Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Footprints of Thunder by James F. David (1995)

Hardback cover blurb

It began with a rain of corn falling from an empty sky, and with the unheeded warnings of a handful of eccentric scientists and college students. Only they saw the disaster coming, but nobody listened to them until…

Suddenly, overnight, the boundaries between yesterday and today dissolve, transforming the entire world into a crazy-quilt mixture of present and distant past. Portland, Oregon, turns into a primeval forest, where a vicious motorcycle gang takes advantage of the chaos to hunt both tyrannosaurs and human beings. Plesiosaurs are spotted off the coast of Hawaii, while a stranded family struggles to survive between an enraged brontosaurus and a bloodthirsty park of killer whales. Winged reptiles, extinct for millennia, swoop from the sky to carry off small children. Looters battle dinosaurs in the Bronx, where one old woman, alone and forgotten, discovers a new reason to live.

And in the White House an increasingly unstable President searches for a solution – any solution – to the catastrophe that has gripped the planet. But the cure he is presented may be worse than the disease.

All over the world, ordinary people, from a confused state trooper to a band of lost teenagers, must fight against the unleashed terrors of prehistory. Anxious researches, led by the President’s chief science adviser, try to unravel the mystery of what has happened to the world, but no one is safe when reality itself quakes beneath the terrible fury of…Footprints of Thunder.

My thoughts

There was a gruesome Topps trading card series called Dinosaurs Attack! that came out when I was a kid back in the ‘80s. The plot – if you can call it that – was that a botched time travel experiment caused dinosaurs to materialize in the modern day, where they pretty much ate everyone in sight. It didn’t go for scientific accuracy: The dinosaurs were mostly Godzilla-sized monsters, and docile plant-eaters were turned into ravenous carnivores with a taste for children.

Footprints of Thunder reminded me of Dinosaurs Attack! The premise is that a disaster in time has replaced large swaths of modern-day earth with their Mesozoic equivalents, bringing people face-to-snout with living dinosaurs. The survivors spend the rest of the novel trying to make sense of this new world, and trying to avoid the predations of the carnivorous dinosaurs. Their various stories, and there are several of them, are told over alternating chapters.

Footprints of Thunder is David’s first novel, and he could have chosen two routes in writing it: science fiction or horror novel. He chose the latter, glossing over the science. It shows in the descriptions of the dinosaurs, which are pretty much depicted as solitary, lumbering behemoths straight out of 1950's B-movie (although, to be fair, that's not always the case). There’s even a description of a dinosaur dragging its tail, which is pretty horrible for a novel that came out after the movie Jurassic Park!

That said, I found the novel a fun read. Some of the survivors' stories are quite good, such as the trio of teenage boys lost in a primeval forest, or the plight of a group of researchers studying another stretch prehistoric ecology in Oregon. It's too bad that David apparently had no interest in his main stars, the dinosaurs. While fans of Stephen King will enjoy the novel for what it is, anyone with an interest in paleontology will be left wishing David had done a little more homework.

  • 1995 was a boom year for dinosaur fiction. Footprints of Thunder was one of four dinosaur novels that came out that year, the others being Robert Bakker's Raptor Red; Michael Crichton's The Lost World; and the Star Trek novel First Frontier. It may not sound like much, but fans of this genre count themselves lucky to get one new novel a year.
    (Thanks to a reviewer at Amazon.com for pointing this out.)


No comments: