The Parasaurians by Robert Wells (1969)

ParasauriansCover blurb

MEGAHUNT CHARTERED. For a select few, it offered a dangerous vacation from the too-safe world of the 22nd century — a chance to hunt fantastically real robot analogs of the giant dinosaurs who ruled the Earth in mindless grandeur for a million centuries.

Ross Fletcher could afford Megahunt’s price — and welcomed the challenge and peril of hunting the “parasaurians.”

But the safari suddenly changed character, with Fletcher and his companions becoming the quarry, pursued by a hunter more deadly than any monster from the past — man.

My thoughts

If Jurassic Park and Westworld had a baby, then the offspring would be The Parasaurians — except in this case the child would be older than the parents, as this forgotten work of science fiction came years before those two better-known titles.

The year is 2173 and Ross Fletcher is bored. He is wealthy and alone, his wife having died a few years earlier and his adult daughter not having much time for him. So it doesn’t take much prompting when a salesman from a company called Megahunt Chartered offers him the chance to purchase a vacation package available only to a select few: A spot on a hunting safari on an island inhabited by robotic dinosaurs. These dinosaurs, called “parasaurians,” have been designed to look and behave like the real deal. In the sheltered world of 22nd century, the hunts offer an opportunity to experience real danger.

After touring Megahunt’s facilities, Fletcher sets out on a hunt with a beautiful photographer, an eccentric professor, and a menacing safari guide. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and Fletcher begins to suspect that some of the dinosaurs may be more lifelike than Megahunt let on.

Reading The Parasaurains was a strange experience. Here was Jurassic Park, yet written 21 years before Michael Crichton’s novel hit bookstands. Many of the same elements were present: A secret island off the South American coast turned into a private resort. A lengthy setup in which the protagonists tour the park and see many of its inner workings. Attractions that turn on the tourists.

That said, Jurassic Park is the better of the two novels. The main problem with The Parasaurians is not much happens in its slim 190 pages. There is a lot of buildup, but most of the payoff is reserved for the final 20 pages. The rest of the novel is spent following its paper-thin characters on a prosaic journey around the island. Granted, Crichton’s characters could hardly be called fully developed, but he did have a better sense of pacing, and he made the most of the premise by fleshing out his dinosaurs using the latest science. While the dinosaur scenes in The Parasaurians make for the most entertaining moments of the novel, they are too few and far between to make it any fun.

Trivia

  • The novel’s plot twist probably won’t come as a surprise to audiences in an age after Jurassic Park. I won’t spoil it here other to say The Parasaurians may be the first example in fiction to use this particular device.
  • I’ve seen no evidence Crichton read The Parasaurians before creating Westworld or Jurassic Park. In fact, Crichton initially hesitated writing Jurassic Park because of its similarities to Westworld.
  • Not trivia, just an amusing aside: The paperback copy I own of this book disintegrated the very moment I finished it. The cover fell off and the pages spilled loose. I’m surprised I didn’t find a sticker on it saying “This book will self-destruct five seconds after reading.”

Reviews

  • Quark Cognition (Also includes reviews of Wells’ other works.)
  • Prehistoric Times, Issue 16 (Not available online.)

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