If you’re like me, the best way to get ready for Jurassic World is not to binge-watching Parks and Recreation while wearing a Velociraptor mask, but instead to do some reading—while wearing a Velociraptor mask. But what are you going to do when you’ve finished re-reading Michael Crichton’s science-heavy page-turners Jurassic Park and The Lost World? Luckily there are still plenty of insane science fiction books with dinos running through them for you to devour and then blabber about about endlessly.
Dinosaur Planet by Anne McCaffrey (1978)
This little-known McCaffrey effort was written in the early days of her career, while she was still formulating the Pern series. The novel concerns a group of space travelers who “discover” a planet called Ireta which they hope to mine for awesome precious jewels. Instead they find a bunch of dinosaurs and mutineers; bummer! A sequel called The Survivors–sometimes Dinosaur Planet II–was published in 1984. (How many other sequels can boast an ALTERNATE title of Dinosaur Planet II? Was this a missed opportunity for Go Set a Watchman?)
The original cover of Dinosaur Planet also features this guy who looks like He-Man but in the novel is anything but. When republished, Dinosaur Planet and Survivors were re-titled The Mystery of Ireta. Presumably, because Pern took off (pun intended) and Ireta didn’t, McCaffrey didn’t return to this universe after the publication of Survivors. But if you love dinosaurs and space travel and mutineers, and you do, then this is your book.
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
Featuring Conan Doyle’s other famous protagonist—Professor Challenger—The Lost World is probably marks the beginning of western science fiction’s obsession with humans interacting with dinos. When a journalist named Edward Malone is assigned the task of getting an interview with the cankerous Challenger, he gets more than he bargained for and it’s not long before everybody ends up visiting a secret plateau populated by dinosaurs, flying prehistoric reptiles, and APE MEN!
There’s a lot of dated BS to deal with in this novel: Victorian sexism, Conan Doyle’s confusing stances on British Imperialism, not to mention the general proto-Hemingway machismo of Challenger himself. And yet, the novel is redeemable because Doyle (through his Watson-esque narrator, Malone) seems to be critical of his characters’ opinions about the world. Plus nearly every scene with dinosaurs is endlessly memorable. Of all the fictional books about dinosaurs, this one has obviously been adapted into film or television more than any other. And of course, Michael Crichton took this title outright for the second Jurassic Park novel. Oddly, in terms of structure and themes, the first Jurassic Park book is more like Doyle’s The Lost World than Crichton’s The Lost World is. But whatever. Without this book we wouldn’t have Jurassic Park, or King Kong, or… or…
Thunder Series by James F. David (1995)
Starting with the novel Footprints of Thunder, continuing in Thunder of Time, and most recently Dinosaur Thunder, this series imagines strange temporal inconsistencies causing the contemporary world to collide with aspects of the Cretaceous world. Dinosaurs are eating people and jungles are randomly popping up everywhere. In the latest book, a T-Rex has even been discovered on the moon! (We’ve always wondered what else was on the moon…) Believe it or not, there simply haven’t been many books in which dinosaurs (even in fossil/skeletal form) show up in space. It’s actually shocking that Crichton never attempted to do just that. Really, we should have been surprised that no one—not even Michael Crichton or James F. David—had used the title “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” until the 2012 Doctor Who episode.
Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer (1992)
In addition to writing the dinosaur time-travel novel End of An Era, Robert J. Sawyer is also responsible for this trilogy featuring intelligent extraterrestrial dinosaurs. Primarily concerning a highly evolved form of T-Rex (they got over that whole tiny arm deal) called the Quintaglios, this trilogy is all about how a species of sentient dinosaurs evolved on another planet and essentially forget that they were ever from Earth. The Star Trek: Voyage episode “Distant Origin” has the exact same premise, only the space-dinos are way less fierce.
Sawyer’s trilogy consists of the books Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner, the final of which finally saw some of the Quintaglios coming home to Earth. They also discover more intelligent dinosaur species and generally all have a hard time coming to terms with the various aspects of having an outer space dinosaur culture which has repressed a ton of its history.
Cryptozoic! by Brian W. Aldiss (1967)
Though more of a trippy time travel book than strictly a dinosaur book, this novel must hold a unique place for having its characters be safer when they’re hanging out in either the Devonian or the Jurassic than they are in their own “present.” Weirdly not featuring actual time travel, author Brian W. Aldiss (famous for Supertoys Last All Summer Long) instead asserts a conceit here called “mind travel.”
The book’s primary protagonist is one of the pioneering “minders,” which means they’ve figured out how to time travel in their brains! Somehow this is not a dream and actually real, and people can set up tents and stuff in the Jurassic where they can sell groceries while other dudes ride motorcycles near some Stegosauruses. Did I mention the main character of this books is also an artist? That’s his job. To draw things he sees while faux-time traveling and checking out a few dinosaurs. Again. This book truly gets weird when the protagonist decides it’s time to “wake up.” This book is best read right before bed and under the influence of, well, anything really. Also, you gotta hand it to Aldiss for insisting on that exclamation point in the title.
Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury (1983, et al.)
Boasting an introduction by Bradbury’s childhood friend and monster-guru Ray Harryhausen, this collection attempts to round-up all of Bradbury’s dinosaur stories. There are two which are perhaps the most famous: “The Fog Horn” and “A Sound of Thunder.” The former deals with a psuedo-dinosaur who attacks a lighthouse because it thinks the fog horn is another dinosaur wanting to mate. This story was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post and later adapted into the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. In the movie, the dino is a fictional creature called a Rhedosaurus, and it walks a little more like a lizard than an upright dinosaur, but in terms of our obsession with dinos, this still totally counts. (For a total understanding of how reptiles that walk like alligators are different than dinosaurs, read Brian Switek’s book My Beloved Brontosaurus.)
Meanwhile, in “A Sound of Thunder,” a bunch of jerky guys travel back in time to go on a safari to shoot a T-Rex. Their actions against a little butterfly cause intense ramifications to the timeline, resulting in certain aspects of their original reality being erased from history. A 2005 film adaptation of this story starring Ben Kingsley has also been successfully erased from history.
Dinosaur Tales is out of print, but these Bradbury dino stories (and others) are widely anthologized in all of his books. Or perhaps, in all books ever. They’re all that good.
Honorable mention: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán (2015)
Victor Milán’s recently published epic is all about knights riding dinosaurs in a fantasy kingdom, plus it has fantastic cover and interior art by Richard Anderson. I’m not seeing a downside here.
What’s your favorite dino-read?
This article originally published June 5, 2015.