Book Reviews -- Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker

Article excerpt

ROBERT T. BAKKER. Raptor Red. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. 246 pages. $21.95.

When I first heard that Robert Bakker, world-renowned and sometimes controversial paleontologist, had written a work of fiction in which the main characters were dinosaurs, I was both intrigued and worried. I had read Bakker's excellent The Dinosaur Heresies some years earlier and did not see how a fictional story could be any more engrossing than his closely argued thesis that dinosaurs were mobile, warm-blooded, possibly intelligent, social creatures rather than the sluggish, stupid animals of popular (and scientific) myth. I did not see how he could improve upon that book in a work of fiction.

Reading Raptor Red turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Building on his thesis of dinosaurs as described above, Bakker does not offer cartoon dinosaurs, but instead offers in a fictionalized and engrossing form a dramatization of an environment that is both alien to and yet startlingly familiar to our own. We follow the adventures of Raptor Red, a Utah raptor of the kind popularized by Spielberg's Jurassic Park, as she loses a mate, is reunited with a sister and her offspring, survives various calamities, finds and loses a potential new mate, loses her sister and almost her own life, and is reunited with her new mate and fulfills her biological destiny to reproduce.

Raptor Red is not anthropomorphized; rather, Bakker draws on what we know about modern-day predators and prey to paint a picture of an animal who is an efficient, even joyous killer, but who also feels grief at the loss of her mate, loyalty to her family pack, and who has a sometimes playful and lively curiosity about the world around her:

Raptor Red watches the turtle head disappear. A line of ripples shows that the turtle is swimming toward shore. Raptor Red crouches down even further, her calf muscles twitching with excitement. She's not hunting now--she and her sister filled their bellies with iguanodon meat late that afternoon. What excites Raptor Red now is finding out something new.

At the same time, Bakker gives us the speculative natural history of Raptor Red's world. …