Category Archives: paleontology

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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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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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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Bone hunter by Sarah Andrews, the remains of the review

Bone Hunter coverGeoscience factor: Forensic geology

Spoiler: In the 1983-84 T.V. movie and miniseries “V”, the aliens round-up all the “scientists.”

Rating: No longer rated

In retrospect, I wish that I hadn’t read the rest of Bone Hunter. I didn’t want to consider Em Hansen’s uninformed musings about Mormonism, polygamy, cults, drugs, man-hunts, faith, or conspiracies in the realm of paleontology. The reader may have figured out by now that I’m not fond of this sub-genre.

Andrews glosses over character, plot, and body-count. Em Hansen briefly expresses remorse about leading two people to their death, then moves on to diagnosing hypothermia (a result of one non-fatal mistake), romance (a logical conclusion to hypothermia and its treatment), and a fast and unsatisfactory dénouement (a teaser for more books to come).  As is typical in this kind of mystery, it’s not clear whether the sensational elements serve to explore humanity’s slimy underbelly or simply the author’s unpleasant imagination.

The author’s note at the end of the book could have redeemed the book, but didn’t, as Andrews’ “research” into the connections between science and religion remained unconvincing. Throughout the mystery and the author’s note, Andrews pretentiously throws around the term “scientist,” yet never offers serious evidence to justify her condescending attitude towards religion or people of faith.

I would recommend Bone Hunter and all other Sarah Andrews mysteries to readers who would in fact enjoy these books.

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Bone hunter by Sarah Andrews, half a review

Bone Hunter coverGeoscience factor: Forensic geology

Bonus science: Paleontology

Spoiler: To be determined.

Rating: 1

When I started digging into GeoFiction, I resolved to keep an open mind, even about books that were not my usual fare. I dug half-way into Bone hunter, an Em Hansen mystery, and was already feeling trapped by this resolution.

But, you say, Bone hunter has a conglomerate of elements that I like: farce, mystery, a sassy protagonist, an insider’s view, science.

Alas, the farcical situations are presented in a cliff-note version. A summary of unfortunate accidents beseting our heroine cannot count as farce. The author delights in showing and telling you everything and then showing and telling you everything, and then again, with a rock hammer to the head. The mystery is a standard whodunit, where multiple murders occur in whatever town our heroine visits. And annoyingly, Em Hansen’s attitude has the worst traits of hack detectives. She makes mule-headed decisions and is inexplicably naive during tense moments. Her reveries aren’t always typical of the detective genre, but they muddy her personality instead of illuminating it.

On the other hand, Em Hansen is mostly smart and capable and she provides an insider’s perspective into the shady worlds of paleontologists. I still want to know what will happen to her and whodidit. So I will keep digging and perhaps one day this summer, dig my way out.

 

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