Hey Everyone – Tom here today! Today, I am excited to share that we will be taking a deep dive into Primitive War – a dinosaur-filled novel set in the Vietnam conflict written by Ethan Pettus. The book is incredibly well crafted – and is filled with brutal and bloody dinosaur action. As a word of warning before we jump in – this article may contain reference to graphic material, so please approach this with an air of caution.
So, without any further ado, let’s jump into Primitive War. Primitive War is a story which follows a squad of soldiers known as ‘Vulture Squad’ as they are deployed on a deadly mission into an un-chartered valley in Vietnam. The soldiers are deployed to track down US Green Berets – Special Forces operators who have been deployed into the valley to locate and investigate USSR activity in the depths of the valley. The story is a well-written and tense war piece – emulating the very best of wartime storytelling. The characters deliver right from the start – creating a firm sense of camaraderie and brotherhood which really carries the story forwards. As the soldiers of Vulture Squad progress into the valley, they begin to encounter new and varied threats. These include: Spetsnaz operators; Viet Cong guerrillas; a manipulative US Army General, and, of course, dinosaurs.
These dinosaurs are obviously where my interest with this novel comes in – and they are written beautifully. Ethan introduces us to favourites such as the Triceratops and the Tyrannosaurus, and incorporates a whole host of surprise appearances which are certain to make dinosaur fans smile. I found myself grinning as the host of creatures (both familiar and brand new) took the centre stage in the novel. Each dinosaur is written to its strengths – relying on individual characteristics to build up impressive images of these animals within the reader’s brain. We get sequences where the Triceratops, for example, group together in herds – moving as unstoppable forces of tank-like animals to protect themselves. This contrasts nicely with sequences involving the Tyrannosaurus – where large smashes and heavy footsteps build up the tension before we are eventually encountered by this towering giant. Each sequence feels well thought out to deliver to the animal’s strength – and this, in turn, increases the level of immersion that Primitive War can offer readers.
Another thing to note when it comes to the dinosaurs in the novel is the level of graphical detail that Ethan goes to when these animals attack. They feel truly vicious and terrifying – snapping bones, removing limbs and popping muscles to pulp. This, combined with increasingly graphic sequences such as characters being disembowelled by these vicious predators, really helps to paint a vivid and real picture of the vicious nature of these predators which one dominated the planet. The sequences here go a step further – not only painting these beats as the animalistic, savage creatures they were – but also characterising the nature of the Vietnam conflict. These creatures are almost used as a means of personifying the conflict – giving it’s vicious and brutal acts a physical form. It’s an interesting way of exploring the ferocity of the conflict and showing the true guttural nature of warfare.
However – the book doesn’t just excel here, but it also excels in the way it pays homage to one of the most prominent themes across all of Michael Crichton’s work (Novels which heavily inspired Primitive War). A key part of how the dinosaurs arrive within Vietnam is through a piece of futuristic technology which the USSR have acquired. In a rush to use the technology and out-pace American development, the Soviet forces attempt to use their new-found technology too quickly – plunging the valley into chaos. Despite this, the Soviet forces continue to experiment with the technology across the novel – showing that they have not truly learnt from the consequences of their actions. This is a theme which we see Crichton explore within his novels – particularly through John Hammond in the Jurassic Park novel. With that in mind, it is nice to see Ethan able to incorporate a similar storyline here – exploring how as a species we are often to pre-occupied with whether we can do something that we never stop to consider the moral and ethical consequences of our actions.
This is not where it ends – as Ethan is also able to use this as a means of exploring the weapon crisis which saw prevalence during the Cold War. During the conflict, both the USSR and the US were in constant competition to develop new and innovative technologies, locked within a deadly arms race. This is how nuclear weaponry saw so much in the way of development within such a short time – and is how situations such as the Cuban Missile Crisis came to prominence within the real world. The use of science fiction technology as a catalyst for the arms race within Primitive War is incredibly intelligent – allowing Ethan to underpin one of the fundamental factors which contributed towards the real-world conflict itself. This awareness of real-world history is true across the novel – allowing Ethan to really communicate a lot of the rough, sharp-edged elements of the Vietnam conflict in an interesting and immersive way.
This is beneficial as it makes Primitive War not only an immersive story – but a thought provoking one too. A deep and passionate level of research went into this novel – and all areas feel incredibly well grounded. The setting is well communicated and well written – with the luscious but dangerous jungles of Vietnam feeling accurate and thoroughly grounded within some of the horrific conflict that we know unfolded during the Vietnam War. The story is well written – using fictional creatures as a medium to explore human themes of morality, ethics and guilt. Yes – we get scenes of dinosaur violence and horror, but the dinosaurs serve as vessels to communicate the violence of the conflict as a whole – painting a graphic and bloody picture of a conflict which inflicted heavy loses. This is where Ethan’s writing is most effective – communicating through a fictional medium the horrors of a conflict which we should learn from and never repeat.
Primitive War is much more than soldiers and dinosaurs. It’s an emotive, thought-provoking story of camaraderie and brotherhood during a horrible conflict, and causes us to question what we have when everything else is torn away. It’s gritty, it’s bleak – and it is a perfect way to communicate the horrors of Vietnam. It is both a good dinosaur story and a thoroughly authentic look at a phase in humanity’s history. I recommend this book to ANY dinosaur fan who can stomach some gore.
Thanks to Jack De La Mare from Jurassic Outpost, who first made me aware of this novel in 2017.
You can purchase Primitive War HERE!