Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction by Allen A. Debus (2006)

Hardback cover blurb

From the first illustrated edition of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1867, dinosaurs and prehistory have fascinated readers. Writers would time and again come back to dinosaurs as an element of fantastic fiction, often using these creatures – through the venue of the written word – to reflect the world of the writers’ own time.

This literary survey examines how paleoliterature originated, developed and matured to the present day. It follows historical trends on the crafting of classic dinosaurs, investigating the enlivened figurative and metaphoric meaning of fictional dinosaurs and related prehistoria. Also discussed are the ways in which dinosaur fiction mirrors contemporary ideas about subjects such as geology, the Cold War, environmentalism, time travel, evolution and bioengineering.

Featured authors include Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, and Poul Anderson, among others. In select cases, the novelizations of movie scripts are also utilized. An appendix provides brief summaries of deserving dinosaur texts.

My thoughts

Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction is a more thorough overview of paleofiction than I thought it would be when I first picked it up. Despite my love for the subject, it took me some time to get around to reading the book – the $55 cover price is a big disincentive for those of us on a budget. There’s not enough material in its scant 220 pages to justify the high price, but lovers of the genre won’t be disappointed either.

Debus starts at the very beginning, scrounging up a few obscure 19th century poems that marked the first appearance of ancient creatures in fiction. Still, the first true work of paleofiction was Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which the protagonists find a huge cavern populated with prehistoric beasts – although, ironically, no dinosaurs, since they hadn’t captured the public’s imagination yet. Debus makes a convincing argument about how Verne’s work was really a trip backward through time, at least from the perspective of how Victorian-era scientists viewed prehistory.

He then moves on to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which, in my mind, is the true granddaddy of the subgenre simply because it created many of the clichés later writers would use in their stories. He travels at warp speed through the 20th century, moving from dinosaurs in the pulp era to the tie-ins with B-cinema to Jurassic Park, before ending with Dinotopia and other examples of how writers have started portraying dinosaurs more like humans than animals. There also is a handy, but spoiler-heavy, appendix at the end of novels and short stories concerning prehistoric creatures.

As I've already stated, Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction does a pretty good job encompassing the subgenre given its varied and often hard-to-find titles. More than a few works only get the briefest of mentions, but Debus covers enough of them that the book rarely feels incomplete, and his observations about the trends in paleofiction are pretty much spot on. The author does cheat a little in the middle and starts delving into dinosaurs in cinema, which, unlike prehistoric fiction, has been covered extensively by other writers. Also, some of his writing comes dangerously close to imitating postmodern literary criticism, meaning that it is stylistically dense but intellectually hollow. These are only small complaints, however.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Neozoic: A new dinosaur comic coming in October

It's been a while since we've had a dinosaur comic hit stores, but now it looks like the drought is almost over. A new title, Neozoic, is coming in October from Red 5 Comics. Here is a summary of the plot from the publisher:
In NEOZOIC, a debut title from publisher Red 5 Comics, there’s nothing special about an 80-foot-long brachiosaurus lumbering past a group of human travelers. It’s been going on for millions of years.

However, if those same humans hear the blood-thirty roars of a T-Rex, then it’s time to call the professional super-hunters of the Predator Defense League. Armed only with swords, arrows, warrior cunning, ruthless precision and a lifetime of training, these exceptionally skilled athletes keep the citizens of the walled city of Monanti from becoming a dinosaur’s breakfast...

Unlike most dinosaur-themed fiction, where ill-prepared and unsuspecting modern-day humans are thrust together with pre-historic beasts through some contortion in time, NEOZOIC imagines an Earth where the dinosaurs escaped extinction altogether. As a result, the entire history of the human race unfolded side-by-side with the giant beasts, leading to a society greatly different than the one we know today.

While the kinetic pencils of J. Korim and the rich colors of Jessie Lam deliver on the promise of epic evenly-matched human / dino battles like never seen before, the complex heart of NEOZOIC is in its ensemble cast of characters.
Sounds like an interesting twist on the man-vs.-dinosaurs theme, although that lady on the cover must be a pretty tough character to take on a T. rex is nothing more than a sword.

The title also reminds me of Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz (review coming soon). Xenozoic Tales concerns a make-believe geologic age where humans and dinosaurs lived side-by-side, although the Xenozoic was set in the future where the Neozoic sounds like it is set in an alternate reality.

Anyway, there isn't much news about Neozoic yet, but you can read what news there is on the publisher's web site.

* Thanks to Bob Mozark at Antediluvian Tours Inc. for pointing out the comic.

Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous by Jim Lawson (2003)

Paleo is a comic for anyone who enjoyed BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs; that is, a comic that does its best to get the science right and only wanders from that goal when the needs to the story dictate otherwise. There are no humans, and the dinosaurs are, as far as I can tell, appropriate for the Late Cretaceous setting.

The comic was a labor of love for artist Jim Lawson, who has illustrated the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic books. It was published over eight issues beginning in 2003, with the first six issues later collected in a single volume. There are no colors, this is a black-and-white comic.

Each issue tells the story of a different dinosaur or creature that inhabited the world of the Late Cretaceous. There is some anthropomorphizing of the animals but not to the extent of Age of Reptiles, another dinosaur-only comic. One story concerns an injured Albertosaurus fleeing the predations of its larger cousin, Tyrannosaurus rex. Another story is about a baby Stegocerus on its own after its mother is eaten by a pack of “raptors.” Yet another follows the flight of a dragonfly through a Cretaceous swamp. You get the idea.

Paleo is straightforward in execution and pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do. There are few happy endings, since this is a fairly accurate portrayal of nature “red in tooth and claw,” but not every story is a downer either. The dinosaurs are anatomically accurate although Lawson tends to exaggerate certain features – giving them oversized feet and calves, for example – and his animals and environments usually lack natural curvature and look a bit blocky as a result. I’m not keen on the stylized art style, thinking Lawson could have used a little softer touch and cut back on the heavy use of ink in some panels, but others may like it.

Whether readers will enjoy Paleo will depend on their personal tastes. This is a comic best suited for dinosaur fanatics – people who enjoy dinosaurs for what they were rather than just seeing them as monsters to be thrown into a story to oppose human heroes. I quite liked it, even though, as already stated, I didn’t particularly care for the art style. If you’re the kind of person whose shelves are lined with non-fiction books about dinosaurs, then this is for you.

  • One reason to get the Paleo graphic novel, which has issues one through six, is that it also features an excellent essay by comic book artist Steve Bissette about the history of dinosaurs in comics. You can also read the essay online at Palaeoblog, with links to each entry posted here.

The History of Dinosaur Comics

A genuine dinosaur comic is a rare thing. A true dinosaur comic is something unique, unblemished by human characters.
So writes comic book artist Steve Bissette in his history of dinosaurs in comic books. The essay appeared in the graphic novel bringing together the first six issues of Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous, but it also was published in nine pieces over at Palaeoblog along with pictures from the comics mentioned in the essay.

It is worth reading if you are a fan of comic books or dinosaurs in general.

Monday, July 23, 2007

GURPS Lands Out of Time by Lizard (2006)

Cover blurb

Humans and dinosaurs go together like gamers and pizza. That tens of millions of years separated the last of the dinosaurs from the first of the humans is a mere inconvenience, easily ignored. GURPS Lands Out of Time is a sourcebook for human/dino adventuring, providing all you need to know to place man and giant reptile side-by-side, whether it's a "Lost World" adventure, caveman slapstick, or something in between. GURPS Lands Out of Time is an e23 original game setting for GURPS.

*Cover and blurb from publisher's web site.

My thoughts

GURPS Lands Out of Time is a web-only gaming supplement available on e23, the official online store of Steve Jackson Games. It's mostly about building characters for "lost world" adventures, almost to the exclusion of everything else. One mistake the author made in writing the supplement was his decision to portray dinosaurs like their 1950s B-movie counterparts rather than using modern scientific theories. "(T)he fun of the genre is adventuring with dinosaurs as they should have been, not as a they were," he writes. Sorry, but it's not fun for those of us who find modern views of dinosaurs far more interesting than the dim-witted behemoths of yesteryear.

The portrayal of dinosaurs is a small complaint because other than a short bestiary, dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are surprisingly absent given the subject matter. Most of the book is about creating characters, from cavemen to dinosaur hunters armed with space age weaponry, with a list of advantages, skills and disadvantages suitable to the setting. There also is a disappointingly brief summary of the genre, a few generalized setting ideas and a short campaign setting taking place on a parallel world.

There is really nothing in GURPS Lands Out of Time that any gamer couldn't come up with on his or her own when designing characters; it basically just spells out the glaringly obvious. A far more useful supplement is GURPS Dinosaurs -- also available for download on e23 -- which has stats for more than 100 prehistoric creatures and is better researched. Both supplements sell for $7.95 each, but instead of spending the full $15 for both, just buy GURPS Dinosaurs and use the rest of the money to buy snacks for your fellow gamers. They'll appreciate it.

  • None

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Saber-tooth cats, mammoths star in 10,000 B.C.

I walked down to the local theater earlier today to catch the latest Harry Potter movie, not expecting to see anything related to prehistoric animals. So imagine my surprise when, during the trailers, I saw this:

It was a trailer for an upcoming movie called 10,000 B.C., directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow fame. I vaguely remember hearing about this movie a year or so ago, thinking it interesting but quickly forgetting it. I definitely had no idea it was already in production.

Any movie that features a saber-tooth cat already has won my ticket. But judging from the trailer, it also features a terror bird and mammoths. Lots of mammoths.

It's not shooting for realism, if the trailer is any indication. By 10,000 B.C., saber-tooth cats could only be found in the Americas -- if they were still around -- and terror birds had gone the way of the dodo. There also are several scenes in the trailer featuring the construction of the pyramids, using mammoths no less. You think they'd overheat in the desert with those thick shaggy coats. Anyway, the Egyptian pyramids do not date back to the Ice Age, despite fringe theories to the contrary.

Personally, I have no problems with the inaccuracies, as long as the producers market the movie as a fantasy rather than a historical drama. (In that sense, the world of 10,000 B.C. would be much like the Hyborian Age of the Conan stories.) The sad truth, however, is the director has been known to pass off psuedoscience as the real thing in his previous efforts, so prepare for a lot of BS to accompany B.C.

What's the plot? This is the description from the trailer on YouTube: "It was a time when man and beast were untamed and the mighty mammoth roamed the earth. A time when ideas and beliefs were born that forever shaped mankind. 10,000 B.C. follows a young hunter (Steven Strait) on his quest to lead an army across a vast desert, battling saber tooth tigers [sic] and prehistoric predators as he unearths a lost civilization and attempts to rescue the woman he loves (Camilla Belle) from an evil warlord determined to possess her."

A high-definition Quicktime version of the trailer also is available.

I'm excited about the movie even though I know little about it and I've been unimpressed with Emmerich's other films. But when a big-budget movie about dinosaurs and other monsters is in theaters, book publishers usually try to cash in by publishing novels and anthologies about the creature in question. So check your local bookstore around March 7, 2008, when the film is scheduled for release.

Also, just a little trivia, this may be the first big-screen film since Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger in 1977 to feature a saber-tooth cat. Yes, there were the Ice Age movies, but those were cartoons. The cats also featured in two truly awful direct-to-video films, as did a killer mammoth that was possessed by an alien lifeforce. All three aired on the SciFi Channel, known for its *cough* quality programming. *cough*

Update: Ain't It Cool News already has a review of the movie. Warning: Spoilers if you follow the link.

Foreigner by Robert J. Sawyer (1994)

Note: This is the last novel of the Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, starting with Far-Seer. Spoilers below.

Paperback cover blurb


...the dawn of scientific discovery, a new way of thinking. is about to revolutionize the world of dinosaurs. Novato, mate of Afsan the Far-Seer, is mastering the technology of an ancient artifact -- one that could take her species to the stars. And Afsan is struggling to overcome his blindness with the help of a new kind of doctor. Mokleb is an advanced practitioner indeed she treats not the body, but the saurian mind...

My thoughts

The last of the Quintaglio Ascension trilogy is more of an afterthought than a conclusion. It concerns the Quintaglio's attempt to escape their doomed planet, using alien technology to give them a boost from a medieval age to the space age. A big problem for the species is they're unable to stand within a few feet of each other without launching into a homicidal rage. As a result, they wouldn't survive in the cramped conditions of spaceflight, killing each other before they could reach their destination. But there may be a new kind of doctor who has the solution for that...

Foreigner is the weakest book of the trilogy, with not much happening in its nearly 250 pages. Sawyer made the mistake of revealing too many of the dinosaur world's secrets in the first two novels, so he didn't have much to work with in the final volume. The novelty of the setting has pretty much worn off by now, and the book itself is slow moving and instantly forgettable. Yes, everything comes to a neat and tidy end, but it's not a very satisfying conclusion.

  • Each book in the Quintaglio Ascension tells the story of the dinosaurian counterpart of a famous scientist on Earth. Galileo Galilei is the model for the protagonist in Far-Seer. Charles Darwin is covered in Fossil Hunter. Sigmund Freud is the main subject of Foreigner.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fossil Hunter by Robert J. Sawyer (1993)

Note: This is the second novel of the Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, starting with Far-Seer below.

Paperback cover blurb


…teach that the first intelligent saurians emerged from the eighth and final egg of God. Toroca, son of Afsan the Far-Seer, is a geologist searching for the rare metals needed to take his species to the stars. But what he’s discovered instead is an artifact, immeasurably ancient, that may reveal at last the true origin of a world of dinosaurs!

My thoughts

Fossil Hunter is my favorite of the three novels making up the Quintaglio Ascension, perhaps because my obvious bias for the subject matter. It is about the rise of a dinosaurian Darwin, which seems a far more interesting premise than a dinosaur Galileo (Far-Seer) or a dinosaur Freud (Foreigner). Toroca, the son of the protagonist of the first book, is leading a geologic expedition to a distant part of the world, including the planet’s diminutive southern ice cap. The strange wildlife there, as well as the discovery of what appears to be an alien artifact by his team, forces him to reconsider his people’s explanation for the origin of life on his world.

Meanwhile, Afsan, now blind after the events of the first book, learns that one of his children has been murdered. He launches an investigation to track down the culprit. And if that weren’t bad enough, his friend, the Emperor Dybo, faces a challenge for the throne. It turns out the solution to the political crisis involves a really big arena and a really hungry Tyrannosaurus rex.

The main problem with Fossil Hunter is that it has too many plots. The murder mystery could have been easily dropped and the novel would have lost nothing except an extraneous 70-or-so pages. That said, the remainder of the book is a decent read, exploring in more detail how Sawyer’s dinosaur world came to be. Toroca faces a challenge in proving evolution in that the fossil record of his planet, unlike that of Earth, appears to point to a divine creation rather than the slow emergence of life. Also, the final confrontation between Dybo and his political opponent comes straight out of one of the quirkier episodes of original Star Trek, showing Sawyer wasn’t afraid of having a little fun with his invented world.


  • Each book in the Quintaglio Ascension tells the story of the dinosaurian counterpart of a famous scientist on Earth. Galileo Galilei is the model for the protagonist in Far-Seer. Charles Darwin is covered in Fossil Hunter. Sigmund Freud is the main subject of Foreigner.


  • None

Monday, July 16, 2007

Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (1992)

Paperback cover blurb


...is what every young saurian learns to call the immense, glowing object which fills the night sky on the far side of the world. Young Afsan is privileged, called to the distant Capital City to apprentice with Saleed the court astrologer. But when the time comes for Afsan to make his coming-of-age pilgrimage, to gaze upon the Face of God, his world is changed forever -- for what he sees will test his faith... and may save his world from disaster.

My thoughts

Far-Seer is essentially the story of a dinosaurian Galileo Galilei, being the first book in Robert J. Sawyer's Quintaglio Ascension, a trilogy of novels. It is set on a planet where dinosaurs continued to evolve and thrive, although how they got there isn't revealed until the second book of the series. Afsan, a young astrologer-in-training, makes a religious trip to the other side of the world, where a giant celestial object hangs in a fixed position in the sky. Afsan's people believe it is their god, keeping constant watch over them. The young dinosaur, however, comes to suspect that is not the case, but his theories will not be greeted warmly by the church.

Far-Seer left me with mixed emotions. There are ideas in it I like, such as the cosmology of Afsan's world. It is very different from our own and watching Afsan figure it out makes for some of the best reading in the book. The Quintaglio also have some strange quirks, such as their inability to stand within a few feet of each other without launching into a murderous rage. That said, the species feels rather generic as far as aliens go. There is nothing to peg them as dinosaurs other than that they have tails and lay eggs -- you could plug in any other aliens and nothing would need to be rewritten to accommodate them. The biology of the Quintaglio's world isn't fleshed out any great detail, so besides a few cameos, we don't get to see what the rest of the Mesozoic world evolved into. And the story about science vs. religion seemed rather "been there, done that." Then again, given the current debates about stem-cell research and other issues, maybe it is important for authors like Sawyer to keep championing science.

The book probably won't satisfy anyone diving into it to read about dinosaurs. (The second novel of the trilogy, Fossil Hunter, does a better job in that regard.) It also probably won't please any "hard sci-fi" fans looking for gee-whiz gadgetry, since the Quintaglio world is at about the same technological level as Renaissance Europe. Fans of old-fashioned science fiction may like it, although the writing doesn't compare to anything Issac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke were putting out in their heyday. Far-Seer isn't awful, it's just not particularly memorable.

  • Each book in the Quintaglio Ascension tells the story of the dinosaurian counterpart of a famous scientist on Earth. Galileo Galilei is the model for the protagonist in Far-Seer. Charles Darwin is covered in Fossil Hunter. Sigmund Freud is the main subject of Foreigner.
  • The Quintaglio are the evolved descendents of a type of tyrannosaur named Nanotyrannus. Most dinosaur paleontologists don't consider Nanotyrannus a valid species, instead believing its fossil remains to be that of a juvenile T. rex. Here is a link about the debate, although it is admittedly a little dated.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dinosaurs II, edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois (1995)

Paperback cover blurb

Mysterious and mighty, they were as untamed as the primeval forest, feared by lesser creatures for their brutal power. Small and lithe or large and lumbering, they ruled a wild world – and millions of years later, they continue to rule our imaginations…


My thoughts

Dinosaurs II is one of the best short-story collections about dinosaurs that you can find – if you can find it. It features 11 stories that were originally published in science fiction magazines. As a result, the story quality is much better than later anthologies where most works were commissioned for the books and the editors lazily crammed in any submissions they got, regardless if they were readable or not.

The book kicks off with a Reginald Rivers tale by L. Sprague de Camp titled “The Big Splash,” which has the safari guide leading an expedition back in time to witness the asteroid (or comet) impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Other stories concern a serial killer whose mind is transferred to a T. rex; a security guard who must guard a certain purple dinosaur that turns out to be the real thing; a trio of “raptors” that are resurrected in the present day; and a redheaded virgin who studies dinosaurs in the nude, much to the delight of the guy assigned to protect her.

There also are a couple tales by Isaac Asimov and Clifford D. Simak about the real reason dinosaurs went extinct.

The stories are pretty strong, and in each case you could tell the author was having fun with the subject. Only the final story, “Trembling Earth” by Alan Steele, came off as a little forced, partly because of the odd story structure Steele used to tell it. Another story, “Dinosaur Plies” by R.V. Branham, isn’t a story at all but rather… well, I’m not sure, but it’s only five pages long. Anyway, Dinosaurs II is definitely a book worth picking up. I’m sure there are a few copies collecting dust in a used bookstore somewhere.


  • Preface
  • “The Big Splash” by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “Just Like Old Times” by Robert J. Sawyer
  • “The Virgin and the Dinosaur” by R. Garcia y Robertson
  • “The Odd Old Bird” by Avram Davidson
  • “Bernie” by Ian McDowell
  • “Small Deer” by Clifford D. Simak
  • “Dinosaur Plies” by R.V. Branham
  • “Day of the Hunters” by Isaac Asimov
  • “Herding with the Hadrosaurs” by Michael Bishop
  • “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny” by R. Garcia y Robertson
  • “Trembling Earth” by Alan Steele


  • Before you ask, yes, this is a sequel to Dinosaurs!, an anthology published in 1990. I don’t have it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer (1994)

Cover blurb


Paleontologist Brandon Thackeray wants to find out. With a newly developed, still-experimental timeship, he will be able to do what no human being has ever done: stand face-to-face with a living, breathing dinosaur. And what he and his partner are about to discover is more fantastic than any scientist’s theory: the truth about what happened at the twilight of the Cretaceous Era – and what really felled the dragons of Earth’s distance past…

My thoughts

A slightly silly but fun romp from the writer of the Quintaglio Ascension. Thanks to an experimental government time machine, paleontologist Brandon Thackeray gets the chance to travel back in time to the end of the Cretaceous Period to find out why the dinosaurs died out. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a partner who happens to be sleeping with his ex-wife. (Great planning on the part of the mission control people.) The past turns out to be truly bizarre: The earth’s gravity is only about half that of what it is now, and there’s a second moon. The explorers also soon realize they’re not alone.

And, to complicate things further, a second Brandon from another timeline stumbles across notes from the expedition – an expedition he never took.

It’s hard not to like this book even if it does take itself a little too seriously given the craziness of the plot. It’s only 200 pages long, the appropriate length for this sort of thing. It’s also one of the few time travel novels to leave me with a sense of just how alien the Mesozoic would be to humans, although it has to use some strange plot devices to achieve this, like a second moon. Sawyer gets credit for the weirdest dinosaur extinction explanation I’ve ever encountered.

  • End of an Era was at one time pitched as a TV series. Sawyer wrote a 13-episode outline for the proposed series, which he has put up on his web site. (Warning: Contains spoilers.)
  • The novel was reissued with a new cover in 2001.
  • Sawyer, a Canadian, seems to be in a race with British sci-fi author Stephen Baxter for the title of most prolific writer of prehistoric fiction. So far Sawyer wins, with eight books with paleontology as the central theme, compared to Baxter's four books.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston (2005)

Hardback cover blurb

A moon rock missing for thirty years…

Five buckets of blood-soaked sand found in a New Mexico canyon…

A scientist with ambition enough to kill…

A monk who will redeem the world…

A dark agency with a deadly mission…

The greatest discovery of all time…

What fire bolt from the galactic dark shattered the Earth eons ago, and now hides in that remote cleft in the southwest United States known as…

Tyrannosaur Canyon?

My thoughts

Tyrannosaur Canyon has the workings of a decent scientific detective story, but it suffers from the flaw of giving away too much information at the beginning. It opens with the history of a strange moon rock that has gone missing from NASA’s collection. Then we meet the protagonist, Tom Broadbent, who is horseback riding through the New Mexico desert when he hears gunshots echoing from a nearby canyon. When he investigates, he finds a dying man, who with his last breath, hands Broadbent a notebook and asks him to take it to his daughter.

Instead of letting the reader slowly piece together the mystery of the man’s murder with Broadbent, the author instead introduces the killer, an ex-con named Jimson “Weed” Maddox, and gives away the motivation for the murder: Maddox is working for a corrupt paleontologist who wants the location of a remarkably preserved T. rex skeleton found by the dead man. The next two-thirds of the novel are spent on Broadbent seeking out the solution to a mystery the reader already knows the answer to, and are pretty boring as a result.

It’s not until the novel’s third act that Preston throws a curveball, bringing back the riddle of the moon rock and introducing a new villain. It turns out the T. rex holds a vital clue about the reason why the dinosaurs went extinct, which after 65 million years, still poses a threat to humanity.

The third act almost manages to save Tyrannosaur Canyon, but it comes too late. I was a bit puzzled after reading the novel why Preston didn’t center the plot around his Big Idea rather than turning out such a pedestrian thriller. To say more would spoil the ending, but let’s just say regular readers of science fiction will probably figure out what’s going on before reaching the final page.

Another flaw is the writing itself, with the book seemingly written for people with attention-deficit disorder. Chapters are usually only two to three pages long, and the prose is mostly long stretches of dialogue with sparse descriptions. There are no living dinosaurs in the book except for brief interludes describing the life of the T. rex before it was fossilized.


  • Preston may be best known as a fiction writer for his team-ups with Lincoln Child. The two men have co-authored several best-selling novels, including Relic, which was made into a 1997 film. Their official web site is www.prestonchild.com
  • Preston also once worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is the author of Dinosaurs in the Attic, an excellent history of the museum.
  • Tyrannosaur Canyon apparently is a sequel to Preston’s 2003 novel The Codex, although I didn’t know that until after reading Tyrannosaur Canyon. Having not read The Codex, I couldn’t tell you whether Tyrannosaur Canyon spoils the book or not.
  • Talk about good timing: A few months before the release of Tyrannosaur Canyon in 2005, which deals with preserved tyrannosaur tissue, scientists announced they had found soft tissue in a T. rex skeleton. No word yet whether it harbors the seeds of mankind’s destruction…


Technosaurs, a free online dinosaur comic

You don't need to head to the comics store to read a great comic. There is a new one on the web, and it's free.

Technosaurs is hard to describe, partly because the story isn't finished yet. But it seems to be inspired by the Saturday-morning cartoons of the 1980s. The plot centers around two siblings who are transported to a world of anthropomorphic, and robotic, dinosaurs.

The art by Kevin Wasden is top-notch and better than what you will find in most published comics. (I particularly like the comic's sepia tone.) The story is by Wasden and Darwin A. Garrison also is turning out to be quite good, with fully realized and likable characters.

A new page of the comic is put up every week, with the most recent comic posted on the web site's front page. Click here if you want to start at the beginning of the series.

Also, a link to Technosaurs has been added in the "related links" menu to the right.

* Thanks to Bob Mozark at Antediluvian Tours Inc. for pointing out the comic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thunder of Time by James F. David (2006)

Note: This is a sequel to Footprints of Thunder, reviewed below.

Hardback cover blurb

Ten years ago, the prehistoric past collided with the present as huge swaths of the Cretaceous Period were transported into the world of the twentieth century. Entire neighborhoods and cities were replaced by dense primeval jungles. Humanity suddenly found itself sharing the earth with fierce dinosaurs – with catastrophic results. In the end, desperate measures were taken to halt the disruptions, and the crisis appeared to be over.

Until now.

Slowly at first, but with increasing frequency, time begins to unravel once more, and dinosaurs again roam the earth. What’s worse, Nick Paulson, director of the newly formed Office of Security Science, uncovers evidence that the time displacements are being manipulated by unknown parties, utilizing a technology as yet unexplainable by modern science. The very integrity of the space-time continuum appears to be at risk.

To preserve both the future and the past, Nick and his allies must seek out the answers to a mind-bending mystery whose secrets lie hidden within in a lost temple at the center of a dinosaur-infested jungle… and in an enigmatic structure on the surface of the moon. But they are not alone in their quest. A cult of ruthless fanatics is also intent on controlling the time waves, and they will stop at nothing to reshape history to their own design…

My thoughts

Thunder of Time
is a sequel to David’s first novel, Footprints of Thunder. When the sequel came out in 2006, I was pretty hard on it at Amazon.com, and I make no apologies for that. Usually an author improves after his first novel as he refines his skills and his storytelling techniques. Thunder of Time, however, is a major step backward for David.

The novel is just badly written. Bad prose, bad pacing, bad characterization – you name it. The author throws in a literal army of throwaway characters to serve as dinosaur chow, so unlike the first novel, where you were not sure who would make it to the end, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s going to be living happily ever after when this book is over. That saps a lot of the fun out of it.

Also taking away from the fun is the political stereotyping. David is obviously a political conservative of the Rush Limbaugh persuasion, so anyone shown as having the slightest environmentalist leanings is portrayed as either a buffoon or evil, while at one point, we have a good guy tell us about his decision to become a Christian. When an author, liberal or conservative, needs to resort to such simplistic caricatures to make a point, that’s simply lazy writing.

The worst sin of all is the treatment of the dinosaurs. Despite all the weird and wonderful dinos he could have picked to include his novel, David pretty much sticks to T. rexes and velociraptors – and the Hollywood version of velociraptors at that, given they are portrayed much larger than the real thing. Call me a snob, but I prefer my authors to put a little more research into a work rather than just renting a DVD of Jurassic Park.

I really can’t recommend Thunder of Time to anyone. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Footprints of Thunder instead. It is far more enjoyable.



Footprints of Thunder by James F. David (1995)

Hardback cover blurb

It began with a rain of corn falling from an empty sky, and with the unheeded warnings of a handful of eccentric scientists and college students. Only they saw the disaster coming, but nobody listened to them until…

Suddenly, overnight, the boundaries between yesterday and today dissolve, transforming the entire world into a crazy-quilt mixture of present and distant past. Portland, Oregon, turns into a primeval forest, where a vicious motorcycle gang takes advantage of the chaos to hunt both tyrannosaurs and human beings. Plesiosaurs are spotted off the coast of Hawaii, while a stranded family struggles to survive between an enraged brontosaurus and a bloodthirsty park of killer whales. Winged reptiles, extinct for millennia, swoop from the sky to carry off small children. Looters battle dinosaurs in the Bronx, where one old woman, alone and forgotten, discovers a new reason to live.

And in the White House an increasingly unstable President searches for a solution – any solution – to the catastrophe that has gripped the planet. But the cure he is presented may be worse than the disease.

All over the world, ordinary people, from a confused state trooper to a band of lost teenagers, must fight against the unleashed terrors of prehistory. Anxious researches, led by the President’s chief science adviser, try to unravel the mystery of what has happened to the world, but no one is safe when reality itself quakes beneath the terrible fury of…Footprints of Thunder.

My thoughts

There was a gruesome Topps trading card series called Dinosaurs Attack! that came out when I was a kid back in the ‘80s. The plot – if you can call it that – was that a botched time travel experiment caused dinosaurs to materialize in the modern day, where they pretty much ate everyone in sight. It didn’t go for scientific accuracy: The dinosaurs were mostly Godzilla-sized monsters, and docile plant-eaters were turned into ravenous carnivores with a taste for children.

Footprints of Thunder reminded me of Dinosaurs Attack! The premise is that a disaster in time has replaced large swaths of modern-day earth with their Mesozoic equivalents, bringing people face-to-snout with living dinosaurs. The survivors spend the rest of the novel trying to make sense of this new world, and trying to avoid the predations of the carnivorous dinosaurs. Their various stories, and there are several of them, are told over alternating chapters.

Footprints of Thunder is David’s first novel, and he could have chosen two routes in writing it: science fiction or horror novel. He chose the latter, glossing over the science. It shows in the descriptions of the dinosaurs, which are pretty much depicted as solitary, lumbering behemoths straight out of 1950's B-movie (although, to be fair, that's not always the case). There’s even a description of a dinosaur dragging its tail, which is pretty horrible for a novel that came out after the movie Jurassic Park!

That said, I found the novel a fun read. Some of the survivors' stories are quite good, such as the trio of teenage boys lost in a primeval forest, or the plight of a group of researchers studying another stretch prehistoric ecology in Oregon. It's too bad that David apparently had no interest in his main stars, the dinosaurs. While fans of Stephen King will enjoy the novel for what it is, anyone with an interest in paleontology will be left wishing David had done a little more homework.

  • 1995 was a boom year for dinosaur fiction. Footprints of Thunder was one of four dinosaur novels that came out that year, the others being Robert Bakker's Raptor Red; Michael Crichton's The Lost World; and the Star Trek novel First Frontier. It may not sound like much, but fans of this genre count themselves lucky to get one new novel a year.
    (Thanks to a reviewer at Amazon.com for pointing this out.)


Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Katurran Odyssey by Terryl Whitlatch and David Michael Wieger (2004)

Cover blurb

The Katurran Odyssey is a remarkable visual achievement, filled with spectacle, fantasy and wonder on every page. This epic tale of faith, hope and selfless heroism is illuminated by the stunning illustrations of Terryl Whitlatch, the principal creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and is brought to dynamic life by the storytelling of screenwriter and author David Michael Wieger.

Bo-hibba is a remote island in in a faraway time and place that is populated by animals who are at once fantastic and startlingly real. The island's survival is threatened by the Long Winter, and not even the High Priest's ancient ceremony of renewal can put an end to the suffering from the hunger and the cold.

Katook, a small but courageous young lemur, lives in the village of Kattakuk. When he dares to enter a forbidden area on the island and witnesses a shocking secret; the outraged priests banish him from the island forever. Forced to journey across the vast sea in search of a new home, Katook encounters great perils and marvels on his quest and undergoes profound tests of trust and friendship. At last, he finds the place where the secret of the Long Winter is revealed and where he must summon all of his courage to confront his greatest fear if he is to save his family and his home.

Like such classic works of fantasy as Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, Rien Poortvliet's Gnomes, C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Brian Jacques's Redwall series, and Brian Froud's Faeries, The Katurran Odyssey creates a mythic world imbued with beauty, adventure and transcendent imagination.

* Cover image from the publisher's web site.

My thoughts

It’s no secret why many of the works reviewed here have faded into obscurity, but it’s a mystery to me why The Katurran Odyssey didn’t receive the same attention as the thematically related Dinotopia series. Amazon.com doesn’t have any copies of the book, even though it’s just three years old as of this writing. That’s too bad, because it is a gorgeously illustrated work that should be on the shelves of any person who enjoys both natural history and fantasy.

The Katurran Odyssey is a children’s book, but one that adults will appreciate for the sheer majesty of its illustrations. Katook is a young ring-tailed lemur who is banished from his home after he finds out the village’s priests have been abusing their positions to hoard food during a drought. He sets off across the world, meeting several characters along the way, including a vain quagga. His travels eventually lead him to an encounter with his people’s god, the Fossa.

The main difference between The Katurran Odyssey and Dinotopia is that the former has no dinosaurs or people. Instead, many animals in the book are extinct mammals, from albino mammoths to pack-carrying glyptodonts to Tasmanian tigers. There are a few dinosaur-era contemporaries as well, if you look closely. The anatomical detail of each animal in the book is astounding, as is the detail of the surrounding environments. Whitlatch was the creature designer for the Star Wars prequels, and The Katurran Odyssey’s cover features praise from George Lucas. Check out for yourself how amazing the illustrations are on the book’s official web site.

While I originally gave this book high praise on Amazon.com – calling it “Middle Earth meets the American Museum of Natural History” – I now think the story could be a little stronger. What starts out as a critique of religion ultimately turns into a cop out, (spoiler alert: highlight text with cursor if you want to know why) with Katook transforming into a messiah and leading his people back onto the golden path through a miracle -- making him perhaps the first “Jesus lemur” of fiction. Quigga the quagga, the lemur’s sidekick, is supposed to be humorous, but to me he was simply annoying, although kids may like him. And at one point the book comes across as surprisingly anti-science, but I’m not sure whether that was intentional.

Anyway, these are small complaints. This is still a book worth buying, if you can find it. Many bookstores where I live have put it in the adult science fiction section rather than the children’s section, which I think is a mistake. Pick it up if you see it: You won’t be disappointed.


  • The Katurran Odyssey has a soundtrack, although it is sold separately. The score by Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning is New Age, with each song based on a different part of the book. It is quite relaxing, especially if you are leafing through the book on a rainy day. Ironically, reviews of the soundtrack are far easier to find than reviews of the book itself.
  • Every species illustrated in the book is real, except one. Readers are encouraged to figure out which one is the make-believe animal. Highlight the following text with your cursor for the answer: It’s the flying chameleons on page 16.
  • The Katurran Odyssey is the first in a planned trilogy of books. I hope sales were successful enough to justify a sequel to the publisher.


  • None

Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp (1993)

Paperback cover blurb


Time travel came along just in time to save Reginald Rivers’ livelihood: guiding safaris hunting big game. There is no longer any big game surviving outside of preserves, but in the world millions of years past, from the Paleocene to the Pleistocene, bigger game than any in the modern world was available in abundance. Anyone who could pay Rivers’ considerable fee could hunt the dinosaur of his or her choice. And, high as it is, Rivers sometimes thinks his fee too low considering the headaches he gets from his clients.

Among his motley crew of time voyagers are fundamentalists determined to prove that evolution is a fraud, a stowaway animal rights fanatic who doesn’t care that the animals that Rivers shoots have been extinct for millions of years, a pair of scientists keen to watch the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, and a woman intent on bedding every member of the safari, including her ex-husband. Tyrannosaurus rex is a mere inconvenience compared to this assortment of Homo sapiens…

My thoughts

This anthology starts off with a classic of the genre, “A Gun for Dinosaur,” which may be second only to Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” when it comes to short stories featuring dinosaurs. The story is about a safari to the distant past that goes terribly wrong, as explained by Rivers to a client who demands why the guide insists that only men of a certain size be allowed to hunt dinosaurs. It is actually quite funny, and it sets the tone for the rest of the stories, which are narrated by Rivers.

The above blurb explains what kind encounters Rivers has on his travels. More often than not, the stories serve as vehicles for De Camp to make none-to-subtle political statements, although given the light-hearted nature of the tales, it never comes across as heavy handed. None of the stories are quite as good as “A Gun for Dinosaur,” but they’re all entertaining and the book is worth owning.

Rivers of Time isn’t just set in the Mesozoic Era. Rivers travels across much of Earth’s history in his adventures, meeting mastodons and other non-dinosaurs along the way. The stories are well researched. Only a “Gun for Dinosaur,” first published in 1956, feels a little dated.


  • "Faunas" (poem)
  • "A Gun for Dinosaur"
  • "The Cayuse"
  • "Crocamander Quest"
  • "Miocene Romance"
  • "The Synthetic Barbarian"
  • "The Satanic Illusion"
  • "The Big Splash"
  • "The Mislaid Mastodon"
  • "The Honeymoon Dragon"
  • Afterword by author


  • Rivers of Time is one of the few books here to have its own entry on Wikipedia, which reports that a tenth Reginald Rivers story was written by author Chris Bunch.


Back Lots of the Lost

Since the Victorian period, shortly after the discovery and scientific description of the first recognized examples of the class Dinosauria, individuals have speculated on the possibilities of areas where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures may still exist... The "lost world" cliché soon became almost universal, demanding a Frank Frazetta canvas: mention "lost world" to nearly anyone and ask for the first images that pop up, and invariably the first response concerns cavemen (and rather shapely cavewomen) watching as a Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops duke it out in a landscape shadowed by giant volcanoes and fern trees.
So writes Paul Riddell in his excellent essay about the plausibility -- or, rather, the implausibility -- of the lost worlds of fiction. You can read the entire article here.

Carnivore by Leigh Clark (1997)

Paperback cover blurb


In an isolated Antarctic research outpost, a small group of scientists made a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. For the first time, modern man would come face-to-face with the absolute ruler of the prehistoric world, the fearsome king of the dinosaurs – the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Blinded by scientific zeal, the researchers thought only of the importance of their find, the contribution to modern science. But soon they were forced to open their eyes to an inescapable fact. Once revived, the specimen needed to feed. And unlike some of his extinct relatives, this one was a…


My thoughts

Oh boy.

Here's the plot: Sixty-five million years ago, a T. rex living in Antarctica is out hunting when the meteor falls and locks the continent in a permanent ice age. Never mind that T. rexes never lived in Antarctica or the continent didn't freeze over until 30 million years ago. Well, the poor dino dies, but she leaves behind one egg that is frozen in the ice.

Fast forward to the modern day. Antarctic researchers looking for a safe place to store nuclear waste find the egg. They thaw it out and it hatches. Great discovery for science, right? No, quick way to get rich, the base leader says. He and some cronies take the scientists hostage and use nuclear waste to accelerate the hatchling's growth. (Whaaaa??) Soon they have an adult T. rex on their hands. It gets free and eats or flattens nearly everyone on the base while somehow surviving sub-zero temperatures without so much as a fur coat.

This is a bad novel, make no mistake, from the juvenile prose to the silliness of the situation. (The back cover tells us Clark researched the climate of Antarctica and the "habits and lifestyle" of T. rex. Yeah, right.) The major problem is Clark plays it with a straight face. There is none of the playfulness of Carnosaur, another B-grade dinosaur novel that manages to rise above its pulp origins to become a good read. I’m guessing Clark assumes the people who will read this novel are pretty dumb, so he doesn’t bother to try to put together a logical or even a coherent plot.

Every time I hear someone talk about how hard it is to get a novel published these days, I whip this baby out. Actually, that's not true. I don't want to admit I read it in the first place.

  • None

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Cavewoman by Budd Root (1994 onward)

Throw together hungry dinosaurs, excessive gore and a dash of soft-core porn, and the result will be something like Cavewoman.

Cavewoman is a self-published comic by artist Budd Root. The first 12 issues of the series are collected in two volumes, and several individual comics after that. Root doesn't seem to be cranking out any new Cavewoman comics, judging by the official web site, which was last updated in 2004.

Meriem Cooper is the title character, a ridiculously proportioned woman with super-strength and who is super tough, meaning she can go one-on-one with dinosaurs and come out without a scratch. (She also is named after one of the producers of the original King Kong, one of several references to the movie throughout the series.) Meriem was stranded in the Late Cretaceous with her scientist grandfather, who was eaten by a T. rex shortly afterward.

She isn't alone for long, however. The series begins when Meriem's hometown of Marshville, Oregon, is transported back in time due to a military experiment. It isn't a happy homecoming, since the townsfolk are soon terrorized by dinosaurs, who dispatch their victims in one grisly scene after another. Cavewoman mainly concerns Marshville's struggle to survive the prehistoric onslaught, with Meriem serving as its protector.

The series has a large cast of characters, from a King Kong wannabe to a paleontologist clearly modeled after Robert T. Bakker. It's a black-and-white comic, and very tongue-in-cheek in tone. Is there any other comic that guest stars Abbott and Costello as surgeons?

Cavewoman is an entertaining romp if you don't take it too seriously. It's not for everyone. The fixation on gore is a little childish, as is Meriem's tendency to lose her skimpy reptile-hide bikini. (Some "adult" versions of the comic feature full nudity.) The dialogue and characterization are adequate, only feeling clumsy when Root tries to get serious, such as when Meriem confronts her estranged mother.

The dinosaur illustrations are what stand out about the comic, with Root's terrible lizards appropriately scaly and menacing. Still, there didn't seem to be enough predators in the fossil record to satisfy Root's needs, so he invents a few of his own, from a giant, child-eating frog to creatures that resemble flying velociraptors. This isn't a comic emphasizing scientific accuracy.

I would recommend Cavewoman to anyone who likes the sillier side of sci-fi. If you enjoy watching Godzilla trample Tokyo, or have logged in frequent flyer miles aboard the Satellite of Love, then this is for you.


The Lost World by Michael Crichton (1995)

Note: This is a sequel to Jurassic Park, reviewed below.

Hardback cover blurb

It is now six years since the secret disaster at Jurassic Park, six years since that extraordinary dream of science and imagination came to a crashing end – the dinosaurs destroyed, the park dismantled, the island indefinitely closed to the public.

There are rumors that something has survived.

My thoughts

Michael Crichton faced two problems in writing his sequel to Jurassic Park: 1) he had killed off mathematician Ian Malcolm in the first novel, and 2) he also had killed off all the dinosaurs, the Costa Rican army having bombed the park. Bringing back Malcolm turned out to be rather easy. The character had died “off-camera” in Jurassic Park, so Crichton simply attributed his death to bad information received by the other characters. Bringing back the dinosaurs was more problematic, and Crichton achieved it rather clumsily.

The Lost World is set several years after Jurassic Park. Malcolm and the other survivors have been sworn to secrecy about what really happened, but it’s hard to keep any story as big as living dinosaurs under wraps. Jurassic Park is an urban legend, one that a rich, young paleontologist named Richard Levine is very interested in. He harasses Malcolm about his previous experiences, gets no where, and eventually charters a boat to an island he suspects is a “lost world” of dinosaurs. Malcolm and a few other characters soon mount a rescue mission to this lost world, which turns out to be the island where the creators of Jurassic Park did the real grunt work of breeding and raising dinosaurs.

Much of what made Jurassic Park a great read is lost in its sequel. Plot holes are numerous and the science stands on shaky legs. The lost world of the novel is implausible – the dinosaurs would’ve eaten themselves out of house and home long before Malcolm ever showed up. Crichton knows this and constructs a none-too-convincing explanation involving mad cow disease. All of this would have been forgivable had there been a compelling story, but instead Crichton settles for what is essentially a rewrite of Jurassic Park: there were children in the first novel, so there are kids in this novel; there was a T. rex attack on a vehicle in the first novel, so there is a T. rex attack in this novel; the list goes on.

Crichton obviously had a movie in mind when writing The Lost World; his T. rex, for example, causes minor quakes when it walks, a concept from Jurassic Park the movie, not the book. It’s ironic then that Spielberg threw out the entire plot of the novel when turning it into a film. There are no teams of hunters here, no members of Earth First!, and no dinosaurs rampaging through San Diego. But the book, for all its flaws, is still better than the movie and worth your time if you’re a fan of the original novel.

  • The title was taken from the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn't a homage. As Cory Gross reports, Crichton said the orginal novel "(was) one of (Doyle's) more pulpy stories. It's a Professor Challenger story, and it's actually not a very good book, but it's a wonderful title." The truth is Doyle's novel is regarded as a classic and is still in publication 90 years after it came out. Crichton's The Lost World was largely forgotten after the release of the movie. Still, it should be pointed out that Crichton has since changed his tone, and in 2003 wrote an introduction to a new edition of Doyle's work.
  • There is a secret message in The Lost World, the result of a trick played on Crichton by a scientist he asked to provide him DNA code for the novel. Part of the code, when translated, spells out "MARK WAS HERE NIH." The last part is short for "National Institutes of Health."
    (Source: The Science of Jurassic Park and The Lost World.)