Literature: Raptor Red

"In her own brain the raptor identifies herself with the symbols she learned as a chick: me... raptor... red. We can call her Raptor Red, because that's how she labels herself in her own mental imagery."

Raptor Red is the story of a young female Utahraptor by paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, who served as one of the fact-checkers for the film version of Jurassic Park. It was written as a sort of companion novel to his non-fiction book The Dinosaur Heresies, in which he exposed his then-revolutionary ideas about dinosaurs being a little more active and birdlike than the popular imagination's vision of them as big, stupid lizards. It's written as a kind of nature documentary that allows some insight into the animals' thoughts.

Raptor Red and her kin may or may not be sapient, but they definitely aren't human; they're much more olfactory creatures, and communicate in birdlike calls and gestures. Even Raptor Red's "name" is a Translation Convention - she attaches the concepts of "raptor" and "red" (for her species' red snout-markings, as opposed to the yellow snouts of a rival Utahraptor species) to her concept of "myself". The other major characters are either 'named' in relation to Raptor Red or by their species, like with the ancient white dactyl who considers Raptor Red's pack as the moving centre of his territory.

The novel follows an eventful year in Raptor Red's life; the times are changing (the book takes place around the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary) and various dinosaurs are on the move, among them Raptor Red and her mate, who have come to what will one day be Utah from what will one day be Asia via land bridge. He dies in a hunting accident in the first chapter; not long after, Raptor Red reunites with her sister and finds that her sister has three chicks. Since the chicks are "half of half of me", Raptor Red forms a two-raptor pack with her sister to help raise the offspring. The ensuing adventures include famine, flood, a dashing young male attempting to court Raptor Red over her sister's protests, menacing Acrocanthosaurs, a very nasty run-in with a whip-tailed sauropod, and lots and lots of random paleontology.

This work provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Disorder: Raptor Red's sister does not act normally, prone to fits of mania, rage, and paranoia.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Averted by the Utahraptor. Raptor Red's consort would kill Raptor Red's sister's chicks if it weren't for the fact that Raptor Red would never let him. That, and the fact that either Raptor Red or Raptor Red's sister would probably kill him afterward. Nothing ever actually happens, but there are several close shaves.
  • Artistic License Paleontology: Mostly averted, since the author actually is a paleontologist. If anyone's crying, it's probably because they don't agree with Bakker's views or because Science Has Marched On - the book came out in 1995, and was pretty accurate up to that year.

    There was one flaw, but its only one that someone who really pays attention to paleontology would notice. Utahraptor was from the Barremian stages of the Early Cretaceous. Acrocanthosaurus was from the Aptian and Albian stages of the Early Cretaceous. While most people (with the exception of some incredibly pedant paleontologists) will allow some overlap of dinosaur taxa from neighboring stages due to the patchiness of the fossil record, Acrocanthosaurus rose to prominence after Utahraptor. Thereby making the ending where the Acros were nearly wiped out by plague allowing Utahraptor to dominate the continent temporally inconsistent. If anything, Utahraptor would have been the one to go first.
    • Ammonites were probably filter feeders rather than having biting jaws like other cephalopods.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Raptor Red is fairly calm and methodical, but her sister is best described as manic and slightly nuts, especially when her chicks are in danger. Or even when she just thinks the chicks are in danger. This eventually proves to be her downfall.
  • Author Avatar: Interestingly enough, the Old Dactyl.
  • Babies Ever After: For Raptor Red herself, her niece, and the white pterosaur.
  • Badass Family: Well, they are a pack of Utahraptors.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Gastonia. Also the scorpion, but it's essentially useless against the Aegialodon.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Raptor Red's consort saving her from a pack of Deinonychs, after the whip-tail battle.
  • Celibate Hero: The old white dactyl. In his long life he'd had many mates, all of whom have likely passed on at this point, and by the time we first see him it's stated that he no longer has any desire to mate. Until the end, that is.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Kronosaurus.
  • Chick Magnet: Raptor Red's consort.
  • Cool Old Guy: The white dactyl. He's old even by dactyl standards, and has chosen to spend his golden years dicking around with the land-based predators. He and Raptor Red's clan have a friendly, if distant, relationship, since he considers Raptor Red herself the moving centre of his territory, and he helps the pack on more than one occasion (though occasionally only accidentally).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Utahraptor vs. most of the things they decide to hunt, the whip tail vs. the Utahraptor, the Aegialodon vs. the scorpion, Kronosaurus vs. Acrocanthosaurus, Gastonia vs. almost any predator (unless the Gastonia is weakened and has its abdomen exposed), and the Utahraptor vs. Deinonychus (unless the Utahraptor are already severely weakened).
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: The whip-tail. After its first Tail Slap knocks Raptor Red's sister down and she stops moving, it closes in and hits her three more times.
  • Darwinist Desire: Justified since the character is a Utahraptor. When choosing mates she prioritizes fitness and strength. She rejects a yellow snout raptor who tries to court her despite being another subspecies and later, another suitor is rejected because he has parasites. Eventually, she is persuaded by a red snout male to pair up. Her thoughts are that he's strong and smart. Another female, meanwhile, keeps getting rejected because she's freakishly big and the males sense something wrong.
  • Dead Guy Junior: In spirit, even though no one has any names. Raptor Red's sister's oldest chick grows up to resemble her mother so strongly that, as Raptor Red sees the remains of the pack approaching after a hunt, she briefly thinks her sister has come back to life.
  • Disappeared Dad: Raptor Red's sister has chicks, but there's not a single mention of her mate.
  • A Dog Named Dog: Every single character is 'named' like this.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Meta example in Gastonia, which featured in this book before being scientifically published.
  • Eats Babies: All of the predators.
  • Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: One chapter focuses on ammonites and belemnites.
  • Genre Savvy: Raptor Red's sister thinks the whip-tail is an easy target because it's alone and is basically ignoring the Utahraptors. Raptor Red, on the other hand, immediately feels uneasy, because an animal willing to go it alone and completely unconcerned by two predators probably has some kind of lethal defense mechanism. She's right.
  • The Great Flood: Visualized here.
  • Giant Flyer: Some of the pterosaurs.
  • Herbivores Are Friendly: Averted. Helps that this is written by a paleontologist who frequently points out in his works how dead wrong this trope is.
  • Hidden Depths: The sliding-with-Troodons scene. "The concepts do not go together."
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. One of Raptor Red's sister's chicks dies from illness, and even before this, Raptor Red and her sister seriously consider abandoning the chicks during a famine.
  • Killer Rabbit: The tiny furry Aegialodon is a voracious insectivore that can curbstomp a scorpion.
  • Magnetic Girlfriend: During the flower chapter, Raptor Red's consort is made much more attractive to the other Utahraptor females by the simple fact of being a consort.
  • Mama Bear: Raptor Red's sister.
    • The Bernissartia also qualifies.
      "She's a fiercely protective croc-mom—she's never hesitated to rush from the water, openmouthed, at any dinosaur or male croc that got too close to her progeny. This threat, accompanied by extravagant splashing, always worked."
  • Meet Cute: There's a clearly-defined protocol for when a male raptor and a female raptor meet. The first two times Raptor Red meets her future consort, circumstances force them to break it.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Aegialodon is only known from England, not North America.
  • Mockumentary: The serious kind.
  • Most Writers Are Human: At one point the story suddenly swerves into a two-chapter subplot about an insectivorous mammal living beneath the notice of the "earthquake animals", mainly because he's one of humanity's ancestors.
  • Mugging the Monster: Raptor Red's sister thinks the whip-tail sauropod will be an easy kill. Turns out it's got an incredibly powerful tail and is extremely accurate with it
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: A Bernissartia is a minor character.
  • No Guy Wants an Amazon: There's a scene in which the normally isolated Utahraptor packs are drawn together by flowers that smell of carrion, during which time a giant red-snout female attempts to woo Raptor Red's consort. Raptor Red takes issue with this, and the consort is more than a little freaked out about the whole thing. When he and Raptor Red make it very clear that she isn't welcome, the giantess leaves with sadness; the narration informs us that her size meant she'd been dealing with rejection the whole day.
  • Papa Wolf: Raptor Red's consort, and over her sister's chick, no less. He has mixed feelings about his actions: the chick isn't related to him, he gets several cracked ribs out of the deal, and Raptor Red didn't even see him help save her. The event keeps her sister off his back for a while, at least.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: The baby Gastonia. Also the Aegialodon, at least against large arthropods.
  • Ptero Soarer: Averted by the several pterosaur taxa featured.
  • Raptor Attack: Averted except for the fact the Utahraptors are scaly.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Raptor Red is the blue oni to her sister's red.
    • The sister's oldest chick becomes the red oni upon the death of the sister.
  • Retired Badass: The Old Dactyl may be a homeless scavenger past his prime, but he's still a gigantic and wily creature who knows anything that flies can escape injury and death from anything that can't fly if it's careful. Given he doesn't have any chicks or mates to worry about anymore, he just takes advantage of his physical prowess and wisdom for fun these days.
  • Sea Monster: Several marine reptiles show up, notably Kronosaurus.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Acrocanthosaurus, Kronosaurus, Gastonia, Aegialodon, Trinitichelys, Ornithodesmus, Platypterygius, Astrodon, and Bernissartia. The White Dactyl's species is never given, but most depictions of him imply that he's an unspecified species of ornithocheirid. The unidentified segnosaur qualifies as well. Even Utahraptor itself is this to some extent.
  • Shown Their Work: The author is a paleontologist, after all. It was completely up to date by 1995 standards, but, of course, paleontology is a very fast-moving science, so a lot of the details are now outdated.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The Aegialodon and Kronosaurus.
  • Snow Means Death: Raptor Red's sister, and nearly Raptor Red herself.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Pretty much limited to Deinonychus, Iguanodon and arguably Utahraptor. Generic ornithomimosaurs and a diplodocid appear as well. The other dinosaurs are much less familiar — Acrocanthosaurus (a big theropod possibly related to Allosaurus), Astrodon (a smallish-by-sauropod-standards relative of Brachiosaurus), and the ankylosaur Gastonia (which hadn't even been described at the time the book was published).
  • Tail Slap:
    • The whip-tail sauropod's devastating main weapon.
    • Oddly, a female Utahraptor also does this to a rival.
  • Translation Convention: The animals in this book have no real language and mostly think in pictures, sounds, and smells. Bakker provides helpful English translations for their thought patterns and communications.
  • Turtle Power: One chapter focuses on a Trinitichelys.
  • Uncanny Valley: A pair of Yellow Snout males evoke this reaction in Raptor Red: their courtship dance is almost right, but the niggling little differences, not to mention the completely incorrect snoutband colour, repulse her. invoked
  • Wolverine Claws: The segnosaurs are the most obvious example of this, but the raptors and ostrich dinos have more simple versions of this.
  • Xenofiction
  • Zerg Rush: Both the Utahraptor and Deinonychus use this hunting method.