Should-Reads: DRAGON TEETH by Michael Crichton

Amazon link here.

When Michael Crichton passed in 2008, I was devastated. He was a pillar of my childhood, and the reason I loved reading science fiction. I understand that the old die-hards all grew up on Asimov, Bradbury, and Burroughs, but that wasn’t my era. For me it was the guy who wrote JURASSIC PARK and CONGO. I couldn’t get enough of his work.

Two posthumous novels were announced shortly after his death, those being PIRATE LATITUDES and MICRO. I really liked the former and didn’t finish the latter, which was finished by a second author. I couldn’t really tell which parts were Crichton and which were the other, but it didn’t fire for me the way that the others had.

What’s important to note though is that I read a lot of Crichton’s stuff when I was younger and far less picky about books. There are things I envy about my younger self and that is one of them. Nowadays if I get bored with a book I can’t force myself to finish it. Back then, I rarely got bored.

So I don’t know now if such books as CONGO or SPHERE would hold my attention the way they did then. JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD certainly did, for their novelty, and despite not being connected to the franchise, DRAGON TEETH taps into that same vein of scientific adventurism.

An afterword reveals that this book was found by Crichton’s late wife, Sherri, who prepared it for publication over the course of many years with the help of workers at Michael Crichton’s archives. So it is a posthumous publication, but the exciting bit of it is that it was one of his earlier novels, written in the 1970s, maybe a hundred years after the events of the book itself.

Taking place in 1876, it follows the exploits of a young  Yale student who, on a dare and a bet, goes west for the summer to dig up fossils with a crazy professor. The student, William Johnson (a fictional character) ends up caught between two warring paleontologists, Profs. Cope and Marsh, who were actual historical figures that battled each other over the course of a decade.

That’s all I’ll say about the story, because the book itself is not that long. (The audio is under 8 hours. The print copy is 300 pages.) Frankly I think that is a strength of the story, that it flows and moves quickly and keeps up one’s interest. There’s no getting ahead of yourself, seeing what’s going to happen next but having to dig through fifty pages to get there.

Content-wise it’s also pretty clean. I think I remember three curse words in the whole thing, and vague references to prostitution (there is an explicit reference when Calamity Jane is mentioned) that just portray accurately the state of the West at that time. If you hadn’t told me the author of this book as I read it, I might almost have believed it was a Louis L’Amour or an Elmore Leonard.

If I have any gripes about the book, they are personal, namely that there are two instances where Mormons are mentioned, and in a rather unfavorable light. Then again, Crichton was writing those scenes from the perspective of an actual figure (Prof. Cope) and may have implemented Cope’s opinions from his personal writings. Popular opinion of Mormonism was not amicable in those days (less so than it is now.)

So all in all, I recommend it heartily. It’s among Crichton’s better works, certainly better than NEXT (which was full of scientific info on genetics, and also full of insanely explicit sex and language), more enjoyable than SPHERE (which I found equally intriguing and depressing), and ultimately made more sense than CONGO (but in middle school I thought gorillas were AWESOME so I loved that book.)

Check it out for a great summer read.

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