Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Virgin and the Dinosaur by R. Garcia y Robertson (1996)

Cover blurb


In a far-future Megapolis free of disease, pollution, and money, Jake Bento is master of the wormhole – until an unforeseen catastrophe nearly strands the professional time traveler and his beautiful young paleontologist companion Peg in a world of huge extinct beasts. Luckily, Jake's deft manipulation of wormhole technology can bring them home – after several stopovers in more manageable eras – with enough 3V recordings to make them both legends in their own, and other, times.

There are those, however, who resent such newfound celebrity – specifically Jake's dangerous erstwhile employers at FASTER-THAN-LIGHT. And now Peg and Jake must watch their backs, from the Pleistocene to the present. For there are no treacheries their enemies won't stoop to – and no time in which to hide.

My thoughts

Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? The Virgin and the Dinosaur is a 1996 novel by R. Garcia y Robertson that promises two things: 1) A virgin and 2) a dinosaur. I can report that it delivers on both. In fact, when it comes to the latter the book delivers in spades, as there are quite a few prehistoric creatures tucked between its covers. The only problem is readers must wade through a lot of filler to get to the dinosaur action.

The Virgin and the Dinosaur opens in Late Cretaceous Montana with the aforementioned virgin — a French paleontologist named Peg — stepping nude into a forest clearing. Running around in your birthday suit doesn’t seem a particularly wise idea as we are told that mosquitoes “as big as hummingbirds” are flying around, but Peg is the free-spirited type. Enjoying the view is fellow time traveler Jake Bento, who is supposed to be guarding Peg but instead spends most of his time trying to get into her pants. (That is, if she wore pants.) Peg and Jake have a series of adventures before traveling forward in time to pre-Civil War America and then to the far future, where their journeys have turned them into celebrities. However, their newfound fame has made an enemy of Jake’s employer, who realizes the duo now have the power to start their own time travel business and become competitors. The only way to stop Jake and Peg is to ruin their reputations by any means necessary.

Perhaps the most off-putting thing about The Virgin and the Dinosaur is its lack of any real plot. The novel actually is a collection of adventures linked together by a thin narrative arc. This isn't surprising as the first half of the book was originally published as two separate novellas, but it comes off as disjointed as a result. The story loses its footing in the slower-paced second half, although the pace picks up again near the end. That said, the good parts are really good. Robertson has a knack for writing action scenes, and he throws in just enough twists to keep things interesting. The Mesozoic scenes in particular stand out, although they make up only a third of the novel. Unfortunately the characters are not quite as well written. Peg exists solely as an object to be lusted over. Jake spends a good chunk of the novel more interested in sex than anything else, and his infatuation with Peg is more than a little creepy. I guess The Virgin and the Dinosaur was trying to be sexy, but the book is so clumsy at it that its efforts come across as awkward instead.

The Virgin and the Dinosaur isn't a bad book, but it has too many problems to be memorable. Robertson should have devoted more of the novel to his characters' Mesozoic adventures. It also would have helped had he dialed back on Jake's raging hormones. I guess what I'm saying is I wanted less virgin and more dinosaurs.

  • The first half of the novel was published as two separate novellas in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. The stories - “The Virgin and the Dinosaur” and “Down the River” - both graced the covers of their respective issues. (Click on the titles for links to the cover art.)
  • The novella “The Virgin and the Dinosaur” was republished in the anthology Dinosaurs II.
  • The novel The Virgin and the Dinosaur was followed by a sequel, Atlantis Found. (Not to be confused with the Clive Cussler novel of the same name.) As far as I can tell, it doesn't involve dinosaurs.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Suddenly, a cornucopia of dinosaur board games

Dinosaurs and board games would seem an awesome combination, but the fact is game publishers have shown little interest in the “terrible lizards” outside kids games. That may be changing as a number of new games featuring dinosaurs and paleontology have been announced, and most of them can be enjoyed by adults.

Below is a list of upcoming games in no particular order. Most of them haven't been released yet, at least not in North America. All images are from BoardGameGeek.

The Great Dinosaur Rush

Of the games listed here, this is probably the one I'm most looking forward to. The Great Dinosaur Rush is based on the 19th century “Bone Wars” between paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and O.C. Marsh. Players are rival paleontologists trying to find and build dinosaur skeletons while sabotaging the other players' efforts. From the description:
The Great Dinosaur Rush or the Bone Wars, as they're otherwise called, were a period of incredible advancement in paleontology (discovery of fossils). Players compete to grab bones from the best dig sites, and build new dinosaurs for prestigious museums. 
Gain notoriety by stealing bones, sabotaging dig sites and otherwise impeding the other paleontologists. Play dirty if you want to win. Just not TOO dirty!

Artifacts, Inc.

File Artifacts, Inc. under the long list of creative projects that confuse archaeology with paleontology. Players are private archaeology companies that send explorers out on expeditions to find artifacts and fossils. This was a Kickstarter game, so it will first be available to backers of the crowdfunding campaign, but all games from this designer have eventually hit the market, so I'm betting you will be able to buy copies either later this year or sometime next year. From the description:

New York, 1929: A frenzy of interest in antiquity is sweeping the nation! With museums hungry for mysterious and exotic artifacts — and you hungry for adventure — you start up your own archeology company. Untold wonders await within dangerous jungles, harsh deserts, and wind-swept mountains. Will you gain a reputation as the most intrepid and famous adventurer of all time? 
In Artifacts, Inc., 2-4 players compete to grow the most famous archeology company. Players roll dice, which represent their troop of adventurers, and place them on cards in order to find artifacts, sell them to museums, and purchase new cards representing their company assets. Players can choose to focus on making lots of money by selling artifacts, having museum majorities, creating the best combination of expeditions and buildings, or searching below the waves for lost cities and hidden treasures. The first player to reach 20 reputation triggers the end of the game, and the player with the most total reputation wins!

Dino Twist

I don't know much about this game other than the description:

Sharp your claws and fangs, avoid disasters , meteors and gather the strongest dinosaurs! 
Dino Twist is a family game of cards , fast and smart, where players will have to fight the Dinos on the island of Twist, then recover them on their islands to score the most points. But beware to the events that will spice up the battles !!! 
The goal of the game is to have the strongest Dino on our island.

If you can speak French, then the following gameplay video should be very helpful:


So the “raptor” in this game is 1) featherless, 2) oversized, and 3) obviously inspired by the raptors from Jurassic Park. Still, the artwork looks nice. From the description:

Mamma Raptor has escaped from her run and laid her eggs in the park. A team of scientists must neutralize her and capture the baby raptors before they run wild into the forest. 
Raptor is a card driven board game with tactical play and some double guessing. Players use their cards to move their pawns (scientists on one side, Mother and baby raptors on the other) on the board. Every round, the player who played the lowest ranked card can use the corresponding action, while his opponent has movement / attack points equal to the difference between the two cards values. The scientists can use fire, can move by jeep on the tracks, and can even call for reinforcements, whil the mamma raptor can hide in the bushes, yell to frighten the scientists, and call for her babies.


If you like dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs, then JurassAttack! sounds like the game for you. It is a two-player card game in which players battle using prehistoric beasts as their weapons of choice. From the description:

In JurassAttack! from first time designer and independent pro-wrestler, Ryan Cowler, 2 players face off in an epic face-to-face dinosaur battle! In the game, each player chooses a dinosaur, or pack of dinosaurs of the same type from their hand and reveals them simultaneously to compare Ferocity values. The player with the highest total Ferocity wins the round, taking their rival’s dinosaurs into their score pile. Different types of dinosaurs are worth varying amounts of victory points so it’s important to plan well and make sure not to give away too many points in the event of a knock out! These fierce, prehistoric beasts each have their own special effects as well. Some hunt alone while others may pack with dinos of different types. And sometimes, with a well placed bluff, players may even be able to sneak some of their precious eggs into their own score pile to protect the future generation. 
JurassAttack! is made up of 54 oversized cards and comes in a sturdy, portable box. Each game lasts about 15 minutes and plays with 2 players, ages 8 and up. Artwork by newcomer, Shaz Yong, will transport players back to a land where giants ruled the earth and only the strong survived! This Summer blockbuster, great for gamers and families looking for some quick dino-battle-action, is headed for Kickstarter in July of 2015.

Other games:

Cardline: Dinosaurs – I previously posted about this card game in which players must line up dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals based on their size and weight.

Apex: Theropod Deck-Building Game – A card game in which players are predatory dinosaurs hunting prey and fending off rivals. The Kickstarter campaign for the second edition of the game had about a week left as of the time of this post.

In a World of Dinosaurs – Another Kickstarter project that was funded last year, with backers now waiting to receive their copies of the game. It may be unique in that players control both the dinosaurs and the paleontologists who dig them up.

Evolution - This excellent game recently ended a Kickstarter campaign for both its second edition and a "Flight" expansion. I expect both to be out in stores either this year or early next year.

PS. Notice how many of these games started as Kickstarters? That seems to be the way the industry is heading.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dinosaur Planet by Anne McCaffrey (1978)

Cover blurb

Stranded on a strange world


The Exploratory and Evaluation Corps of the Federated Sentient Planets had sent ARCT-10, with its mixed crew of shipbred and planet-bound technicians, to Ireta to catalogue fauna and flora and search for new energy sources. It was a simple mission. A standard crew.


Kai and his beautiful co-leader Varian, the best xenob-vet in the business, followed all the standard procedures – but the results of their investigations were totally unexpected. Not only were the planet's creatures larger than anyone had anticipated and the geological finds smaller, but the rescue ship had inexplicably disappeared.


Then suddenly on a world of giant swamp creatures and deadly predators, a curious change had come over many of the members of the ARCT-10 crew… a change that would lead all of them, in one way or another, into the primitive darkness of a future world.

My thoughts

Anne McCaffrey is best known for writing about dragons, being the author of the very popular Dragonriders of Pern series. However, in 1978 she took a break from fire-breathing reptiles to focus on their real-life prehistoric counterparts with Dinosaur Planet. It wasn't much of a stretch as the novel is set in the same science fiction universe as Dragonriders of Pern, although no dragons or Thread show up in its pages. That's a shame, as Dinosaur Planet badly needs an injection of excitement.

The story begins not long after the crew of the spaceship ARCT-10 has landed and set up camp on Ireta, a jungle world whose poles are hotter than its equator because of the planet's super-hot core. Their mission is to survey the planet for energy-producing minerals as well as catalog the wildlife they encounter. The crew's leader, Kai, spends a good deal of the novel trying to squash rumors that the crew have been “planted” - that is, abandoned on the planet by mission control in a not-so-subtle attempt to start a new colony. Varian, the co-leader, isn't particularly concerned about the rumors. Most of her time is instead occupied researching a native species of flying creature that shows tool-making capabilities. Trouble comes in the form of the “heavy-worlders,” a group of crew members much stronger than average because they were raised on planets with high gravity. After a series of discoveries, Kai and Varian begin to suspect the heavy-worlders have violated the greatest taboo of their future vegetarian society: They have eaten meat.

It wasn't easy for me to write the above summary because Dinosaur Planet is a book without much plot. It is a rather dull and rambling piece of fiction that feels much longer than its 200 pages would suggest. Large parts of the narrative are just long stretches of stiff, unnatural-sounding dialogue, the sort of which one would find in bad 1950s B-movies. Worse still is McCaffrey's lazy descriptive text. We only get the broadest brush strokes of Ireta's sights, sounds, and smells because the author never paints them in any fine detail. A character may spot a “herbivore” and that's all we're told. What did the herbivore look like? Did it have a crest? A long neck? What color was it? Did it smell? What sounds did it make? McCaffrey can't be bothered to provide such descriptive elements, and as a result Ireta comes across as a rather drab and generic place.

Dinosaur Planet also is lacking much in the way of action and mystery, and while neither are necessary for a good novel, the lack of other redeeming qualities makes the absence of the two that much more noticeable. McCaffrey would revisit the planet Ireta again in a sequel, Dinosaur Planet Survivors, which I have sitting on my bookshelf. I can't see myself cracking it open anytime soon.

  • Ireta also is a setting in McCaffrey's Planet Pirates trilogy. I haven't read the books, so I can't say whether they feature pirate dinosaurs.
  • Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors were collected in a single volume titled The Mystery of Ireta in 2003.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dinosaur card game Apex back on Kickstarter

Missed out on the Kickstarter for Apex: Theropod Deck-Building Game the first time around?  Now you have a second chance to pick up this excellent game, and with better quality components.

Die-Hard Games is running a Kickstarter for the second edition of the game. As of this post, there was 19 days left in the campaign. Backers can pick a copy of the original game, except this time it comes with a playmat, a better box, and a T. rex miniature.The publisher also is offering four expansions that let you play as different prehistoric predators. Check out my review for more information about the game.

I should note this Kickstarter isn't without controversy. Several backers of the first edition, including myself, are upset that a higher-quality second edition is coming out so soon after the first edition. In addition, many first edition backers have yet to receive their copies of the game. (I only received mine because I paid an extra $15 after the first Kickstarter ended to be moved up the mailing list.) The new edition also is quite pricey: A copy of the core game and expansions will set you back $100, once shipping is thrown in. You can back both individually for about half that price.

All that aside, if you have money to burn and like card games, you can't go wrong with Apex.