Dinosaur Summer, Greg Bear

Warner Books, 1998, 325 pages, C$32.95 hc, ISBN 0-446-52098-5

There are probably no other working SF authors as frustrating as Greg Bear.

One part of his bibliography includes such masterpieces as Blood Music, Eon, The Forge of God or Moving Mars; Hugo-winning, hugely acclaimed novels of hard-SF with good characters and exciting prose.

The other part of Bear includes simple-but-boring novels like Strength of Stones and a slew of rather unmemorable novels written and published between 1975 and 1985. Even some highly ambitious latter works (Queen of Angels, Slant, Anvil of Stars) have significant flaws that have alienated many readers.

So, every new Bear novel is cause for suspense: Will it be a “Good Bear” novel or a “Boring Bear” novel? With Dinosaur Summer, bets seemed even more uncertain than usual: Even though the concept of writing a sequel to Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Lost World seemed iffy to modern SF readers, the original was so darn fun that one would have to work hard not to keep this same charming sense of excitement.

Unfortunately, Greg Bear fumbles it.

For one thing, he makes the mistake of making this an explicit “Young Adult” book by featuring a teenage protagonist. Letting aside my belief that the “Young Adult” market segment is a useless but lucrative market created by publishers for parents and libraries who should know better than to spoon-fed Holy Reading to teenager, I’ll simply note that most of my favorite novels, as a teen, simply delivered a good rousing story. The age of the protagonist had nothing to do with it.

But let’s leave some room for doubt. After all, Dinosaur Summer has marketed as a regular SF book, without any particular trappings of the “Young Adult” demographic segment.

It still doesn’t excuse a criminal waste of the reader’s time. Whereas The Lost World expedited its characters in harm’s way in almost no time, Dinosaur Summer ambles on like its namesakes and finally gets its first true thrilling “action” scene barely past the book’s midpoint. Worse, the writing style is almost complacently long-winded, with the predictable result that the reader’s attention is bound to wander off long before anything of interest happens. Dinosaur Summer is conceived as kind of an alternate history, with oodles of in-jokes you’ll probably miss if you blink. Okay, so Harry Harrihausen is a major character. That’s a good homage, and a pretty fun thing for him, but I don’t really get anything out of it. Samewise for everything else.

It would seem to be an elementary requirement to include some adventure in an adventure book. Dinosaur Summer has some, mostly of the expected form of run-away-from-dinosaurs, but it comes too late, and repeats itself too often to be considered effective. Bear has done a good job in extrapolating a complete Plateau ecology, but doesn’t do much of interest with it. There’s some truly weird stuff about prophetic dreams and such, but by that time, the actual reading of the book had begun to take on nightmarish qualities. (“When will it end?”, etc…)

Special mention should be made, however, of the rather good interior illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi, who does a lot to save the book from total collapse.

Still, it’s hard to see who would be interested in Dinosaur Summer. From the weak premise to the botched executions, this novel doesn’t sustain any interest. The dry, uninvolving style tries too hard to wring out some charm from its surrounding and obviously doesn’t succeed at the task.

There is no doubt that Greg Bear can do much, much better than this. In the meantime, Dinosaur Summer will have to be classified as one of his weakest novels. Readers looking for a dash of adventure are advised to track down a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original The Lost World.

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