Mash, Robert: How To Keep Dinosaurs

Chad found Robert Mash’s How To Keep Dinosaurs on a random dealer’s table at Boskone. This is a perfectly deadpan guide that takes the form of a guide to dog or cat breeds, except for dinosaurs. Apparently it’s based on current knowledge of things like sizes and anatomy, and on informed speculation for some behaviors; I don’t know how accurate it is and I don’t really care, because it’s just so much fun to read.

It’s divided into categories by purpose, such as “Dinosaurs as House Pets,” “Dinosaurs for Eggs and Meat,” and “Dinosaurs for Zoos and Safari Parks.” Within each category is a page or so on a given species; the page starts with a translation of the name, which I skimmed right past until I realize they were also deadpan: “Riojasaurus: ‘Rioja Lizard’ . . . after its liking for Spanish wine,” or “Stegosaurus: An unintended spoonerism of Stesagorus, son of Cymon, the half-brother of Miltiades (son of Cypselus).” Then there are information icons, such as a teddy bear (“likes children”) or a teddy bear with a bite out it (“likes children to eat”), or one of a series of hats (dunce cap, “worryingly stupid”; mortar board, “worryingly clever”; gas mask, “worryingly flatulent”). The text includes general comments on the dinosaurs’ personalities and tendencies, and notes on their feeding, housing, breeding, and availability.

I don’t really think I can adequately convey how wonderfully silly this is without extensive quoting, so let me find a few good bits. For instance, the entry on Deinonychus, a meter-high carnivore, notes that

There is a major problem: the third claw. This is designed for eviscerating, and human victims are not uncommon: one angry swipe is enough and no amount of dromaeosaurid regret (and they are often heart-renderingly penitent) can bring the victim back to life. At last regulations are being drawn up to compel all private owners to trim the third claw. . . .

As Deinonychus was discovered only in 1969 there has been little opportunity to see how it can be useful to its owner. However, it is an extremely intelligent dinosaur and a handful of advanced owners . . . have managed to tame Deinonychus and then train it and test its intelligence. There are several Deinonychus who can play Poker and are brought together by their owners to play in tournaments against each other. The dinosaurs play in gropus of four, sitting at small tables.

On the facing page is a full-page color photograph-like illustration of dinosaurs playing cards with hunks of meat for chips, like dogs but with bigger claws and teeth. (The illustrations throughout are very good.)

Or there’s the introduction to the section on “Dinosaurs for Recreation and the Circus,” which notes,

Gallimimus has been particularly hard hit by the demise of animal acts in circuses, where it specialized in acts of daring and stoicism. This stoicism, together with good eyesight, has made it ideal for umpiring cricket matches, particularly test matches, which may last for five days without any appreciable action. Off the sports field, other talents of Gallimimus can be exploited. Nowhere is this more evident than on the dance floor. Any dance involving high kicks is improved tenfold by the addition of a troupe of these glamorous dinosaurs. The less talented may content themselves with morris dancing, but the Gorgeous Gallimimids of the Galop have made the Pigalle in Paris a byword for Gallic insouciance and chic.

Or these remarks on Incisivosaurus, which will be familiar in kind if not degree to readers of dog-breed books:

Housing: In one sense it is easily housed: any cage, such as that used by your wombat, will be comfortable and even luxurious, but not, unfortunately, secure. Its buck teeth are not there just to improve its looks: they are there to gnaw. Rodo ergo sum, it seems to say (though probably in Mandarin). In practical terms, this means that it will gnaw its way out of almost any normal cage or container, however sturdy. Once out, it will gnaw its way into the home; once in, it will content itself with the destruction of only one or two items of furniture (keep a stock of unwanted chairs and tables that can be ‘sacrificed’ each time it enters) and then it will settle down with a nice bone, if you can find one for it. Cuttle bones are too flimsy. Give it something really substantial to gnaw: a cow’s pelvis will keep it happy for hours.

Enough. You get the idea. My only regret in reading this is that I don’t quite know what genre category to put it in; “sf and fantasy” somehow seems inadequate, though it will have to do for now.

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