Dragon Teeth – Michael Crichton

★★★

If you’re expecting speculative sci-fi along the lines of Jurassic Park, Timeline or Prey – the usual Crichton thrill-a-minute action with snappy dialogue, well-drawn characters and a frisson of romance – this book may disappoint you. Published posthumously, the writing is sparse and the tone stiffly starched; a recreation of an oldey-tymey Wild West history text complete with journal entries.

Positioned as a “precursor” to Jurassic Park and it’s sequel, there are no beasties being brought to life here. This is the fictionalized story of two of the first paleontologists; Cope and Marsh; and the rivalry that led to gunplay, sabotage, and other bad behavior. You might be surprised (as I was) to discover that the history of paleontology is wrapped up in the history of the Old West: early paleontologists were usually wealthy white dudes with obsessive tendencies who didn’t hesitate to rush off to the badlands in the middle of the Indian War so that they could be the first to discover fossils and name species.

Dragon Teeth follows William Johnson, a snotty rich-boy Yale student who ends up accompanying world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition in order to win a (kind of childish) bet. Of course, the path of snotty rich-boys never did run smooth and his journey to manhood takes him from vice-ridden Cheyenne, Wyoming to the Badlands, and eventually the famed and lawless Deadwood (dragging priceless fossils all the way).

This is not vintage Crichton by any stretch of the imagination, and I found the period-authentic writing style to be a bit dry – I never felt invested (whether excited or worried) in the action or characters. Johnson is probably the most well-developed and in truth, we never really get to know him. The women he’s attracted to are barely-written wraiths, so their motivations are mostly opaque and unexplored. They are there: they take part in the action; they may or may not have feelings for him; they may or may not have good intentions. It’s entirely unclear. His fellow students on the dig are pretty interchangeable except for one who is annoyingly paranoid about “Indians” (and that’s the single most notable thing about his personality).

That said, if you’re at all interested in the Old West, and want a peek at what it must have been like to be on the forefront of a brand-new field of science during the wild, lawless times of the Old West, this book will provide a gratifying few hours of entertainment. If you’re really looking for a good Crichton, though, just re-read Jurassic Park.

Provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.


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