Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Dinosaur Summer

by Greg Bear


Dinosaur Summer is a sequel to Arthur Conan Doyle's dinosaur novel The Lost World. Set in 1947, it has a boy's own adventure feel to it to begin with, wholesome and carefully polite.

Peter Belzoni is 15, but sometimes seems older than his father, Anthony. Anthony drinks, is reckless, and he's separated from Peter's mother. He's also very nearly penniless after six months with no journalism work. When an assignment arrives from National Geographic he's not in a mind to refuse, no matter how dangerous. Lothar Gluck's dinosaur circus is about to close, and he's taking the creatures home. Anthony is going to take pictures and tell the story.

The dinosaurs in the circus include several bird-like ones, a couple of enormous plant eaters, and Dagger. Dagger is the large, predatory carnivore who has never been tamed and is always confined to a strong cage. No circus, or dinosaur story, would be complete without one. The animals are to be returned by sea, river and road. The majority of the book is taken up with this arduous and dangerous journey.

The lost world itself is El Grande, a fictional tepui in Venezuela which is home to various varieties of dinosaur that have evolved in isolation. Top of the food chain are the fearsome and outsize death eagles, massive but presumably also flightless. You can probably see where this is leading, but I won't spoil it.

The story soon loses its spiffiness and gets grittier, as Peter gets further from home and the realities of mucking out several tons of dinosaur every day sink in. Peter comes to understand the suicidally brave animal trainer, Vince Shellabarger, much better. Ray Harryhausen (of monster movie fame) comes along to film, joining the party of circus people who are making this last journey. Later on the party is guided by Billie, a native. This was in the days before political correctness, so they call him an Indian. There's a sub-plot about the army, who are restless with the natives and keen that none should enter El Grande. Because the place is sacred to the natives, one who defied the death eagles would be regarded as a hero.

This is an alternate history in which the discovery of dinosaurs has not made a huge difference to the rest of the world. Humans put them on display in circuses, but eventually became bored of them as the novelty wore off. Now they are just another group of endangered species.

Dinosaur Summer takes a dramatic look at extinction and evolution. Sometimes it's hard to work out what Greg Bear is getting at, such as with Billie the Indian's spiritual quest. Overall however it's a straightforward and pacey read, sort of Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park, with fewer women.

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
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