Once, they ruled the Earth…
Dinosaurs. Apex predators. Prehistoric creatures, whose very steps shook the crust of the Earth. Monsters of nightmares–or mighty creatures of honor? In these pages, you will meet:
- A hunter who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his clutch
- A wise king who cannot be defeated–even by the best of his warriors
- A queen, facing the apocalypse of her people
- A scientist who fears the outcome of her experiments
- Two drunken scientists and a time traveling chicken
- Dinosaur riders in the future–and the past
Some of the heroes are dinosaurs. Some are human. And some are… something else entirely. In these pages, there are dinosaurs.
Are you prepared to meet them, tooth and claw?
APEX: The World of Dinosaurs Anthology has an unusual history. This collection of 16 short stories is based on a card game that was never widely distributed beyond the people who supported the project through Kickstarter. The game’s creator apparently ran into some financial difficulties and sold the rights to an outfit called Outland Entertainment, which publishes books, comics, and board and roleplaying games. The card game has no backstory beyond players being a pack of dinosaurian predators seeking to survive in the Mesozoic, but Outland wants to expand Apex into a broader franchise with both this anthology and an upcoming pen-and-paper RPG. Like its card game namesake, the anthology was funded through Kickstarter, with the book being available to non-backers in March 2021. (At least at the time of this review.)
I previously reviewed the card game and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the anthology is more of a mixed bag, with a few nuggets of goodness standing out among many mediocre efforts. To start with the good, easily my favorite story of the collection is “Joan of Archaeopteryx” by Jennifer Lee Rossman. The tale concerns a genderqueer psychiatric patient who is whisked away to a parallel world to save a tolerant society from an army of Medieval religious fanatics. The first-person narration–full of self-doubt, humor, and pop culture references–is really what brings this story to life. Other highlights include “What Came First” by Kimberly Pauley, concerning two drunken physicists who try to settle the age-old argument about the chicken or the egg with a time machine; “When the Sky was Starless and the Ocean Flat” by Gwendolyn N. Nix, in which a sentient pteranodon and his mammalian rider must survive a radically changing environment; and “Party Crashers” by J.A. Cummings, a darkly humorous story about a small boy whose birthday wish is for a dinosaur. Noted science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer also contributes two previously published dinosaur stories, “Just Like Old Times” and “Forever.”
There are other stories I wanted to enjoy more but had serious flaws that diminished their appeal. “We are Emily” by Lee Szczepanik Jr. begins as a fun adventure about a man trying to purge his cybernetically enhanced nervous system of an artificial intelligence picked up while playing a dinosaur-themed video game, but it ends on a dark note that struck me as an amateur writing mistake. “High Wire” by D.W. Vogel and “A Time Beyond Sunset” by Alana Joli Abbot are based on existing media properties by the respective authors, but both feel like opening chapters to larger stories rather than stand-alone tales.
The remaining stories fail to stand out, with the major flaw being few the authors seem to have little interest in dinosaurs as actual animals or in the science of paleontology. Most dinosaurs in these pages are little more than movie monsters, with several stories turning the terrible reptiles into killer cyborgs in either outer space or a post-apocalyptic future. One story even transforms Velociraptors into John Carpenter’s The Thing. I enjoy the occasional B-grade dinosaur flick, but there is so much more to dinosaurs than unstoppable eating machines whose only drive is to kill a story’s heroes. The editors should have pushed for more variety in story settings and how the animals are depicted. They didn’t and the anthology suffers as a result.
- “Smile” by LaShawn M. Wanak
- “Just Like Old Times” by Robert Sawyer
- “The Day” by August Hahn
- “Rebutal” Andrew J Lucas
- “High Wire” by D. W. Vogel
- “A Boy and His Dog” by Jonathan M. Thompson
- “Joan of Archaeopteryx” by Jennifer Lee Rossman
- “A Time Beyond Sunset” by Alana Joli Abbot
- “When the Sky Was Starless and the Ocean Flat” by Gwendolyn N. Nix
- “We Are Emily” by Lee Szczepanik Jr.
- “Party Crashers” by J. A. Cummings
- “Starfall” Darren W. Pearce
- “Forever” by Robert J. Sawyer
- “To Mega Therion” by Markisan Naso
- “Droma Station” by Alexandra Pitchford
- “What Came First” by Kimberly Pauley
- The anthology is dedicated to Victor Milán, author of The Dinosaur Lords trilogy who died in 2018.
- The card game that inspired the anthology only gets a brief shoutout in the introduction.