I want to give this book, like, a billion stars for the art. I also want to give it, like, negative three stars for the accompanying text. So that leaves me with...well, I was never that good at math. How many zeros in a billion? One of the groovy things about dinosaurs is we have imperfect and evolving knowledge of how they were, and artists have been imagining and creating living beings out of rock and fancy since the Bone Wars.
You've got your early, gray-skinned tail-draggers munching water weeds out of the lake, upright T Rexs battling tank-like triceratops in a Cretaceous smack-down. Then green like lizards, or striped like zebras, feathered, parrot-like, an ongoing response to our changing notions of evolution and our place (subtly, oh so subtly) in the chain of being. There's a history of life on earth, and then there's a history of the way we perceive that history. In visual depictions of dinosaurs, there are certain things that have been more or less agreed on: a T-Rex never has spots like a cheetah; velociraptors do not have mohawks.
Then you have Barlowe's dinosaurs. They're crazy, man, crazy; cool and weird, with a subtle sense of humor and that real/unreal sensibility of SF art. (Barlowe is probably best know for his SF book covers and anthologies of SF art.
) There's one painting, for Kentrosaurus, which depicts this pink, almost girlish stegosaur in the background. The point of view is from under one of those T Rexy predators, its tiny, silly arms curling above your head. There's something funny and sly about this, (at least to me, and it's possible my sensibilities are warped in this matter). The accompanying text is: “Kentrosaurus, like its cousin Stegosaurus, could swing its spiky tail as a weapon when it was in danger.”
Seriously? That's it? But what is that predator? Where does this animal live? What freaking era are we in, for crying out loud? There's glossary in the back for the identified animals, but there are a number of pages that have unidentified animals, and it kind of makes me nuts. What is that Herrerasaurus menacing in H is for Herrerasuarus? B is for badly done, man. W is for wtf? Barlowe's paintings are splendid, evocative, colorful and real. They employ interesting angles and subtle humor, and suggest entire narratives. Alas, those narratives were not suggested to the writer, or possibly the writing came first, in which case I should blame the editor. (I'm looking at you, Howard Zimmerman.)
The boy and I keep checking it out of the library though, despite its flaws, because the pictures are so cool. Go Barlowe, with your bad self.