Books like Jurassic Park but written before Jurassic park.
August 24, 2021 4:30 AM   Subscribe

There are a lot of creature feature sci-fi/horror books in the Jurassic Park mould. If Jurassic park didn't define the genre, it certainly solidified it. I'm interested in finding the ones written before Jurassic Park's influence.

I know genre is a very fuzzy construct (and ultimately just a matter of marketing) so for my purposes here's what I consider the hallmarks of the modern creature feature, for example Fragment, Relic and Origin:
* Present day or "day after tomorrow" setting
* The book is about a monster/monsters - either unnatural or cryptozoological
* Science buzzwords and technobabble
* The book reads like a film script
* They are read like popcorn is eaten

Optional but common:
* Remote and/or "undiscovered" location
* Scientific/archaeological/government installation
* Viewpoint character is expert in their field brought in just before everything goes wrong
* Scientist/everyman hero rather than action hero
* Military is fetishised but also treated as cannon fodder
* Characters are archetypes rather than people
* An unchallenging read - spectacle over substance

Eco-thrillers and disaster novels are definitely in the ancestry but not members of the genre themselves. Clancy-type Spy/military thrillers are very close in style but distinct in subject matter. Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger stories come close, but I'm looking for examples closer to the modern archetype. The more contemporary with JP, the better.

The only ones I can come up with are Jaws (including the subgenre it created: piranha, orca etc) and Day of the Triffids. Are there any other notable ones?
posted by Lorc to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There were a lot of post-Jaws 'creature feature' pulp horror novels by British authors in the late '70s & early '80s: Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs, James Herbert's Rats & Slugs by Shaun Hutson, to name a few.
posted by misteraitch at 4:47 AM on August 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Mr Jurassic Park himself, Michael Chrichton, also wrote Congo (expedition to the rainforest to find diamonds attacked by gorillas) and Prey (nanotech goes wrong) which are along these lines.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:56 AM on August 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Benchley's _White Shark_ AKA _Creature_ fits the bill, published in 1991 to JP's 1990. Also a fun-bad tv miniseries with Craig T. Nelson and Gracie Law.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:14 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just realised I missed the part of the question about being written before Jurassic Park - Congo was before but Prey was after.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:50 AM on August 24, 2021

Best answer: Oh hello, welcome to my long personal quest to find more books like the ones I like. Previously, previously, previously, and previously. Maybe you'll find some satisfying suggestions among those.

I read Slugs (mentioned above) recently. It is very bad. Like real bad. And it's not got all you're looking for. BUT it does have some of the tropes and reads fast, so perhaps it will work for you on some level.

Unfortunately, I have no recs for you for pre-Crichton. I favor the stuff that has come after just because they fit the formula and when I want to read the thing I want a sure bet.

I will however tell you that I have nearly ten full years of experience that metafilter is, broadly, not real great at answering this question. (For instance you will notice the first answer on my first question for Jurassic Park like books is Ready Player One, when I specifically asked not to have anything so poorly written that reading it is painful. I specifically asked!) I think my favorite though is "here is a list of Michael Crichton books I have enjoyed" followed by a comment or three of "ok but have you heard of Michael Crichton though?"

p.s. If you give up and decide that a pre-Crichton search is fruitless, Subterranean (1999) by James Rollins is one of my favorites.
p.p.s. I'm going to add Fragment to my reading list...I see you mentioned it in a previous q of mine and I skipped it then, which may have been a mistake.
posted by phunniemee at 6:13 AM on August 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Quatermass! Best known as early BBC series. Several of the tales were published by Penguin.
posted by BobTheScientist at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2021

The author of Orca also wrote The Swarm, about killer bees, which might fit. It took me a while to find a site with the original 1974 pub date listed.

I'm assuming you're not wanting books that were based on movies, e.g., King Kong and Godzilla. (If you haven't seen Gojira, the original Japanese version of Godzilla, stop what you're doing and go find it.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not exactly what you asked for, but the 1956 time travel story A Gun for DInosaur did anticpate several elements of Jurrasic Park and hits a couple of your points, sort of.
posted by JonJacky at 8:11 AM on August 24, 2021

War with the Newts?
posted by eotvos at 8:27 AM on August 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's a series of 1950s YA science fiction novels called Winstons which I collect. Danger: Dinosaurs is one I've never read, but it may satisfy your itch. Like Bradbury's Sound of Thunder, its dinosaurs aren't here&now, but encountered via time-travel.
posted by Rash at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2021

You cited John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids [Triffic!] but The Kraken Wakes [UK] aka Out of the Deeps [US] ticks some of your boxes.
posted by BobTheScientist at 9:04 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

As much as I love the work of Michael Crichton, he basically wrote one story. (Well, aside from The Great Train Robbery and Rising Sun.) So, if you like Jurassic Park, be sure to check out his other work, much of which is the same plot told in different ways: The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Congo, Sphere, etc.
posted by jdroth at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2021

^ lol
posted by phunniemee at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2021

There is a huge tradition of pulp short stories like this:
“The Horror at Marin’s Beach” by HP Lovecraft and Sonia Greene

“The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury (although the movie The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a bit closer to your template.

I can’t find a free PDF, but Guy Endore’s “The Day of the Dragon” is a story about why you don’t want to do heart surgery on alligators.

So not novels, but some pulps might scratch some of your itch….
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:08 AM on August 24, 2021

I know Heinlein is problematic, but he's deader than dirt, and his teen fiction usually gets a pass.
posted by Beholder at 10:16 AM on August 24, 2021

If you liked The Kraken Wakes, there's also an ironic satirical version: War with the Newts by Karel Capek. Actually ticks most of the points.
posted by ovvl at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2021

Nightwing by Martin Cruz Smith, 1977.
posted by otolith at 10:50 AM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells is the earliest version of this that I can think of.

A substance is discovered that causes plants and animals to grow very large, leading to serious trouble with weeds, bees, and eventually other things. I thought it was a great read though Wells as he often does throws a big tonal shift in about halfway through.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:50 PM on August 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Crichton's Congo, mentioned upthread, is essentially a "dry run" for Jurassic Park in a lot of ways. I'll also throw in Sidney Sheldon's The Doomsday Conspiracy; it checks a lot of your boxes but involves (spoilers follow)

extraterrestrials rather than "monsters", so it may not strictly fit the bill.

posted by Johnny Assay at 1:24 PM on August 24, 2021

OK, sorry, I know it's not pre-Jurassic Park, but you might glance at Relic (1995), the first novel in what has become the Agent Pendergast novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. It's been years since I read any of the Pendergast novels, but this one has a monster and is definitely in the popcorn category.
posted by lhauser at 6:13 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Phantoms by Dean Koontz, published in 1983, ticks almost every one of your boxes. Not providing a link because it’s best to go into the story blind.
posted by ejs at 7:15 PM on August 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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