Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dinosaur Wars Trilogy Review

Do I even have to come up with a logical list of reasons why you should purchase this book and its sequels? Do I really? The cover basically tells you everything you're in for, which is what a cover should do dangit. As you may have guessed, when I came across this on Amazon for an extremely reasonable price I just couldn't help myself. I'm a real sucker for dinosaur based fiction, and this certainly looked like it would deliver. I mean, for crap's sake! In one image we have tanks pointing guns at a huge theropod, a cowgirl riding on horseback and things slashing down from the sky!

Earthfall is the first of the Dinosaur Wars trilogy and several followups, but for now I will simply discuss the trilogy as those are the ones that I have read. And just up front, yes, I do like these. So you can expect a bit of gushing here, although I'll try bring some decent analysis to the table. There will be some spoilers below, so if you are curious and want to know if this is worth your money, then my answer is yes: These three books in my opinion are worth your money. They aren't mind-blowing tales that will change the way we look at fiction, but they are fun, well written and well thought out stories that bring some genuine science fiction to the table. They are VERY well priced, and if you enjoy good action, adventure or scifi then you have no reason to not at least check out Earthfall.

So, where to start. Hmmm, synopsis sounds good. I read these last year so my memory might be a wee bit fuzzy on some details but I'll do my best. The basic premise is that dinosaurs are not extinct, and that before the extinction there was in fact an intelligent race of saurians calling themselves the Kra, who in an attempt to dodge the oncoming apocalypse built a base on the moon with very advanced technology, including an insanely powerful death ray, cloning facility, mining operations and manufacturing facilities. They have woken up, and are now beginning to wage a war to retake the planet Earth. It's a pretty awesome clash that actually got me involved on a strategic and tactical level, which is hard to do with me.

We start out in the rural territory of Wyoming where our protagonist Chase is doing work reintroducing wolves as part of wildlife management who is alternating between dealing with the wolves and a local rancher with his daughter, Kit. Rancher is kinda peeved that wolves are being brought back to the woods cuz they eat cows, and he's in the business of keeping cows alive, so there is some understandable friction. An associate of Kit who also happens to be out in the boonies is an eccentric paleontologist by the name of Doctor Ogilvey, who has some rather curious theories about some dinosaurs and is digging around in some cliffs near the ranch.

Just to get this out of the way, Dr. O is eerily similar to the scientist in Valley of Gwangi in both looks and attitude. I couldn't get the image out of my head, so I was a wee bit distracted there. I think it was accidental on the author's part though. Anyway, things seem relatively calm in the Wyoming woods with the exception that they notice a curious aircraft fly overhead at a very low altitude and curious flashes of light that seem to originate from the moon.

Chase is a rather headstrong wildlife ranger boy, a bit too rash in many cases for my taste, but he makes a decent main lead, and he was never stupid enough to make me hate him. Kit is a fun country girl living on her father's ranch with bigger dreams than just becoming a rancher and is actually a pretty strong character, at least to me. I may be biased due to the fact that I swoon over gun-wielding cowgirls. There is literally a line where her friend asks "What kind of guy would be interested in a cowgirl wearing jeans and a cowboy hat?" My reaction was "Meeeeeeeeeeeee!" Sigh.

Elsewhere in the world things aren't nearly as calm. That flashing from the moon? That's a frigging high powered laser coming from the moon and zapping high priority targets. To be honest, when I first heard about a war between humanity and dinosaurs trying to take back territory, I thought it would be a pretty one sided curb-stomp when it came to ground combat. I mean, come on, we've been mastering ground warfare for quite a good while and one country alone would provide quite a big problem for such a small number of dinosaurs regardless of how advanced their tech was. Then it's explained that this super laser aced every single sodding satellite in orbit, effectively neutralizing cell phone reception and wireless communication in general. Right off the bat humanity doesn't know what the heck is happening, and then have trouble relaying that there is even a problem besides the Wifi being down again.

Secondary targets? Radio towers and military installations. Not the barracks mind you, but vehicles of all types are quickly slagged. Tanks, hummers, APCs, jets, helicopters, planes, all are turned to melted piles of scrap. Airports are kinda screwed as well. Meanwhile huge ships are landing on lakes and oceans depositing ground troops. And guess what the Kra get? Frigging mech suits equipped with lasers! Very quickly this series gets pretty awesome by involving lasers, mechs, dinosaurs, tanks and hunting rifles. That. Is. Awesome.

Ah, but humanity is not defenseless! This is where we begin breaking off to meet other characters, and the author, Thomas Hopp, makes it extremely difficult to stay bored because you often switch between character groups who are all doing something of importance. That may sound schizophrenic, but in reality it keeps the pace steady and interesting. At no point are you left being completely bored. It's a simple but effective trick, so lets look at some of our other characters and their groups.

One pair we follow around are a pair of soldiers in charge of an armor column that managed to bunk down and hide from the orbital laser, Suarez and Allencromby, or Crom for short. So now we've got the god of Cimmeria in this thing, although he doesn't act the same way apparently. Anywho, although I wouldn't say these guys are super distinct, almost every character in these books are archetypes but good ones, I really like these guys! They handle the fighting between the mechs and tanks, and by gosh does it suck you in. Okay, maybe I'm just a pathetic mark for this sort of thing, but I relish each engagement where the tanks show up for a good brawl. No joke, every time I got to a fight this song started playing in my head:

Hopp does a great job in the fights and manages to make each one seem like a pitched battle where our heroes could be blasted at any minute and that this crap is dangerous. At no point did I find myself yelling BS at any of the tactics, science or anything else when it came to the fighting, which is a good thing.

Then we have a pair of scientists and sadly due to a memory that would shame a goldfish, I can't remember their names. I'm just bad with those, so I do apologize. That being said I remember their characters quite well in fact. One is a female who was involved with a space project that actually found out about these dinos, being one of the programmers for the satellite that was doing the exploring, and the other is one of her associates who also helps with the programming. He's actually quite fun. Overweight and a bit dull he's actually quite likable, having a very innocent teddy bear vibe to him and these two do darned good work. They don't feel tacked on at all, but feel more like active cogs moving the story forward.

Then we have two more military personnel, these being high ranking officers, and again my memory fails me in regards to their names. One is a general who managed to make it to NORAD and his second in command, a nice competent gal who gets stuff done. They have the unenviable task of being in command and not knowing what the heck is going on and trying to deal with this abominable mess. No aircraft, no tanks, infantry unable to move, communications being set back to CB radios and dealing with a bunch of laser wielding dinosaurs is not exactly the sort of thing they teach you to deal with at West Point. Also, NORAD is getting the almighty crap pounded out of it by that moon laser, cuz they kinda know that a base hidden beneath a sodding mountain is kind of an important target.

Then there is Gar, one of the three religious and political leaders of the Kra and one of the guys on the ground who quickly becomes a good guy. His two compatriots want to not only completely retake Earth, but use the humans as food, seeing them as inferior life forms. Gar is soft hearted and wants to work with the humies and actually becomes bros with Dr. O. I can't say that Gar is overburdened with a distinct personality. He's not really bad, but he could have been done better I think. It is however very charming when he and Dr. O visit a McDonald's or are watching King Kong together on TV. Good bit of symbolism too when they were watching the scene where Kong is fighting the Rex!

The villains are all lacking however. One is a shady military attaché who gets axed off in the first book and Gar's two rivals never really strike me as anything other that pieces on a chess board. Oogon, who was in charge of the more Kali Ma type religious stuff sorta makes sense because it's his job to make things bleed, but the other, Saurogon, is bent on keeping war going because of reasons and never really made much sense to me. The President and one of his meanie faced generals never take off from the ground either. Some of the moves made to make them seem eeeeevil actually just plain make sense to me, specifically grabbing a laser weapon to reverse engineer it and grant humanity a fighting edge. Crap, I would have done the same and I like the idea of peace between the two!

Anyway, we get three books where our protagonists try to one up the warmongering Kra, learn about the tech, culture of them as well as some of every day people adapting to dinosaurs suddenly existing and interacting with the world as they know it, which does add a level of humanity and immersion to the story. As a side note, I get the impression that Hopp really hates poachers. I mean, I hate poachers too, but wow. Don't be a poacher in a Hopp story, you have the life expectancy of a lemming in a snake aquarium. There is a good bit of discussion over wildlife management and there is a somewhat environmental edge to it, but thank Odin it isn't a ham-fisted punch to the face message.

Folks, I seethe with hatred at environmental movies and books. I've almost broken my window over seeing that kind of crap. Thankfully, Hopp doesn't take an overly simplistic view and lecture his audience, but rather mentions it here and there from a few very real view points, which is a real breath of fresh air. It's enough to make you think and maybe do some research, but not enough to turn it into a dumb episode of Captain Planet.

These stories do take a rather realistic edge, and as a minor spoiler one dinosaur actually dies from gangrene as a result of being shot. It may sound a bit anticlimactic, but I frigging cheered when I read that. I'm pathetic, I know, don't rub it in.

There are a few romance subplots that run between several characters, and I can't say too much on them. That's mostly because I know more about quantum physics than I do about love, so I'm not qualified to judge the caliber of the love elements. That's not an exaggeration by the way. The best thing I can say about them was that I never called BS on any of it, and I even thought a few moments were genuinely sweet, but don't think that you're going to get anything mind blowing.

As for the scifi elements, I absolutely loved it. Hopp really shines by showing his chops on coming up with scientific ideas that are quite interesting and well thought out. There are some points that are beyond my realm of scientific knowledge so I can't verify if it's just BS, but I felt that each time I was getting suspicious there was good enough an explanation that I found myself saying "You know what, that's pretty good. I'll buy that. Might not be true, but that's clever." I'm also willing to let more slide since this is scifi and I'm more interested in being entertained than seeing cold hard science at work, although this would certainly be a great way to teach such things. I believe Hopp could slip genuine scientific knowledge into here that would be very easy to absorb.

The dinosaurs themselves are all pretty darned fun and awesome. We get everything from standard Utah raptor and T-Rex chases, serene moments where herbivores just hanging out and actually getting along with normal mammals all the way to rather charming moments with the smaller denizens doing cute things. What I like is that the dinosaurs aren't all hyper-aggressive monsters that destroy everything on sight. Only some actually act aggressively, and even then only when it makes sense and is appropriate. A lot of them just do their thing without causing trouble and are noticed the same way you'd notice a lizard basking on rocks in your back yard or an owl sitting atop your roof. It adds a level of reality to the setting that for me anyway is well appreciated

I apologize for this review being somewhat cluttered, I'm just coming off the tail of the worst cold I've ever witnessed, but I hope that this review has been of some help. Overall they were a fun read,
keeping up a steady pace and never leaving you feel bored with wonderful action but also shows maturity in not going too far. If you want a fun dinosaur series with action and cool scifi ideas, then you'll like this. If you're a stick in the mud who can't get past tiny errors and get hung up on dialogue not being on par with Firefly, then you may want to stay away.

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You can purchase the first here:

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