Deathbeast by David Gerrold (1978)

DeathbeastCover blurb

TIMEBEAM TO DANGER

There were eight of them – six hunters and two official guides.

Their destination was Earth as it was a hundred million years ago, long before human dominion, when the great hot-blooded dinosaurs ruled supreme.

Each of the time travelers had a different motive. Some were on this strange safari for pay. Others were taking a psychological and sexual holiday from civilization. There were women who wanted to show themselves the equal to men – and men out to test and prove their manhood.

But whatever their drives and desires, their strengths and weaknesses, the ultimate horror was waiting for them all…

DEATHBEAST

My thoughts

The best thing Deathbeast has going for it is its simple and straightforward plot. A group of hunters from the future travel back to the Cretaceous Period to take down a Tyrannosaurus rex, but the animal proves more than they can handle. Unfortunately, Gerrold stumbles in about every other regard.

Deathbeast is a horror novel despite its science fiction trappings. It is Jaws with a T. rex instead of a shark. The 40-foot-long dinosaur has an unnatural ability to sneak up on unsuspecting people and gobble them up, and regardless of the amount of damage that the hunters inflict on the creature, it… just… won’t… die!

That said, Gerrold’s hunters are not particularly well-equipped to take out the beast. They carry laser guns, which because of some scientific mumbo-jumbo about water content in bodies, do little except really tick the creature off. We learn in the course of events that previous hunting expeditions also had failed to bring down a T. rex, so you wonder why they haven’t got the hint by now that laser guns don’t work. And, more bizarrely, at one point a character takes down a brontosaurus with a single laser rifle. There isn’t much logic about how the novel’s high-tech weaponry is supposed to work.

The book is notable for being one of the first examples of fiction to fully embrace the idea of warm-blooded dinosaurs, but Gerrold didn’t do much research beyond that. He places animals from different time periods in the same setting, so there are allosaurs and tyrannosaurs walking side by side. At one point he writes that dinosaurs had gone extinct only 10 million years before the emergence of humankind, although he later corrects himself.

The author also makes the mistake of filling Deathbeast with a group of thoroughly unlikable characters. The hero is a safari guide who cracks jokes while the people he is supposed to be protecting get slaughtered by the T. rex, and the rest of the cast are just as despicable. When one character, for example, is in an understandable state of shock after seeing her significant other get eaten, the rest of the group treats her with hostility. It’s hard to care about what is going to happen to any of these people. Gerrold’s error is one common to horror fiction: It’s not scary if the characters are only getting what they deserve.

The writing itself can be laughably melodramatic, particularly anytime the “deathbeast” of the title shows up. Gerrold sure likes his dashes– his triple periods… and his exclamation marks! A little subtlety in the writing and a cast of humane characters would’ve gone a long way toward improving Deathbeast.

Trivia

  • Gerrold is a science fiction writer who may be best known for writing the famous Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
  • Of interest to readers of this site, Gerrold also was the story editor for the first season of the original Land of the Lost, a Saturday morning children’s show about a family trapped in a prehistoric valley. The show, during its first two seasons, was quite good, showing much more maturity in its stories and characterizations than most children’s programming.

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