Friday, August 3, 2007

The Ultimate Dinosaur, edited by Byron Preiss and Robert Silverberg (1992)

Hardback cover blurb

It is twilight in the forest. Densely packed cycads and fir trees block out the waning sun, casting deep shadows on the forest floor.

A tiny mammal is busily overturning ground litter, looking for an insect meal. Its large eyes are alert for any movement. Suddenly, there is a rustle of leaves. A blurred shadow follows. The creature panics, and makes a run for its subterranean liar. But before it can enter, powerful claws pin it to the ground. The chase is over.

The winner is a hundred-foot dinosaur: a swift, agile night-hunter, resembling a large flightless bird. The time is 80 million years ago, and the age of dinosaurs is in full flower.

The Ultimate Dinosaur is a unique collaboration that vividly recreates this prehistoric world in both scientific essays and short fiction, combing the talents of leading paleontologists, visionary writers, and dinosaur illustrators.

The essays examine discoveries that are transforming the field of paleontology right now: Dinosaur fossils on the continent of Antarctica; pack hunting and cooperation among ferocious predators; evidence of seasonal migrations of herds of dinosaurs traveling thousands of miles to ancestral nesting grounds. These are just a few of the exciting new theories described in these pages.

In the short stories that follow each essay, highly imaginative fiction breathes life into scientific theory. In one story we ride along on a wild and woolly time-travel safari to go trophy-hunting for dinosaurs. In another, we visit a future wildlife park filed with living dinosaurs created from genetic material discovered on expedition. Contributors include award-winning writers Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, Gregory Benford and co-editor Robert Silverberg.

Among the experts contributing to this project are scientists from around the world: Dr. Phillip Currie, head of dinosaur research for the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada; Dr. Sankar Chatterjee, professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University; and Dr. Ralph Molnar, paleontologist at the Queensland Musuem, Australia. The science editor for The Ultimate Dinosaur is Dr. Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

The illustrations for the science essays help visualize the incredible new theories of dinosaur life and behavior. They are executed by much-lauded artists such as Doug Henderson, whose work has appeared in nation touring exhibits of prehistoric life, and William G. Stout, whose paintings have been exhibited in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

Accompanying the fiction are paintings from such acclaimed artists as Wayne D. Barlowe, illustrator of Expedition, and William Parsons of the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Through science, fiction, and art, The Ultimate Dinosaur presents the age of dinosaurs in an exciting new way.

My thoughts

The Ultimate Dinosaur attempts to be the dinosaur book to end all dinosaur books, and it almost succeeds. Some of the heavyweights of dinosaur paleontology and illustration contributed to the book, and it shows in the lush production values. Unfortunately, the editors didn’t do as good a job in picking the fiction, which is a mixed bag of stories.

Among the highlights are Michael Bishop’s “Herding with the Hadrosaurs”, about two boys growing up with a herd of Corythosaurs in the wilds of Cretaceous North America; L. Sprague de Camp’s “Crocamander Quest”, a sexist-but-still-funny Reginald Rivers story; Robert Silverberg’s “Hunters in the Forest”, about a guy who tries to prove his manhood by hunting dinosaurs; Poul Anderson’s “Unnatural Enemy”, the tale of a plesiosaur in the prehistoric seas; and Harry Harrison’s “Dawn of the Endless Night”, a story involving the Yilane, the intelligent reptiles from the author’s West of Eden series.

The rest of the stories are only so-so, with a couple real turkeys. Dave Wolverton’s “Siren Song at Midnight” really doesn’t involve dinosaurs at all, while Barry Malzberg’s “Major League Triceratops” comes across as surprisingly contemptuous against the book’s target audience. The editors also chose a lesser-known Ray Bradbury story instead of “The Fog Horn” or “A Sound of Thunder”, the two dinosaur stories he is best known for. Perhaps they felt the two had been overused, but the story they picked -- “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?” -- is subpar for Bradbury.

Luckily, the very informative non-fiction essays more than make up for uneven fiction. There also is plenty of eye-candy in the form of gorgeous illustrations peppered throughout the book. The Ultimate Dinosaur is worth a look.


  • “Kingdom of the Titans” by Robert Silverberg
  • “Dinosaurs for Adults” by Peter Dodson
  • “The Dawn of the Age of Dinosaurs” by Sankar Chatterjee
  • “Crocamander Quest” by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “The First Dinosaurs” by Catherine Forster
  • “The Feynman Solution” by Charles Sheffield
  • “The Dinosaur Radiations” by Teresa Maryanska
  • “Siren Song at Midnight” by Dave Wolverton
  • “The Jurassic Period: A Time of Great Change” by David Gillette
  • “Rhea’s Time” by Paul Preuss
  • “The Age of Giants” by Anthony Fiorillo
  • “Shakers of the Earth” by Gregory Benford
  • “Dinosaur Predators” by Halszka Osmolska
  • “Hunters in the Forest” by Robert Silverberg
  • “The Cretaceous Dinosaurs” by Don Lessem
  • “In the Late Cretaceous” by Connie Willis
  • “Major League Triceratops” by Barry Malzberg
  • “Migrating Dinosaurs” by Phillip J. Currie
  • “Herding with the Hadrosaurs” by Michael Bishop
  • “The Behavior of Predatory Dinosaurs” by Ralph Molnar
  • “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?" By Ray Bradbury
  • “Monsters of the Sea and Air” by Kenneth Carpenter
  • “Unnatural Enemy” by Poul Anderson
  • “Becoming a Modern World” by William Gallagher
  • “Dawn of the Endless Night” by Harry Harrison
  • “Myths, Theories, and Facts of Dinosaur Extinction” by David J. Archibald
  • “The Bone Wars: Cope vs. Marsh” by Ronald Rainger
  • “The Green Buffalo” by Harry Turtledove


  • None

No comments: