One Raptor’s Road Trip Through North America
I just finished reading Raptor Red recently. Given that it came out in 1997, you could agree I’m a little behind on my reading. It’s always been a book I’ve wanted to read though. A piece of dinosaur fiction written by a prominent paleontologist? It almost sounds like an oxymoron. The book is about a female Utahraptor named Raptor Red. The story is about her migration south from Canada, down the Pacific coast into modern day US territory. Utahraptor’s are essentially the Velociraptors you see in Jurassic Park. Actual Velociraptors were only about 3 feet tall, but Utahraptors were man-sized and larger. Robert “Bob” Bakker is the author and aforementioned paleontologist. He was the first paleontologist to suggest dinosaurs may have been active, warm blooded animals, way back in the 1960s. The dinosaurs in this book are certainly portrayed that way. There will be no spoilers in this review, so feel free to read on with reckless abandon!
When I first heard about this book, I was curious how you could write a piece of dinosaur fiction. Talking animals ups the challenge when writing a serious book aimed at adults. Raptor Red does this incredibly well though. Not only do the animals in Raptor Red not talk, but Bakker actually uses science to portray the dinosaur’s perspective to you. Instead of expressing complex emotions like love and attachment, you get glimpses of animal instincts and genetics at play. The raptors in this book are portrayed almost like the cat memes you see on the internet. Very single-minded in an almost comical way. There is also an obvious nod to birds in some of their behaviors as well.
Science Driven Story
The story itself is highly realistic. Just what you’d expect from a fictional book written by a scientist. It’s not a happy story, it’s not a sad story. It’s truly like watching a wildlife documentary. Sometimes the prey escapes, and sometimes the predator brings home dinner. Survival of the fittest is a really prevalent theme, although the pecking order becomes both flexible and ambiguous at times. Often this is due to exterior(environmental) forces moreso than Raptor Red’s own personal arsenal. Tooth and claw are not the only factors considered for Darwinian success. There are times when Raptor Red is preying on larger animals, and times when she is prey to smaller ones. Sticking with the pack is also a really big theme throughout the story. Raptor Red is always finding herself pushed towards finding safety, and survival, in larger numbers. There’s a lot of science behind the story’s progression. The other raptor characters have some really well fleshed out personalities, and you become almost as invested in them as you do in Raptor Red.
Supporting Cast of Characters
Throughout the book, side-character animals were weaved into the story. They got a small chapter that generally gave a science lesson about their role in the ecosystem. These moments were very hit-or-miss or miss for me. I didn’t like most of these parts. Mostly because they created quasi-cliffhangers when something was happening, or just finishing, with the main character (Raptor Red). We’re not talking epic cliffhanger moments, but moments where you definitely wanted to know what happened next. I also didn’t really care to learn about some of these animals. I read the book for the dinosaurs, not prehistoric mammals, insects, or sea-life. Still, one or two of these side stories were interesting. They would pick up at a particular point of the story where the animal came across Raptor Red somehow, but it would take the story off on a tangent. While I am no master book critic, I would guess these moments were meant to release some of the tension in the story. I just couldn’t invest myself in some of these side-characters. I know I’ve drawn this complaint out a bit, but it’s really a personal preference. If you enjoy general biology more than I do, these side story branches may actually add to the experience for you. It’s really a small portion of the book, and shouldn’t stop you from reading it.
Good Dinosaur Fiction Choice
I was surprised when I reached the end. I was totally expecting the book to end at a particular point. I just -knew- the book was going to end at this point. The ending of the book surprised me, but not because of what happened in the story. The pages kept turning though, and when they stopped it came as a mild shock. It’s definitely a roller coaster ride, but a pleasant one. There are the usual ways to get a copy, and if you buy through these links the site gets a bite of the revenue without you paying any extra. I got my copy used from eBay for less than $4 shipped. You can get a used copy on Amazon for $4 shipped, or if you prefer, new copies from Amazon run $7.99 plus shipping (free with Prime). Surprisingly, there is no eBook available.
Amazon readers give the book 4.5 stars, and Barnes and Noble readers give it a 4.6 out of 5. I completely agree with them. The story is great, the characters are great, and the storytelling method is truly unique. Not a lot of people I have tried to talk to about the book have even heard of it. So, if you do buy this book, be sure to tell people about it. I think a lot of people will pass on this book because there is no electronic format, and that’s sad. I think this book will pleasantly surprise most readers with preconceived notions about the dinosaur fiction genre.