad books on dinosaurs, especially books for children. These books are often written by people who do not know much about dinosaurs and who don’t mind making a few bucks by passing on their ignorance to others. Some years ago Don Lessem and other paleontologists formed the Dinosaur Society to safeguard against misinformation. If a book bears the seal of the Dinosaur Society, it will contain accurate information—otherwise, caveat emptor.


The smell of rotting flesh travels far on the breeze, through the woodlands and valleys a young male Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the first to pick up the odour and begins to follow the scent.

The dinosaurs, and many other creatures such as the pterosaurs, mosasaurs, and ammonoids, went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. There is considerable evidence that dinosaurs, after reaching a peak of diversity about seventy-four million years ago, began a gradual decline. Unquestionably, though, something delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce. In Chapter 8 I tell the story of the bitter, vicious controversy that raged over the reasons for the mass extinction that ended the Mesozoic. Many regard the dinosaurs’ demise with sadness. Many a kid has fantasized that somehow, somewhere, there is a lost forest where T. rex continues to prowl. But if the dinosaurs had not gone extinct, it would be most unlikely that we would be here. During the Mesozoic, our mammalian ancestors were small, nondescript, probably nocturnal creatures. While dinosaurs were dominant, there simply was no free ecological space for large mammals to occupy. Only after the extinction of the dinosaurs did the remarkable evolutionary radiation of mammals occur.

The dinosaurs were the lords of the Mesozoic. Their demise offers a deep lesson to us: The earth does not grant tenure. On the contrary, 99 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. Even more sobering is the realization that several different hominid species have lived on Earth. Only one survives—Homo sapiens. We tend to think that the “sapiens” part of that name, our intelligence, gives us an edge that will allow us to escape the fate of other species. Well, we certainly have been successful in the short term—there are six billion of us on the planet, making us by far the most numerous species of large animal. By contrast, only about two thousand tigers survive in the wild. But the deepest lesson of the dinosaurs is the awful, incomprehensible depth of time. Sixty-five million years from now, will any of our descendants be alive? If so, will they be in any sense human? Will they remember any of our literature, our art, our science, our religions? After all, geological time shows that the only thing permanent is the fact of change. Evolution on Earth began with the first self-replicating molecules four billion years ago, and it will continue until the sun dies.