November 20, 2006

By nobody who brought you Jurassic Park

Tyrannosaur CanyonI know, I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But that’s why the cover is there, right? It’s supposed to give me some sense of what the inside will be like. So when I found myself needing something to read on a recent flight, I picked up a book that jumped out at me in the airport terminal bookstore: Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. I remember being terrified by his brother Richard Preston’s non-fiction book The Hot Zone back in 1994, and I was passingly familiar with Douglas’ work with his writing partner Lincoln Childs. I’d read a few of the books they wrote together, and while they weren’t very memorable I don’t think I hated them. So how bad could this be?

It was awful. I would have just left it on the plane, but then someone else might have picked it up thinking it looked good. The worst part is that I should have known better. As it turns out, all the warning signs I needed were right there on the cover the whole time. Had I paid them more attention, I would have realized that this book wants to be Jurassic Park more than any book has ever wanted to be another book. And a book that can’t stand on its own merits is probably not worth the time.

Jurassic ParkLet’s start with the cover, designed by Howard Grossman of 12E Design. Right away, I noticed that it looks astonishingly like the cover of Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park, designed by Chip Kidd. That’s step one in the multi-part plan to appeal to Michael Crichton fans.

Then, right there on the cover, comes step two, in the form of this praise by noted author Stephen Coonts: “If John Grisham had written Jurassic Park, he couldn’t do better than Tyrannosaur Canyon.” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.

Turn the book over. There’s step three: “The stunning new masterwork from the acclaimed bestselling author, recently hailed by Publishers Weekly as ‘better than Crichton.’”

And right below that, step four: “Michael Crichton wishes he could write half as well. -Library Journal”

Can you guess what all the blurbs inside the front cover say?

Publisher’s Weekly calls it “Crichton-worthy.”

“He has combined the cutting-edge science of Michael Crichton and the thrills and chills of Stephen King…” say authors W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear.

But this one’s my favorite: “I would put Tyrannosaur Canyon up with the best of Michael Crichton’s novels. This is the book Douglas Preston was born to write: a thriller that irresistibly combines cutting-edge science with night adventure. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!” - Lincoln Child, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Brimstone.

They break up the quote’s credit so it looks like the quote comes from “Lincoln Child, New York Times.” The rest of the credit (“bestselling coauthor of Brimstone”) is on the next line.

Can you guess who Lincoln Child coauthored Brimstone with? His frequent collaborator Douglas Preston! Isn’t your writing partner giving you that sort of praise sort of like your mom saying that she likes your new book?


Tyrannosaur Canyon’s cover is poorly designed. The tyupography stinks and the layout looks like first semester work at a design school…

“If John Grisham had written Jurassic Park, he couldn’t do better than Tyrannosaur Canyon.”


Probably his most credible blurb should have come from his brother, Richard, but even he didn’t like it that much I guess.