Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker (1995)

RaptorRedHardback cover blurb

A pair of fierce but beautiful eyes looks out from the dull green undergrowth. The eyes follow every movement in the great herd of plant-eating dinosaurs that mills around the open meadows, moving back and forth with the rapid scanning of a hunter who is thinking about everything she sees. She is an intelligent killer…

So begins one of the most extraordinary novels you will ever read. The time is 120 million years ago, the place is the plains of prehistoric Utah, and the eyes belong to one of the most unforgettable heroines you will ever meet. Her name is Raptor Red, and she is a female Utahraptor dinosaur.

Raptor Red’s tale begins with tragedy. She and her mate are stalking prey, a giant astrodon feeding in a nearby meadow. They approach silently and attack with deadly force. But at the moment of triumph, something goes terribly wrong and Raptor Red’s mate is killed. It is the beginning of a yearlong odyssey of survival, a thrilling story told by leading paleontologist Robert T. Bakker. Now, in Raptor Red, he dramatizes his revolutionary theories in a one-of-a-kind tale.

Raptor Red strikes out on her own, and before long she has rejoined her sister’s clan. Together they will hunt and devour iguanodons, brave a monstrous storm and the ensuing flash flood, migrate toward the western ocean to escape powerful predators, and eventually move north to a snowy mountain region in a desperate attempt to escape the threat of the deadly acrocanthosaurs.

At the same time, Raptor Red must obey nature’s command to find a new mate. But when a bold and graceful young male presents himself, she is stymied by her conflicting loyalties to her sister’s brood and her own powerful impulses to mate and produce chicks of her own. On a snowy mountaintop in the frozen north, Raptor Red’s search for a new home and a new mate will culminate in a thrilling climax.

Painting a rich and colorful picture of her lush, exotic prehistoric world, the novel is convincingly told from within Raptor Red’s mind, revealing the powerful instincts and Darwinian forces that shape her remarkable consciousness. Her story is filled with a unique cast of characters that includes a white pterodactyl, a giant prehistoric crocodile, a small furry aegialodon, hulking astrodons, and an incredible range of other exotic creatures.

Raptor Red is a completely unique and utterly compelling story of a year in the life of a dinosaur – and is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

My thoughts

The above cover blurb pretty much gives away the entire plot of the book, so there really isn’t any need to summarize it again. Raptor Red is told from the point of view of a female Utahraptor as she struggles to survive in her early Cretaceous world. Bakker, a famous paleontologist, is aiming for realism so this isn’t Watership Down with talking dinosaurs instead of rabbits. His animals behave more or less like the real thing, although Raptor Red herself comes across as a bit too smart and emotional at times.
One result of Bakker’s approach is that Raptor Red’s story is pretty simple as far as novels go. There are no plot twists or any attempts at grand themes. It’s simply a tale about an animal living in her environment. The exotic nature of the setting keeps the novel from becoming trite after the first few chapters, and Bakker’s quirky sense of humor comes across in several passages.

More than anything, Raptor Red serves as a vehicle for Bakker to give science lessons in a user-friendly format. The paleontologist is well-known for championing the idea of active, warm-blooded dinosaurs. It probably should come as no surprise then that the very first illustration in the novel features Raptor Red on a snowy mountainside, a place you wouldn’t find cold-blooded reptiles. Many of Bakker’s more radical theories are far from universally accepted, but other than in a few places, he doesn’t really delve into them.

Chances are you will still find Raptor Red in the science fiction section of your local bookstore, the paperback sporting a holographic cover. The book has had a remarkable shelf life for a work of paleofiction. It’s worth picking up a copy if you’re a fan of dinosaurs.

Trivia

  • There seemed to be a time, not long ago, when every TV dinosaur documentary had to feature at least one interview with Bakker. He is instantly recognizable with his beat-up cowboy hat and his long hair and beard. He also served as the inspiration for the character of Dr. Robert Burke in the movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Burke meets a rather nasty end in the jaws of a T. rex in the film.
  • The Utahraptor was co-discovered by paleontologist James Kirkland, who has also authored a work of dinosaur fiction. He co-wrote the Star Trek novel First Frontier with Diane Carey.

Reviews

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