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Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction
Allen A. Debus
McFarland & Company, 230 pages

Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction
Allen A. Debus
Allen A. Debus is a dinosaur sculptor, a contributing editor of Fossil News: Journal of Avocational Paleontology and writes regularly for Prehistoric Times. The author of Paleoimagery (2002), he lives in Hanover Park, Illinois.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Dinosaurs have fascinated the public imagination since they were first identified in the nineteenth century. In his thematic survey, Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction, Allen A. Debus traces that fascination from its earliest days to the present. In effect, Debus has written eight essays, each of which can stand alone, but when taken together form a chronological overview of his topic, starting with a focus on Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth and continuing on to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. As his subtitle, "A Thematic Survey" suggests, each chapter does tie the discussed films and stories to a specific theme.

Each of the essays in the book stands on its own, generally without reference to the other chapters. In the earliest chapter, where Debus focuses his attention on Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth, it looks at the rise of graphical interpretations of dinosaurs from their first identification. In many of these cases, Debus describes the illustrations he is discussing, but their lack of inclusion sometimes makes his discussions difficult to follow. While in the case of newer illustrations, there may be copyright issues, with the older issues discussed in the first chapter, the drawings should all be in public domain.

In his chapter "Time-Relativistic Dinosaurs: Bradbury's Legacy," Debus argues that Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" strongly influenced all time-travel stories dealing with dinosaurs that came after it. It is a strong, and at times convincing argument, but Debus weakens his own argument by the vigor with which he proposes it, going so far as the apply the argument to Frederick Pohl's "Let the Ants Try," which predates Bradbury's story by a year. But Debus does admit that Pohl was merely "foreshadowing elements of Bradbury's 'A Sound of Thunder.'" He also notes that while all dinosaur time travel stories since 1950 are paying homage to "A Sound of Thunder," in some cases that homage may be unconscious or incidental.

Other themes in dinosaurs tales that Debus identifies and discusses include the lost world saga (as defined and named by Arthur Conan Doyle), the dinosaur as cautionary figure (such as the Gojira series), and dinosaurs in space. In some of these cases, especially when films have been made based on texts, Debus isn't always entirely clear as to whether he is referring to the cinematic or the textual version of a story. This is a recurring problem, most notable in his discussion concerning Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and Conan Doyle's The Lost World and the films based upon them.

The survey ends with a look at the rise of raptors in dinosaur-related fiction. While previously T. Rex and triceratops were the dinosaurs of choice, with Michael Crichton's use of velociraptors in Jurassic Park and its sequels (both in text and on film), the velociraptor, and more importantly Crichton's interpretation of them, have come to the forefront. Debus discusses this in terms of the scientific knowledge of dinosaurs and looks at Robert Bakker's work, both in fiction and non-fiction, on the animals.

While Debus's writing isn't always smooth and he doesn't always make his case, he does provide a look at how dinosaurs have evolved in the public consciousness from their earliest days as slow-moving giant lizards to the present, when they are often seen as intelligent. Over the course of time, they change from being an unknown monster to representing humanity at its worst and most dangerous. His lengthy appendix of dinosaur fiction, along with a detailed bibliography, notes, and index, add to the usefulness of the book and serve to point the interested reader in a variety of directions to see exactly what Debus has been discussing.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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