Prehistoric: A Dinosaur Anthology, Volume 1
Publisher: Severed Press | Release Date: July 5, 2019 | Pages: 254
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For as much as love some good dino-oriented chomp-and-stomp creature features, much of my terrible lizard intake of late has been via my toddlers’ YouTube videos of Blippi’s “Dinosaur Song” or Dinosaur Train on PBS. While these are certainly horrific in their right, especially around the day’s thirty-fifth consecutive viewing, they are nonetheless terrors on vastly different scale than what I’m looking for when I think of dinosaurs. I want Jurassic Park-style bloodshed, with folks getting eaten alive, buckets of entrails hitting the ground, and men and women fleeing for their lives and screaming their freaking heads off.
Enter Prehistoric: A Dinosaur Anthology from Severed Press. When Hunter Shea announced to his Patreon supporters that he had some copies available for review, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to jump out of my skin. This book was exactly what I needed!
Prehistoric collects a lucky batch of thirteen stories from David Achord, Jeff Brackett, Hunter Shea, Jake Bible, Brad Harmer-Barnes, William Meikle, Rich Restucci, Geoff Jones, Tim Curran, David Wood, Alan Baxter, Rich Chesler, and Tim Waggoner. For whatever reason, the review copy I received did not contain Chesler’s story, “Mantle.”
While I dug the anthology as a whole, I have to admit it got off to a rocky start for me with Achord’s “The Keldos.” Right off the bat, I loathed the story’s central character, disgraced Dr. Fred Menske, and that was even before Achord got into the nitty-gritty of illustrating just how deplorable Menske really is. On the other hand, kudos to Achord for making me hate this dude in record time. Unfortunately, Menske’s a completely irredeemable character, and “The Keldos” left me feeling a bit cold in the end.
Brackett’s “Apex” hit the spot nicely, though, and largely sets the stage for the other stories that follow. Involving a special forces team raiding a terrorist compound, it packs a wallop full of “nightmares of downy fur, slashing claws, and ripping teeth.”
Shea’s “Cult of the Cretaceous,” though, was the first real home-run of the anthology, bringing in a hip B-movie sensibility with its Cults Vs Dinosaurs premise. This was some real kick-ass fun involving the FBI caught in a Waco-like standoff, with a team of dino riders landing on scene to save the day. Huge props to Shea for using the tank-like ankylosauria, a species that never gets its due in dino fiction as they’re not as sexy as the T-Rex. You know about shock and awe? “Prepare to meet shock and aw-shit-we’re-gonna-die.”
Bible contributes a story that ties into his Flipside series with “No Tears Left In The Flipside.” Not having read those particular books, I do believe I need to correct that oversight now. Although I was a bit lost on why there was a bubble in Wyoming that gave way to lots of dinosaur mayhem or how it operated, the story itself was a quick action-packed read.
Harber-Barnes hit a particular sweet spot for me with “North Sea Hunters,” a historical period piece that can best be summed up as Vikings Vs Dinosaurs. Set entirely at sea, a group of Vikings are preparing to raid a coastal village when they encounter a massive sea creature unlike anything they know. It’s a fun story, and Harber-Barnes injects a nice little Jaws reference for good measure.
“Operation: Severn” is set in the world of Meikle’s Operation series of novels, another batch of books I haven’t yet gotten around to. It’s cleanly written and effective, but didn’t really wow me in the way some of Meikle’s other works have. Restucci’s “Extinction,” though…oh my lord, yes. This one’s got time travel and zombie dinosaurs. Talk about going to a happy place! “Extinction” was easily one of my favorites, and Restucci nails the premise wonderfully.
“The Last Man On Earth,” by Geoff Jones, sees a lone time traveler venturing into the deep past to bury a time capsule that he hopes will prevent a nuclear apocalypse and stop the election of an madman. Jones does a great job cashing in on the nuclear anxieties that go along with the Trump administration (without being explicit about it, mind you, so sensitive readers can rest easy about it being “too political” and just enjoy it for what it is). It’s a damn good story, besides, and another easy favorite of the anthology.
Tim Curran is among the authors I can rely on to deliver a solid story, usually one that’s nicely chock full of gore. “Sauria” certainly meets expectations, and Curran does a neat little twist on time travel, one of the recurrent tropes in this anthology to get mankind to square off against extinct foes. It’s suitably bleak and moves along at a nice clip. Woods’ “Lost Island” was pretty decent, as well, delivering on those Jurassic Park vibes with its premise of a secluded island cum game preserve. It’s got some neat ideas, but feels much too compressed to flesh out the characters and premise in a way it really deserved. It’s fun enough, but it’s also one of the few stories in here that I wish were longer in the hopes that it would be more satisfying. If Woods ever turns this into a full-length novel, I’ll happily give it a read!
Baxter gives us a fun Jumanji type story in “Trouble at Fete,” involving a magic puzzle box that, once solved, opens a time portal to the past. Rather than the people going through the portal, the dinosaurs come through...and just in time for a local festival! It’s fun stuff, but dear lord, that poor donkey...
Closing out the collection is Waggoner’s “Closure,” which is easily the collection’s standout entry due to its emotionally engaging narrative. This one’s a freaking powerful of trauma built around the secrets separating parents from their children and the toll that abuse carries. It has a dinosaur, sure, but it’s almost besides the point. It’s got so much heart and raw nerves that the velociraptor is really of secondary concern. It’s also so very different from the stories that came before, purely on a thematic level, thanks to how emotionally engaging it is. It’s a fantastic story!
I enjoyed Prehistoric a great deal, but one also has to realize the limitations inherit in the man versus dinosaur premise. There’s really only two ways to make it happen, and that’s either through cloning or time travel. Some of the authors are able to put unique spins on these elements, but it does get to feeling pretty repetitive when you know that each of the stories are going to cater to either one or the other to fuel the action. Those stories that go a little extra to put some twists on things, either through a story’s premise, its characters, or its approach, like those from Shea, Waggoner, Curran, and Jones, in particular, are the ones that really put this anthology on the map and help prevent Prehistoric from going too far past its expiration date. There’s also a few good reminders in here that dino fic is far from extinct and that it can still feel fun and adventurous. This is certainly a good thing considering Prehistoric labels itself as Volume One, which inevitably leads one to conclude that a Volume Two must be in the offing. As Sam Jackson advised in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts!”