Review: Dragon Teeth

Michael Crichton’s most recent posthumously published novel, Dragon Teeth, released in 2017, tracks a fictitious young man coming of age on a journey into the American West, where he interacts with quite real people and observes fictionalized versions of real events from the era. It’s ostensibly about the Bone Wars, the dynamite rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, and that is certainly part of the story, but it’s also an Old West tale where Deadwood features prominently, something I didn’t expect but that makes sense given the setting and the twists and turns of the novel’s plot. Unlike Crichton’s signature techno-thrillers, it’s more a historical adventure like one of his early novels, The Great Train Robbery (which I have not read), and that makes quite a bit of sense, as the Dragon Teeth manuscript (or at least the basic idea behind the story) was apparently started in 1974, a year before the publication of The Great Train Robbery. It also reminds me a bit of Pirate Latitudes (which I have read), his first posthumously published work and a similarly fun historical adventure, starring pirates instead of cowboys.

While Dragon Teeth was fun and breezy to read, it also covers interesting subject matter and manages to provide a fairly complex and frank take on the expansion west by American citizens into indigenous lands, albeit through the perspective of the wealthy American protagonist. As per usual, the book feels well-researched and demonstrates that Crichton took liberties with historical characters and events, changing and reorganizing as he saw fit to tell the story he wanted without feeling overly bound by how things exactly happened. Outside of that, I don’t find that I have much to say about the story, positively or negatively. It’s not the deepest Crichton novel, but its pulp adventure craft shines.

The Verdict: Bone Wars

Seems every time I claim there won’t be a change to my posting frequency, that’s exactly what happens. Consider last week’s missing post an anomaly, though–it’s been a busy month, and not just with the new job and new volunteer role. In just over a month, Sam and I have been to two weddings and participated in several more social events than I’m used to. It’s been fun but time-consuming, and we’re both just tired now!

Honestly, the most fun I’ve had in a long while was just yesterday. We went to “The Verdict: The Bone Wars” at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. It was an adults-only night of food, drinks, live entertainment, and dinosaurs. The “live entertainment” portion was a mock trial, presented by local attorneys and actors, that addressed the rivalry of paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh in the 1870s. If you were trying to find a more perfect confluence of subjects that were more in line with my interests, it would be difficult: history, paleontology, and law, all accompanied by as much delicious food and as many strong cocktails as I could want.

While there wasn’t a real trial to replicate, the ridiculous antics of the friends-turned-rivals provided more than enough fodder for this reenacted dispute. That said, and while it’s all in good fun, I was surprised that the audience ultimately found for Cope, here in the role of plaintiff in a lawsuit for libel, when there wasn’t all that much evidence presented (within the mock trial) that Marsh actually published anything clearly libelous. The central complaint, his continued mockery of Cope’s reversal of the Elasmosaurus reconstruction, seemed quite firmly rooted in fact. And both men were involved in enough skulduggery and field site dynamiting. I think people just felt sorry for Cope!

What was also cool was that the reception and after-party events were hosted in the museum’s “Dinosphere,” so we could wander around and look at the fossil displays. It’s been years since I was last there. Friendly and informative staff were on hand; I learned a little bit about fossil prep and storage, and even a little sauropod anatomy, from a paleontologist working in a display lab on site, and I learned about developments in fossil reconstructions and displays, as well as future plans for the Dinosphere in light of the Mission Jurassic project, from a museum exhibit interpreter. Plus, the Extraordinary Scientists-in-Residence for Mission Jurassic answered audience questions and provided their perspectives on paleontology past and present after the mock trial ended. So it was all really informative and entertaining!

This was the second year for “The Verdict,” and while the use of a paleontology theme is just a one-off, Sam and I are both very interested in attending future years’ Verdict events.

I’m in a particular dinosaur-focused mood now, so I’m rather eager to get to some books that I’ve been sitting on. There’s Donald Prothero’s The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries: Amazing Fossils and the People Who Found Them, a library hold waiting in my pile of books; Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, And Our Favorite Dinosaurs, unread in my own personal collection; and Michael Crichton’s posthumously published Dragon Teeth (which just so happens to be about the Bone Wars), a book I keep meaning to get around to but haven’t bothered to obtain yet. We’ll see when and if I get around to them all, though.