Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: A Field Guide to Dinosaurs

Paleo-fiction that aims to create interpretations of the Mesozoic world are, surprisingly, quite rare to find. It's always a treat when a daring author decides to bring something to the table. In this case, paleontologist/science writer Henry Gee, along with inventive paleoartist Luis Rey, have delivered a dazzling "new" (quite old by the time of this review) book, A Field Guide to Dinosaurs. The result is more than satisfactory.

Main cover. 

The most important thing to remember in regards to this book is that it is a work of fiction. Of course, what's science-fiction without factual elements? Quoting Gee, "All good fiction is enriched by factual research, and we have used the latest paleontological findings as jumping-off points for speculations that are (we hope) sufficiently plausible to convey the experience of dinosaurs as flesh and blood creatures." With all that being said, the introduction does give a basic summary of the science behind paleontology; it is both informative and perfect for the beginner dinosaur-enthusiast.

Once the reader reaches the dinosaur profiles does it become apparent that the field guide is purely fictional. There's dozens of speculations about each dinosaur, and I absolutely love it. A fair share of them are based on actual paleontological theories - such as Zuniceratops being depicted as an opportunistic omnivore, scavenging dinosaur carcasses if need be (based on the idea that ceratopsians sported beaks developed for snapping meat off bones). Most are based on behavioral attributes with modern fauna. For example, Muttaburasaurus is said to have bitten the legs off pterosaur chicks as a way to gain calcium. The thought of it is grotesque, but deer today have been observed devouring birds, making the theory a bit less far-fetched then it initially appeared.

Sexual dimorphism in theropods? One of the many questions raised by Gee.

A majority of the illustrations provided in the book are pencil sketches (by Luis Rey), much like a real field guide. The pencil sketches offer great drawing references, adding another reason one should be encouraged to pick up this book. I know I have benefited greatly from the drawings.

The artist, Luis Rey, has garnered a big reputation in the paleo-community; mostly positive, though some negative. His more recent digital illustrations seem a little sub-par then what we've been used to, but fret not! For many of his older illustrations have been chosen for the book.

Two Lilensternus harass a Scelidosaurus (misidentified as a Scutellosaurus - which in reality was a small, bipedal armored dinosaur from Arizona)

There are plenty of full-color illustrations as well. Many are from Thomas Holtz's Dinosaur Encyclopedia, published in 2007, which may be a slight turnoff for those who already have Holtz's book.

Eoraptor (the image is included in Holtz's book as well)

Ceratosaurus - I suspect that this image was created for the publication of this book, as it seems unfamiliar

Quite possibly, one of the greatest benefits the book has are the dinosaur skeletals included on every page. One would think a dinosaur book should have skeleton illustrations, yet it's astonishing to see that so many don't

Skeletals for Tyrannosaurus and Brachiosaurus, respectively 

 It's books like these that show the world's appetite for dinosaurs. Being able to take scientific information, and to use it to create entertaining and unique speculations draw in enthusiastic readers. A Field Guide to Dinosaurs does exactly that; achieving its goal of being a text version of  Walking With Dinosaurs. Even better, it is able to make the distinction between fact and fiction. At 24.99$ US dollars, (it is almost certain you can get it cheaper) it's worth every penny.

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