Category Archives: book review

Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear

Dinosaur Summer coverGeoscience factor: Dinosaurs

Spoiler: Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World is true.

Rating: 5

This will be my last dinosaur book review for a while. Probably. Most likely. I promise!

Dinosaur Summer tells a decently average story of Peter Belzoni, a teenager who gets caught up in an uncommon journey. As he travels with his father, Peter meets historical figures and has personal encounters with the fading world of traveling circuses and in the lost land of dinosaurs. Somehow Peter’s adventures are both interesting and mellow, with no rise and fall, no buildup, climax, or satisfying denouement. There are drawings that accompany the text and they are cute and quaint.

I would recommend Dinosaur Summer as a light read for dinosaur fiction or Greg Bear fans.


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The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

Gone Away World CoverBonus science: Apiology

Spoiler: Nick Harkaway’s second novel Angelmaker also has bees.

Rating: 11

I started The Gone-Away World a few paragraphs at a time. Every Saturday morning I  woke up, ate some dark chocolate, and sat in the morning sun to read the same sentences and maybe a few more. After a few months, I had the first chapter, after a few more months, the first few pages of the second chapter.

And the next moment, I had made it to the middle of the book without realizing that I had been displaced into Harkaway’s world. The opening sentences about a difficult, unknown bar populated by edgy strangers had seemed redoubtable at first, but later became addictive. The further I went along, the more I re-read. And when I finished, I wanted to re-read the whole book, in randomly sequenced pieces or straight through.

The characters, predicaments, and locales are recognizable and minutely specific, yet retain a certain vagueness to time and place so that when something in the real-world is pinpointed, it’s jarring. The world floats on Harkaway’s words, in the moment, in his wit and perspective, and in the thickness of convoluted, sensical ideas.

I didn’t like everything about the book; there were sections that dragged or were awkward. On first reading, the introduction of mimes seemed gratuitously clever and unnecessary, just as you would expect mimes to be. Towards the end, there was a moment of betrayal and I almost set down the book forever- how could an author as brilliant as Harkaway commit a literary crime so… so… so… you know…  But I slogged through the main character’s sloggishness and then re-read the beginning and the ending.

Even the roughness and imperfections I came to admire, because the stories and prose were wonderfully crafted and the sense of adventure for the characters and the language were so thrilling, that the avidness of the avid reader was visceral.

I highly recommend this book, knowing full well that my humble endorsement will raise your expectations impossibly high. And knowing that The Gone-Away World will still exceed those expectations.

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Hogsel and Gruntel and other animal stories by Dick King-Smith

Hogsel and Gruntel coverGeoscience factor: Dinosaurs

Spoiler: Hogsel and Gruntel defeat the witch.

Rating: 7

Many of you may know Dick King-Smith because of the movie adaptation of Babe the gallant sheep-pig, but King-Smith wrote more than a hundred books.

Hogsel and Gruntel is a collection of children’s stories with some re-tellings and some new tellings, chosen for this blog because of the short story “Dinosaur School.”

The writing was simple and most enjoyable for its sense of humor. There were odd tidbits about the natural world, like when do hedgehogs hibernate, how many legs do octopi have, and what would a dinosaur do with two brains.

Much appreciated as well was the fact that while there might be lessons to be learned, most animals go along their grumpy way and seem to live life much as before without necessarily learning a moral.

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Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

GJurassic Park covereoscience factor: Dinosaurs

Bonus science: Genetic engineering

Spoiler: Scientists’ intentions go horribly wrong!

Rating: Not available

I refuse to review Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. The best thing about the book was the score that John Williams composed for the movie adaptation. The next best thing was how much space the book could fill on airport bookstore shelves. Although, I must mention that when I listen to John Williams’ main theme, the music reminds me of marching band practices held in cavernous concrete stadiums during thunderstorms or of childhood daydreams about Peter Pan-type adventures. The theme music, with its soaring French Horn melody, doesn’t make me imagine a Tyrannosaurus rex or other genetically engineered dinosaurs, or really, any sort of fantastical, prehistoric beast that will grab at me through my bedroom window and eat me in the middle of the night, a fear that probably originated on a visit to Dinosaur Valley State Park.

At some naïve point in my life it was my goal to read all of Michael Crichton’s books. And then I saw Disclosure and heard a Michael Crichton interview. And informally boycotted Crichton along with Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson. Crichton because of his misogyny, Cruise and Gibson because of their particular arrogance in confusing themselves with the fictions and personas that they create. Recently, I read that part of Crichton’s literary style, or reputation, is how he mixes fact with fiction, presenting fiction in the same matter of fact tone as the truth. So, Crichton is in good company.

I lifted my ban long enough to re-read the first chapter of Jurassic Park. Costa Rica, mysterious animals, a host of stereotypical characters that could have noticed something off and prevented further disasters but the DOOM of the thriller genre  let nothing get in the way of the tragedy. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I’m pretty sure some people were attacked, some people died, and something of great potential was perverted by greed and scheming, weather and natural instinct.

I highly recommend Mahler as an alternative to John Williams and the Jurassic Park Wikipedia article instead of the book.


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Footprints of Thunder by James F. David

Footprints of Thunder coverGeoscience factor: Dinosaurs

Bonus science: Time Space Continuum

Spoiler: If you try and kiss a girl, she will be eaten by a dinosaur, or something worse! Fossils don’t make sense!

Rating: 3

This just in from the News of the Strange- dinosaurs have been brought to you in New York, Florida, and Portland! See prehistoric creatures, witness modern-day panic! Behold James F. David’s attempt to be thrilling!

Footprints of Thunder is a mediocre read, from the bargain bin title that doesn’t quite fit the plot, to the generic cover art that doesn’t quite correspond to the story, on to the troubled characters that cobble together the catastrophic events. Even the writing bespeaks a passable literacy, relying heavily on cliché to tug at the reader’s heart and mind.

Base instincts drive humans and dinosaurs in similar ways, but the displaced dinosaurs’ primal impulses are more enthralling than the humans’. In particular the tale of the Iguanodon had me in tears. As you can guess, that storyline ended.

For a book that quotes prophecies at the beginning of almost every chapter, it’s odd that the humans live completely in the moment, reacting and acting without thought to consequence. Despite the government and scientific communities that David describes, David’s portrayal of individuals doesn’t allow for a society capable of contemplating the Time Space Continuum, much less destroying or repairing it.

As seems usual in these dinosaur thrillers, the U.S. president makes an appearance, prompting the patriot to wonder, “How will America once again save the world? Will American families be reunited? Will dinosaurs be granted citizenship?”

I leave it to you, Reader, to make the bold decision to either engage in this second-hand thriller or to send it off to the Goodwill in a plastic bag of oversized pants and a functioning VCR.

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Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas J. Preston

Tyrannosaur Canyon coverGeoscience factor: Paleontology

Bonus science: Planets & space

Spoiler: There is a Tyrannosaurus rex in Tyrannosaur Canyon.

Rating: 4

From an Apollo moon landing to desert canyon landscapes, Tyrannosaur Canyon introduces a variety of places and people that are all linked by a treasure in New Mexico.

Douglas Preston has four heroes in Tyrannosaur Canyon, all of whom are the strongest and the smartest, and who are ultimately the voice of reason. The heroes are contrasted to the blundering, blustery villains as well as to the blundering, blustery misguided Lawmen, who become bad guys by default because they meddle and make things worse for the Handsome Veterinarian and the Resourceful, Beautiful Horse Trainer. The villains, a Mr.Prison-Lonely-Heart and a Cutthroat Museum Curator, have interesting back stories and although Preston delves with sympathy into their lives, the bad guys’ actions serve to make our protagonists’ more heroic.

And here we see Preston using several ready-made devices to make his heroes look good. Dumbing down antagonists is the first strategy. The second strategy is granting auras of brilliance to genius scientists who allude to high-level programs or scientific terms that no one else can fully understand. The brilliant Lab Technician makes brilliant discoveries and the brilliant Code-Cracker cracks the code. Yet determined scientists can also exhibit the single-minded flaws of idiots, tempting the reader to yell at a thin, pulpy page, “don’t pour that chemical there!” or “look behind you!”

The Tyrannosaurus rex stands out as a remarkable character, neither good nor bad.  T-rex simply exists and has a completely different point of view from the humans searching for her. I didn’t agree with all of Preston’s dinosaur speculation, but he was thorough in analyzing T-rex down to her bones and brain chemistry.

This was an enjoyable adventure that really picked up towards the last half of the book. Preston did his research and provided realistic details in unlikely places, all while building mystery and suspense with a surprise ending.

I would recommend this book, and notwithstanding previous crushed expectations, I plan on reading more of Preston’s works, fiction and nonfiction.

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Antarktos rising by Jeremy Robinson

Geoscience factor: Plate tectonics, seismology, climate change

Bonus science: Anhydrobiosis

Spoiler: Sedimentary rocks are found everywhere in the world! If you try and kiss a girl, a dinosaur, or something worse, will eat you!

Rating: 1

After reading Instinct by Jeremy Robinson, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. But by the time our intrepid geologist started making claims about the literal truth of the Bible, but no other claims about literal truths of other religions despite references to literal Egyptian and Norse gods, I was feeling mighty suckered by Antarktos rising. Whereas Sarah Andrews discounts religion in Bone hunter, here Robinson discounts science, using definitions of scientific concepts for his own agenda.  The “facts” seem poorly understood by the author and are presented like evangelical tracts bent on converting the reader with exciting footage of dinosaurs, Nephilim, and the triumph of faith.

The blending of science fiction and fantasy is rather artificial. Since hardly anyone can successfully blend science fiction and fantasy, perhaps Robinson shouldn’t be judged too harshly for trying to pull a fast one over the reader. And fast it was ; the book clips along at a fast pace and had enough plot to fill a trilogy.

The racial, religious, and national stereotypes are condescending and offensive. Adventure writing has a not-so-illustrious history of stereotypes, but that doesn’t excuse Robinson’s portrayal of Arabs, Russians, or Chinese. The Brazilians were notably the only nationality not given any personality or characteristics, offensive or otherwise.

I mention with regret that Antarktos rising is a cool title and Robinson writes excellent adventure. He knows his suspense, develops strong characters, and his ideas for scientific possibilities are intriguing and unique. Robinson could be a good writer, maybe has good ideas, and could be very entertaining. But I feel that authors should show Truth about the world or about humanity, a Truth that goes beyond agendas, instead of authors molding and jamming Truth to fit in their personal belief.

Due to the ridiculous propaganda and objectionable stereotypes, I don’t recommend this book.


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