Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dinosaurs live again in self-published ebooks

In the minds of most mainstream publishers, stories about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are extinct, unless you’re writing for kids. Fortunately, paleofiction for adults lives on in the world of self-published ebooks.

Below are a few titles that have popped up recently on Amazon.com. I haven’t read any of them, so I can’t vouch for their quality. I may throw up some reviews in the future, but as a general rule I don’t review self-published works unless I think they are worthy of a larger audience. Yes, it’s a blind spot, but I’m only one man with a limited amount of time, and there are quite a lot of self-published ebooks.



Prehistorics & Primevals: Short Stories of Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Other Extinct Creatures, collected and illustrated by Benjamin Chandler

Here is an anthology of 12 stories about dinosaurs and other extinct animals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Included in the collection is “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie” by Wardon Allan Curtis, which may qualify as the strangest work of paleofiction ever written. Fun fact: The “monster” of the story makes a cameo appearance in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic.

Chandler provides the illustrations that accompany the stories. He also maintains a blog of short paleofiction inspired by paleoart: antediluvianechoes.tumblr.com





The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

First, I owe this author an apology: He sent me an email a few months back telling me about this book, but it was during my summer hiatus and I missed it. Luckily, he didn’t need my help as the novel seems to have done pretty well in sales on Amazon.com.

Book description:

Ten strangers trapped in time... and one of them is just as dangerous as the dinosaurs.

A ticking sound fills the air as Tim MacGregor enters The Daily Edition Café to meet his new girlfriend for coffee. Moments later, the café is transported 67 million years back in time, along with everyone inside.

Time is running out as ten unlikely companions search for a way home, while one member of the group plots to keep them all in the past.

- - - Who will survive? - - -

Author website: www.geoffjoneswriter.com



Kronos Rising by Max Hawthorne

I found out about this one through Prehistoric Times, which interviewed the author in its most recent issue.

Book Description:

Steve refused to surrender. Even though he knew the creature was right behind him, he wouldn't quit. He would make it. Just as that beacon of hope began to shine down upon him, the bright sun overhead vanished from view. Confused, he gazed wide-eyed as the daylight grew dim. Then he realized the ultimate horror: the creature had overtaken him, its jaws opened wide.

He was in its mouth.

A coastal community faces the wrath of a prehistoric sea beast in Max Hawthorne’s heart-pounding new novel, Kronos Rising.

Devastated by his wife’s tragic drowning, Olympic hopeful Jake Braddock turns his back on fame and fortune and retreats to his childhood home of Paradise Cove, Florida. He accepts the job of town sheriff, hoping to find the solace he so desperately craves.

He finds anything but.

A series of horrifying deaths and disappearances send a flood of panic through the idyllic town. It is only after the ravaged carcass of a full-grown whale surfaces, however, that the real terror begins.

Soon Jake finds himself drawn into an ancient mystery—a mystery that ends with him adrift at sea, battling for survival against the deadliest predator the world has ever seen. It is a creature whose ancestors ruled the prehistoric seas. Now freed after eons of imprisonment, it has risen to reclaim the oceans of the world as its own.

And it's hungry.

Book website: www.kronosrising.com



Here are some quick hits:

Jurassic Dead by Rick Chelser and David Sakmyster: Dinosaur zombies in Antarctica.

The Burial Ground by David Brookover: Magically resurrected dinosaurs in North Dakota.

Extinction Island by Catt Dahman: Shipwrecked survivors on a lost island in the Bermuda Triangle must contend with raptors and other beasts.

Orishadaon: To the Ends of the Urth by Brandon R.J. Rowling: A sword-and-sorcery tale that replaces dragons with dinosaurs.

Charon’s Children and Charon is Coming by Rick Gauger: These two books are sequels to Gauger’s 1987 novel Charon’s Ark. The author originally intended the Charon’s Ark to be the first in a trilogy, but the publisher didn’t oblige. He instead has released the works as self-published ebooks. Worth a look if you are a fan of the original novel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter by Dynamite Comics (2014)

Cover blurb

THE GOLD KEY UNIVERSE BEGINS HERE! Classic Characters by some of Comics Hottest Creators! - Magnus, Solar, Turok and Dr. Spektor! Dynamite is proud to present an all-new adventure ongoing from superstar GREG PAK (Batman/Superman, World War Hulk) and incredible artist MIRKO COLAK (Red Skull: Incarnate, Conan)! Shunned from his tribe, a young Native American named Turok fights to survive, making a lonely life for himself in the unforgiving forest. But his hard-won cunning and survival skills face the ultimate test when man-eating THUNDER LIZARDS attack his people! Why are dinosaurs here? How have they survived? And will Turok use his abilities to save a society that's taken everything away from him?

*Blurb from the first issue of the series.

My thoughts

Turok is a hard man to kill, and not just in his stories. Few comic book characters have been rebooted as often as the "Dinosaur Hunter." He got his start in 1954 in the comic Turok: Son of Stone. In this first outing, he was a pre-Columbian Native American who, along with his young sidekick Andar, stumbles into a lost valley of dinosaurs. He was resurrected in 1993 (the same year Jurassic Park hit theaters) as a gun-wielding hero who found himself up against aliens and cyborg dinosaurs. There were a couple more attempts to revive the comic, but what most people know the character from is the 1997 video game, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. After a handful of sequels, the game was rebooted in 2008, this time turning Turok into a space marine. He even starred in a 2008 direct-to-video animated movie, Turok: Son of Stone, which is a surprisingly decent film.

And that brings us to the most recent incarnation of the comic book series: Dynamite’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. There is no way to review this comic without giving away the big plot twist in the first issue, which shapes the rest of the series. So here’s a summary of my thoughts if you want to skip the spoilers below: I hated it.

In Dynamite’s take on the character, Turok is a young outcast whose parents were murdered by their adopted tribe. Andar is no longer his sidekick but a tormenting bully. The two are drawn together when dinosaurs suddenly appear and attack Andar’s companions. And where did the dinosaurs come from? They were brought to North America by European Crusaders who discovered the New World roughly two centuries before Christopher Columbus.

You see, in the alternate timeline of the comic, dinosaurs exist in the Old World and have been integrated into medieval society. The terrible lizards helped Europeans conquer the Middle East and now the Crusaders have turned their sights on the Americas. The first four-issue arc of the series concerns Turok’s efforts to free Andar’s tribe from the foreign invaders. The next four-issue arc sees Turok journey west, where he encounters a tribe of city dwellers under threat from Genghis Khan’s hordes, who have also managed to find their way to the New World.

I’ll give the creators of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter credit for trying to take the comic in a different direction by setting it in an alternate timeline rather than a lost valley. Still, there is little else to recommend. The writing suffers from trying to cram too much action into too few issues, resulting in illogical leaps in plot and character development. The setting is surprisingly unimaginative: Wouldn’t European culture have evolved in a different direction had dinosaurs still existed? Why settle for generic knights in armor when you could have had something more exotic? And the art goes from serviceable in the first four issues to damn ugly in the next four.

Poor Turok: Someday you will get a reboot worthy of your legacy. Just not today.

Trivia
  • Turok features feathered dinosaurs, or at least partially feathered dinosaurs. Still, none are drawn with any great skill.
Reviews

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Parasaurians by Robert Wells (1969)

Cover blurb

MEGAHUNT CHARTERED. For a select few, it offered a dangerous vacation from the too-safe world of the 22nd century -- a chance to hunt fantastically real robot analogs of the giant dinosaurs who ruled the Earth in mindless grandeur for a million centuries.

Ross Fletcher could afford Megahunt’s price -- and welcomed the challenge and peril of hunting the
“parasaurians.”

But the safari suddenly changed character, with Fletcher and his companions becoming the quarry, pursued by a hunter more deadly than any monster from the past -- man.

My thoughts

If Jurassic Park and Westworld had a baby, then the offspring would be The Parasaurians -- except in this case the child would be older than the parents, as this forgotten work of science fiction came years before those two better-known titles.

The year is 2173 and Ross Fletcher is bored. He is wealthy and alone, his wife having died a few years earlier and his adult daughter not having much time for him. So it doesn’t take much prompting when a salesman from a company called Megahunt Chartered offers him the chance to purchase a vacation package available only to a select few: A spot on a hunting safari on an island inhabited by robotic dinosaurs. These dinosaurs, called “parasaurians,” have been designed to look and behave like the real deal. In the sheltered world of 22nd century, the hunts offer an opportunity to experience real danger.

After touring Megahunt’s facilities, Fletcher sets out on a hunt with a beautiful photographer, an eccentric professor, and a menacing safari guide. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and Fletcher begins to suspect that some of the dinosaurs may be more lifelike than Megahunt let on.

Reading The Parasaurains was a strange experience. Here was Jurassic Park, yet written 21 years before Michael Crichton’s novel hit bookstands. Many of the same elements were present: A secret island off the South American coast turned into a private resort. A lengthy setup in which the protagonists tour the park and see many of its inner workings. Attractions that turn on the tourists.

That said, Jurassic Park is the better of the two novels. The main problem with The Parasaurians is not much happens in its slim 190 pages. There is a lot of buildup, but most of the payoff is reserved for the final 20 pages. The rest of the novel is spent following its paper-thin characters on a prosaic journey around the island. Granted, Crichton’s characters could hardly be called fully developed, but he did have a better sense of pacing, and he made the most of the premise by fleshing out his dinosaurs using the latest science. While the dinosaur scenes in The Parasaurians make for the most entertaining moments of the novel, they are too few and far between to make it any fun.

Trivia
  • The novel’s plot twist probably won’t come as a surprise to audiences in an age after Jurassic Park. I won’t spoil it here other to say The Parasaurians may be the first example in fiction to use this particular device. If you want to know what I’m talking about, click here. (See No. 5)
  • I’ve seen no evidence Crichton read The Parasaurians before creating Westworld or Jurassic Park. In fact, Crichton initially hesitated writing Jurassic Park because of its similarities to Westworld.
  • Not trivia, just an amusing aside: The paperback copy I own of this book disintegrated the very moment I finished it. The cover fell off and the pages spilled loose. I’m surprised I didn’t find a sticker on it saying “This book will self-destruct five seconds after reading.”
Reviews
  • Quark Cognition (Also includes reviews of Wells’ other works.)
  • Prehistoric Times, Issue 16 (Not available online.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two classic dinosaur anthologies now available as ebooks

Here is an early Christmas present for lovers of paleofiction: Baen Books has reissued two anthologies of dinosaur short fiction - Dinosaurs! and Dinosaurs II - as ebooks available in multiple formats.

I consider Dinosaurs II one of the best dinosaur anthologies ever put together. While there are no real classics in it, every story manages to entertain. I haven't had the chance to read the first anthology, but skimming over its table of contents, I see several stories that are classics: "A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp, "Time's Arrow" by Arthur C. Clark, "The Last Thunder Horse West of the Mississippi" by Sharon N. Farber, and more.

Both books originally were released as part of a series of themed anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann in the late '80s/early '90s. Each collection featured science fiction and fantasy stories concerning a particular animal or topic, so there were anthologies about cats, dogs, unicorns, dragons, hackers, future war, time travel, and so on. Apparently Baen has reissued the entire series as ebooks, so if dinosaurs aren't your thing, maybe mermaids are.

This is great news because previously the anthologies were only available if you stumbled upon them in a used book store or bought them online through eBay or Amazon. Hopefully other publishers will follow Baen's example and release digital copies of other works of paleofiction that have long been out of print.

Also of note: Baen recently republished science fiction author David Drake's Time Safari stories in the collection Dinosaurs & a Dirigible.