08 April 2008

Book Review: Raptor Red

Raptor Red (1995)
By Robert T. Bakker

If you’ve never come across the novel Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker, I give it my highest recommendation for fascinating science reading. I read it first about eight years ago, and have returned to it a number of times since to thumb through some of its more interesting passages. It’s still in print and easily available at online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. It combines animal fantasy with scientific data, and has the sort of joyful feel that I sometimes get from Jules Verne novels, where the author entertains with a story, but also entertains when he stops the story to share engrossing scientific information. I’m a bit biased, since I’ve loved dinosaurs since I was four years old, but I’m not unique in that way. I happen to have carried it much farther into adulthood and enjoy using dinosaurs in my writing, but even if you haven’t visited the Mesozoic era since you were in short pants or pig tails, I think Raptor Red will bring all the dino-love back to you.

Author Bakker is one of the leading paleontologists in the world, and his radical theories about dinosaurs (published for the general public in the mid-‘80s in The Dinosaur Heresies) helped re-formulate the way we consider the famous beasts of the Mesozoic. Long gone are the lethargic, cold-blooded clods imagined by the mid-twentieth century. Instead, we have the virile, hot-blooded, be-feathered dinosaurs that Bakker proposed. Bakker is a proponent of a taxonomic reorganization that makes dinosaurs unextinct by made birds a subclass of dinosaurs. I ardently support this, not based on scientific evidence (I’m no scientist, so wouldn’t dream of jumping into the argument), but because I want to be able to say crazy things like, “Let’s go feed the dinosaurs!” in public parks.
Raptor Red follows the adventures of a single female Utahraptor (far larger than an actual Velociraptor, and similar to the ones seen in Jurassic Park) through the daily travails of Cretaceous life. The writing does not anthropomorphize the raptor, but tries to give a sense of how the creature might really have thought about itself and its world. Because we are accustomed to seeing raptors as “villains” from their use in movies, having a dangerous predator for a heroine gives us a new perspective on survival and natural balance. Periodically, Bakker inserts chapters from his own voice where he details what science knows about the era and its creatures, specially theories on dinosaur behavior, obviously a contentious and speculative field. Bakker writes science fact with an easy and colloquial friendliness that makes the material accessible to anyone old enough to understand the words. He also embellishes the text with his own detailed illustrations.

Even if the science of dinosaurs doesn’t interest you—and I personally don’t understand why it wouldn’t—Raptor Red is a thrilling animal fantasy about one of the most amazing creatures ever to walk the earth. Plus, the paperback edition has a nifty holographic cover!