Friday, June 12, 2015

Ten books to read after Jurassic World (and five to avoid)

I generally avoid writing Top 10 lists because I believe every book should stand on its own merits. However, I see the writers over at Tor.com have thrown together not one but two separate lists of recommended dinosaur fiction. (Here and here.) The gauntlet has been thrown: I think I can do better.

In all seriousness, I’ve received a handful of requests over the years to do a recommended reading list. The release of Jurassic World provided a good excuse to do that. The titles below are not provided in any particular order; they simply reflect what I believe are the best examples of dinosaur fiction reviewed for this site.

I didn’t include any comics or art books in this list because they are not prose fiction, but if I had, I would have listed Xenozoic Tales and Dinotopia. Both series are highly recommended.
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Let’s get this one out of the way. This is the novel that won me over to paleofiction. From my review: “Jurassic Park is a book where the entertainment value overshadows its negatives, probably as pure a 'summer read' as you'll ever find.”
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The granddaddy of paleofiction remains one of the best novels on the subject: “Doyle strikes exactly the right balance between mystery, adventure and humor in a plot that never seems to have a dull moment.”
  • Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker. The famous paleontologist penned this fun tale about a female Utahraptor in the early Cretaceous: “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.”
  • Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear. This young adult novel about an expedition to a lost world captures the sense of adventure many of us feel when we hear the word "dinosaur": "It’s light, breezy entertainment and should be accepted as such."
  • Carnosaur by Harry Adam Knight. A dumb novel that knows its dumb and runs with that: “The fun thing about Carnosaur is it's B-grade entertainment and the author knows that -- he doesn't make the mistake of playing it straight.”
  • End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer: This short, strange novel about the reason the dinosaurs went extinct may be a little too wacky for some readers, but I like it: “It’s hard not to like this book even if it does take itself a little too seriously given the craziness of the plot. It’s only 200 pages long, the appropriate length for this sort of thing.”
  • West of Eden by Harry Harrison. An entertaining clash-of-cultures tale set in an alternate Earth where dinosaurs didn’t go extinct: “West of Eden still works as an old-fashioned adventure story with a good sense of wonder.”
  • Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick. A moving, novel-length eulogy to the dinosaurs: “It’s a wonderful story, filled with believable characters and intriguing speculation about dinosaur ecology.”
  • Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp. This collection of humorous short stories about a time-traveling safari guide should bring smiles to most readers’ faces: “None of the stories are quite as good as (the lead story) ‘A Gun for Dinosaur,’ but they’re all entertaining and the book is worth owning.”
  • Dinosaurs! by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. An anthology of short stories about dinosaurs that includes several classics: “No point beating around the bush: Dinosaurs! is the best collection of dinosaur-themed short stories ever put together.”
Finally, I can’t resist mentioning some of the worst books I have reviewed. The following titles are definitely not recommended.
  • Age of Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus rex by J.F. Revkin. A book that somehow managed to make lost civilizations and dinosaurs boring: “I’ve tried hard to erase this book from my memory since reading about three or four years ago, and I’ve been mostly successful. It’s simply awful, with eye-rolling dialogue, ugly writing, and no sense of story structure.”
  • The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly. Basically Jurassic Park with dinosaur-like dragons and atrocious writing: “I'm not a supporter of book burnings, but reading The Great Zoo of China is closest I've come to reconsidering that position.”
  • Carnivore by Leigh Clark. About as close to a SyFy Channel movie put to paper that has ever been penned: “Every time I hear someone talk about how hard it is to get a novel published these days, I whip this baby out. Actually, that's not true. I don't want to admit I read it in the first place.”
  • Dinosaur Nexus by Lee Grimes. A novel where poor plotting and bad writing ruin what could have been an intriguing premise about the consequences of time travel: "There's nothing in Dinosaur Nexus that is particularly memorable."
  • Deathbeast by David Gerrold. A bad book by an otherwise good author. The premise about a T. rex hunt gone wrong is sound; it's the execution that's lacking: "A little subtlety in the writing and a cast of humane characters would’ve gone a long way toward improving Deathbeast."

2 comments:

Tom Hopp said...

I may be able to help with your lack of sufficient dinosaur fiction. Please have a look at Dinosaur Wars: Earthfall. It can be gotten free at this link: http://thomas-hopp.com/LandingPage.html

I hope you like it!
-Tom Hopp

Anonymous said...

Hi there. You might also want to include Eric Garcia's three books -- Anonymous Rex, Casual Rex, and Hot and Sweaty Rex. Loads of fun to read too. Cheers!