Friday, February 27, 2015

New game: Apex brings dinosaurs to deck building

There is no good reason for this post other to point out this arrived in the mail today:


Sorry for the poor-quality cell phone picture. What you're looking at is the box art for the new dinosaur-themed deck-building card game Apex. I previewed this game in March of last year when it was up on Kickstarter. A year later, it has arrived in the mailboxes of backers. My version was only available through Kickstarter; the retail version will look slightly different. That said, I'm not sure how easy it will be to find in stores. The game's creator underestimated production and shipment costs, so Apex came out much later than originally promised. I only received my copy as early as I did by forking over some extra cash. A handful of copies were made available through an online retailer but they quickly sold out. (EDIT: Looks like you can order copies of the game through the creator's website: www.diehardgamesllc.com)

I hope to post a review in coming weeks once I've had a chance to play Apex a few times. One thing I can say now is the artwork is amazing. Instead of subjecting you to more bad cell phone photos, check out the photo gallery at BoardGameGeek where other gamers are posting pictures.

In the meantime, if you are looking for a paleontology-themed card game you can find in stores, then give Evolution a try. I haven't played the game but it has been getting positive reviews, and the artwork is spectacular.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dreadlands by Epic Comics (1992)

Summary

Colorado, 2033. Decades of war and environmental degradation have left the Earth’s surface a wasteland (i.e. the “Dreadlands” of the title). One of the last beacons of hope is a U.N. science facility tasked with finding a means of restoring the planet’s biosphere as well as developing clean energy sources. The scientists get more than they bargained for when an experiment with ball lightning gives them the key to traveling through time. Before they can tinker further with the technology, an army of wasteland raiders overruns the base, forcing the surviving scientists and military personnel to cram into a makeshift time machine in hopes of escaping into the future. However, an ill-timed lightning strike instead sends them hurdling back to the Jurassic Period, where giant carnivores turn out to be the least of their problems.

My thoughts

Dreadlands is a four-issue comic book series published in 1992 by Epic Comics, a now-defunct imprint of Marvel Comics. Epic was a vehicle for writers and artists to tell more adult stories than were allowed in Marvel’s mainstream titles at the time. Like most Epic titles, Dreadlands is largely forgotten today, which is a shame because the comic combines decent writing with terrific art.

Dreadlands mainly is the story of a group of castaways trying to eke out a living in the Mesozoic. I say “mainly” because the first issue is concerned with how the group became stranded in the first place, while the third issue takes a turn into more traditional comic book sci-fi fare. Upon arriving the Jurassic, the survivors quickly split into two factions: Military types led by the hot-headed Lieutenant Trask, and civilians led by the much more reasonable Lieutenant Jeff McClure. The factions go their separate ways, encounter hungry dinosaurs, and build the fabulous tree houses that pop up in nearly every story about people trapped in a prehistoric wilderness. (See Land of the Lost, The Lost World, Dinosaur Island, etc.)

I’m avoiding going into detail about the plot because there is a surprise twist in the middle that steers it in a totally different direction. Sadly, the twist actually hurts more than it helps. Before it occurs, Dreadlands is a pretty good tale about people trying to make the most out of the horrible situation they find themselves in. Afterward, the comic quickly devolves into little more than a series of gun battles and chase scenes, with the dinosaurs taking a backseat to all the other action.

That gripe aside, Dreadlands still boasts above-average characterization and a storyline that entertains despite its missteps. Helping immensely is the comic’s detailed art and the artist’s portrayal of dinosaurs as active animals with their tails held high off the ground. That may seem like faint praise these days, but Dreadlands came out a year before the first Jurassic Park movie, when most dinosaurs in the popular media were still being depicted as tail-dragging lizards. The comic’s creators also did a reasonably good job of making sure only dinosaurs appropriate to the Jurassic Period populate the setting. There are allosaurs and stegosaurs but no T. rexes or Triceratops.

Dreadlands was never collected in a single volume, so you will need to hunt down the four issues individually if you want to read the series. Fortunately for your wallet, the lack of interest in the comic means they are pretty cheap to find these days. (I purchased all four issues for $3.47, which couldn’t buy you a single comic now.)

Trivia
  • Dreadlands was written by Andy Lanning and Steve White, both of whom are still active in comics. White also was the series colorist.
  • The penciler, Phil Gascoine, was a British comic book artist best known for his work in girls’ comics. Sadly, he died in 2007, according to his Wikipedia page.
Reviews
  • None

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Extinction Event by WildStorm (2003-2004)

Summary

A group of ranch hands in modern-day Texas are searching for a missing calf when they stumble upon a remarkable find: 65 million-year-old ruins inscribed with dinosaur carvings. Six months later, the U.S. military has commandeered the site and brought in pilot Rick Benson to fly a specially built aircraft down a two-mile deep shaft amid the ruins. The hole leads to a gigantic cave filled with machinery keeping thousands of dinosaurs in suspended animation. The presence of humans causes the dinosaurs to stir from their slumber, but what seems like the greatest discovery in history soon becomes a nightmare. Turns out the animals are far more intelligent than we imagined, and they want their planet back.

My thoughts

Extinction Event was a five-part miniseries published in late 2003 and early 2004 by WildStorm, an imprint of DC Comics. The comic’s creators obviously meant the series to be the start of a much larger publishing run as the story ends on a cliffhanger, so don’t dive into it expecting a tidy resolution. No sequel ever materialized, probably because the comic isn’t very good.

Extinction Event has more in common with War of the Worlds than The Lost World, although its plot borrows heavily from Doctor Who and the Silurians. The super-intelligent dinosaurs here basically are a faceless alien force intent on humanity’s destruction. After an initial setup in the first two issues, the story boils down to the dinosaur army’s rampage across Texas and the heroes’ attempts to stop it. Why do the dinosaurs hate humanity so much? That’s never explained. They wake up and instantly start slaughtering every person they find, although you would think they would be surprised to see humans given they had never encountered them before. And if you're wondering how a few thousand dinosaurs could overrun several billion humans, these dinosaurs have psychic powers that turn people into mindless puppets – except for the heroes, who can resist their mental powers because… plot convenience?

The writing is ludicrous. Extinction Event reads like something I would have penned in seventh grade: Just a bunch of “cool” ideas thrown into a narrative blender with no care for creating a story with any type of logical coherence. My favorite bit of WTF comes near the end when the hero enters a town to tell the residents – who have no clue that anything out of the ordinary is going on – that an army of psychic dinosaurs is about to invade their community, so they should arm themselves and follow him into battle. And they do! I’m guessing because you don’t mess with Texas?

The art is a mixed bag. A big problem with many dinosaur-themed comics is the artists are often skilled at depicting human anatomy but not dinosaur anatomy, so you get silly-looking terrible lizards. The opposite is true for Extinction Event. The dinosaur art is the bright spot of the series. The animals are highly detailed and show a surprising amount of scientific accuracy, including feathers. Unfortunately the colorist paints all the dinosaurs the same shade of green, which diminishes the work the penciler put into them. Still, I wish more comics had dinosaurs that looked this good. That said, the human characters look awful, with strangely elongated torsos, oversized limbs, and undersized heads. The artist clearly was hired for his ability to draw dinosaurs, not Homo sapiens.

As far as I know, Extinction Event was never collected into a single volume, so you will need to hunt down all five issues individually if you want to read the series. Trust me, it’s not worth the effort.

Trivia
  • DC shut down WildStorm in 2010.
  • The penciler, Brett Booth, has provided art for a number of popular superhero comics. You can read more about him on his Wikipedia page
Reviews
  • None

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New book roundup: Dinosaur cowboys and lost worlds galore

I’ve spent the past few days battling a malfunctioning computer (boo!) but now it’s fixed and I have several new paleofiction titles to report. (Yea!) The first three titles were brought to my attention by blogger Eccentric Cowboy, who penned the first one.



Primal Frontier: The Hunter from the Red Hills by Austen Confer

Here’s a self-published title for those of you who like your Wild West a little wilder. From the description:
Only the boldest and bravest of men dare to explore the dinosaur-infested interior of Magna Terra, The Wild Continent. Ansgar Tapio is one of those few. Raised in the rugged Red Hills and having explored the land he is well prepared for the challenges that lie before him.

But when he and his best friend Jandar are chased into the dreaded Vangor Mountains by a hostile tribe, they make a discovery within that neither ever dreamed existed in the mountain range. Menaced by new foes their every step is fraught with danger as they seek to escape the Vangor Mountains, and perhaps bring a stranger out with them.

The Hunter from the Red Hills is the first installment of the Primal Frontier series, an alternate history setting taking place on a super-continent where ancient wildlife still rules supreme in the 1800's as colonists from Europe seek to exploit its resources. Many other adventures and discoveries await with different characters.

Stay tuned for future releases!


The Zanthodon Megapack by Lin Carter

I was surprised to see this one. Lin Carter was an editor and author whose main claim to fame was helping keep the works of several early 20th century pulp writers in the public consciousness. Most of his own novels were pastiches of those earlier works. I had previously only known Zanthodon from its entry in the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, where it was described an underground lost world in the vein of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar. Anyway, this digital bundle brings together all five Zanthodon novels in a single ebook:
Beneath the trackless sands and shifting wastelands of the Sahara lies a world unknown to modern man: the underground world of Zanthodon. In its vast unmapped terrain are great jungles, strange seas, and forbidding mountains...and here can be found many of beings long since vanished from the surface of the Earth: dinosaurs, flying monsters, and primitive cavemen. Join Eric Carstairs as he explores the strange world beneath the Earth's crust, discovering monsters and marvels of eras past!

"If you have an appetite for weird and curious marvels -- a thirst for swashbuckling derring-do; if you enjoy a story that pits a long adventurer against uncanny dangers -- a princess in peril, and a hero to battle ruthless foes to rescue her -- then come, join Eric Carstairs!" -- Lin Carter, from the Foreword.

This volume assembles the complete 5-volume Zanthodon series, by Lin Carter:

JOURNEY TO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD
ZANTHODON
HUROK OF THE STONE AGE
DARYA OF THE BRONZE AGE
ERIC OF ZANTHODON


The Lost World Megapack

This ebook collects several lost world and lost civilization stories that are now in the public domain, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Technically you can find these stories online for free, but $1 will give them to you as a single file already formatted for your e-reader.
The Lost Worlds MEGAPACK™ explores strange lands and peoples lost from the rest of civilization—strange continents, hidden valleys, microscopic worlds, and underground kingdoms are just the tip of the iceberg! With classic stories from well-known authors like Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Arthur Conan to more modern works by Lin Carter, Don Wilcox, Eando Binder, and many others, this is the lost world collection you've been waiting for. Even if you're a connoisseur of lost world fiction, you'll find stories here that you’ve never encountered before. Or if you’re new to the genre, you will find this collection a treasure-trove of fantastic fiction from cover to cover! Included are:

THE LOST WORLD, by Arthur Conan Doyle
PEOPLE OF THE PYRAMIDS, by William P. McGivern
KING SOLOMON’S MINES, by H. Rider Haggard
LAND OF THE SHADOW DRAGONS, by Eando Binder
JOURNEY TO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD, by Lin Carter
THE MOON POOL, by A. Merritt
THE METAL MONSTER, by A. Merritt
A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, by Jules Verne
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, by Rudyard Kipling
THE DEVIL-TREE OF EL DORADO, by Frank Aubrey
TERROR ISLAND, by Alex Shell Briscoe
AT THE EARTH’S CORE, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
PELLUCIDAR, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
OUT OF TIME’S ABYSS, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
UNDER THE ANDES, by Rex Stout
THE MAN WHO MEASURED THE WIND, by Harold Lamb
DWELLERS OF THE DEEP, by Don Wilcox
VRIL, THE POWER OF THE COMING RACE, by Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton
SYMZONIA: VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY, by Adam Seaborn
A STRANGE MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN A COPPER CYLINDER, by James De Mille


The Dead World by F. Paul Wilson

Here’s something you don’t see every day: An officially authorized sequel written by a well-known horror and fantasy author. The Dead World is a novelette about an expedition to Pellucidar’s moon, which hangs in stationary orbit over the surface of the Inner Earth. F. Paul Wilson is best known for his Repairman Jack novels.
A Pellucidar novelette written with the approval of the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate.

A plague is spewing forth from the Dead World, the stationary moon that hovers over the Land of Awful Shadow in the land within the Earth. David Innes, Emperor of Pellucidar, and the eccentric inventor, Abner Perry, rig a balloon to carry them to the Dead World. But Pellucidar's mysterious moon is not what it seems, and far more bizarre than they ever dreamed. It holds the answer as to how Pellucidar was formed - and how it will be destroyed. Can they stop the plague before it wipes out all life in the Inner World?


Other titles

Beyond the Great South Wall by Frank Saville: A lost civilization novel that may have been the first long work of fiction to feature a dinosaur. The Kindle edition is illustrated, but you can also read the text online for free.

Savage Island by Alan Specter: Environmentalists and evil corporate types clash on a dinosaur-infested lost island.

The Hollow World by Michael Kace Beckum: A modern-day take on the underground lost world theme.

Cry Havoc by Jack Hanson: Dinosaurs with big guns. That’s about all I can make out from the rambling description.