Sunday, July 29, 2007

How to Keep Dinosaurs by Robert Mash

I have a soft spot for fake non-fiction books, from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland through the wonderful Dragons: The Modern Infestation by Pamela Wharton Blanpied to the kind of Star Wars books with diagrams about how a lightsaber "really" works. So this book was right up my alley, and I grabbed it as soon as I saw it (a year ago at Lunacon, from the table of the mighty Michael Walsh, lord of Old Earth Books).

The concept is simple and wonderful: Dinosaurs (and related saurians) can make good pets in the modern world, but owners need to choose wisely. The best-known and most popular dinosaurs -- the T. Rexes and Diplodocuses of this world -- are really not suitable to the average suburban house.

Mash's excellent advice is that a first-time dinosaur owner start with a less-difficult species such as Compsognathus or Euparkeria. After succeeding on that level, the adventurous dino-keeper can move up to a Heterodontosaurus, or a Dsungaripterus (a top pterosaur recommendation), or even an Ornithomimus (particularly good for riding). How to Keep Dinosaurs is suitable for trainers at any level, from rank first-timers to safari park owners trying to decide if they're ready to step up to the mighty Brachiosaurus.

The book is divided into eight chapters listing dinosaurs of various types (for beginners, flying pets, security work, eggs and meat, hide and feather, and so on), along with chapters on general dino-raising tips, sicknesses of dinosaurs and their cures, classification charts, and the essential toolkit for dealing with dinos. Particularly welcome in this updated and expanded edition (the first since the 1983 original) are the large photographic illustrations, showing various saurians in their natural state or as adapted to the human world -- I'm particularly fond of the fierce Ornitholestes in his police vest.

Each dinosaur's entry includes a handy set of icons describing its needs and potential problems (some of those icons encode such useful information as "herbivore," "omnivore," "will eat other pets," "likes children," "likes children to eat," "worryingly smart," "worryingly stupid," and "worryingly flatulent"), size and weight comparisons, and detailed notes on their uses, strengths and drawbacks. Additionally, each dino has notes on feeding, housing, breeding and availability.

Quite simply, anyone who hopes to raise or keep a dinosaur needs this book. And even those of us who prefer to keep dinos out of our own homes will find it thoroughly amusing and enlightening. I recommend this book most highly.


Anonymous said...

Why the different covers (i.e., the image at the top of the entry vs. the image on the Amazon link at the bottom of the entry)? British vs. American versions?

Andrew Wheeler said...

I don't know why the covers are different; it looks like variant covers of the same design. That could either mean the one in the small Amazon box was one of several variants, or was the cover on a later printing, or was an early cover design that escaped into the world but wasn't used on the book.

I'm not sure which, but the book I have is from Weidenfeld & Nicolson (a british press), and the Amazon book says it's from W&N as well. But the big bookshot is my scan of the actual bookcover, so I know at least some of the copies of the book had that cover.

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