Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dinosaur Hunter by Steve White (2015)

Cover blurb

CONGRATULATIONS

Your application for a Mesozoic hunting license has been successful!

Before you travel back in time and charge headlong into a pack of prehistoric big game, we strongly advise that you read the following guidebook. It will provide you with information crucial to success — and survival! Learn the basic facts of the geography, climate and environmental conditions of the five Mesozoic hunting reservations on the offer. Discover the huge variety of dinosaurs that stalk these times, with tips on identification, tracking, and the best weapons to bring them down! Finally, this guide contains first-hand accounts of some of the hunters who have braved these conditions and lived to tell the tale.

LET THE HUNT BEGIN!

My thoughts

Dinosaur Hunter: The Ultimate Guide to the Biggest Game is itself something of a dinosaur. Stories about people hunting dinosaurs were never common in science fiction, but for many years readers could expect a steady trickle of them. The subgenre petered out after the release of the first Jurassic Park film in 1993, with the last major work being Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp, published that same year. (Although, more recently, David Drake’s Time Safari stories were collected in Dinosaurs and a Dirigible in 2014.) Dinosaur Hunter is exactly what the title promises: A guidebook for time travelers who want to bag T. rexes and other large prehistoric game. And it is a very good book, although it will probably appeal more to dinosaur lovers than science fiction fans.

Dinosaur Hunter is published by Osprey, a U.K. company best known for publishing detailed military histories. However, the company also produces a line of fantastic “nonfiction” history under the title Osprey Adventures. There is military history of the Martian invasion in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; a secret history of Nazi occult practices; a treasure-hunting guide for any would-be Indiana Jones; a how-to manual for fighting zombies; and so on. Dinosaur Hunter is part of that line. The premise is that the reader has purchased a ticket to go on a dinosaur safari in the Mesozoic. You have been given the book to learn about the equipment you will need as well as the wildlife and environmental conditions you will encounter. Detailed summaries are provided for five time periods in which hunting reserves have been set up, with readers asked at the book’s end to choose which period they want to hunt.

The text can be divided into two parts. Each section of the book begins with a lengthy description of the environment you will encounter as well as the ecology and behavior of dinosaurs that inhabit it. Much of this is speculation, but it is speculation informed by science, and White does an impressive job creating realistic ecologies for each species. If anything, predators get more love than herbivores, but that makes sense given most hunters would likely target meat-eaters for the bragging rights.

Each section then concludes with excerpts from memoirs written by previous hunters. Every story ends in death or dismemberment and is supposed to serve as a warning to the reader about how dangerous Mesozoic hunting can be. These stories easily were my favorite parts of the book as White does a bang-up job bringing the prehistoric world to life through well-written descriptions and imaginative animal behavior. There isn’t much in the way of character development or plot but that wasn’t the author’s intent. The stories are meant to paint a picture of the Mesozoic world in the mind’s eye and at that they succeed wonderfully.

In addition to being an author, White also is an illustrator, so he provides several excellent black-and-white reconstructions of some of the animals in question. Readers who love their dinosaurs up-to-date will be happy that many dinosaurs sport feathers and quills.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dinosaur Hunter. I thought it would be a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of dinosaurs given Jurassic World came out the same year, but White put a lot of thought and effort into the book. That said, I’m biased. I like dinosaurs and I like fiction about dinosaurs. Readers who have only a passing interest in the animals probably will be bored with the info-dumps about behavior and ecology. They may enjoy the memoirs more, but there isn’t enough plot in the book to grab the attention of anyone just looking for a good story. Dinosaur Hunter is only a book for the most hardcore of dinosaur fans, but if you’re one of them, you’re in for a treat.

Trivia
  • Dinosaur Hunter has an Easter egg for readers of paleofiction: One of the characters has the call sign Raptor Red.
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