Without any reference to my liking to dinosaurs, this book deserves the attention of many people, since its author is none other than Greg Bear, primarily known as a writer of hard science fiction (Blood Music) – furthermore, the leading characters are every bit as much interesting fellows.
The keynote on which Bear opens up his novel Dinosaur Summer (first published in 1998) is that Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was based on real events. He places the plot in an alternative past, the summer of 1947, thirty years after professor Challenger’s find: so the book is simultaneously a sequel of AND an homage to Conan Doyle’s story. And to a lot of other people as well…
Two central characters of the story are photographer Anthony Belzoni (divorcee, bringing up his son on his own, struggling with problems both in his private and his professional life, in a more and more desperate financial situation) and his teenage son, Peter. Their life is rather shuffled, they move a lot; the father is still afore intemperance but well beyond bohemianism. In the meantime the Public has lost all interest in the great Challenger’s once front-page discovery, dinosaur shows are in the red, and the director of the last dino circus is preparing to return his animals to the place where they belong: the plateau in South America. Anthony is hired to cover the adventure, and he takes it as the only prospect, the last chance to set his wasted life right again. Peter also goes with him; his task is to comment on the events, to write a diary – therefore he’ll be our main character. It’s an unusual thing from Greg Bear, but he is about to give us an adventure book for the young.
Bear is paying obeisance not only to Conan Doyle but to the filmmakers of his childhood, when to the members of the expedition he commissions the creators of King Kong (i.e. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) along with the legendary stop motion animators, Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (!!!!!) – or rather, their equivalents from this alternative past. For those who know them well, the book is full of insider jokes with typical phrases or gestures, however those unfamiliar with them can still enjoy this exciting book altogether.
The novel has the storyline of the classic adventure stories, strengthened by the tools of the modern writer. What makes it really outstanding is Bear’s profoundness in picturing the setting and the creatures. In his lost world evolution hadn’t stopped short, so while well-known, so-called “classic” dinosaurs can also be found in the book, you can meet new, unacquainted species, too.
The book is primarily aimed at teenage readers, although adults will also find it most entertaining. There is some violence, of course, the plot requires it, but Bear doesn’t lavish his power to enlarge upon gory scenes. In addition, Dinosaur Summer was published with illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi.
Besides the series of adventures Bear also tones the father/son relationship, when the child is becoming an adult in the parental eyes. The boy is wrestling to shake the drag of infancy and to prove his father that he can stand his ground as a grown-up. At first they are not quite on terms, but they gradually realize the importance of using each other’s strength – to be able to give support in need at the end. The book is recommended to anyone with a son, especially if he likes dinosaur fiction, so that the little idols of our days like Harry Potter or that glamour-vampire-boy Edward can step into their last buses!
Related articles according to YARPP: