Thursday, August 30, 2007
First up is Eleven Days in the Valley and Other Stories by William M. Svensen. It is a self-published anthology set on Gondolend, a planet where dinosaurs and humans co-exist. The author has put together a pretty neat Web site and has obviously put a lot of effort into creating the world of his stories.
Next up is The Worlds of Naughtenny Moore by David Brown. The author writes the book belongs to the dinosaur hunting subgenre of paleo-fiction, although creatures other than dinosaurs make appearances and that a fair amount of metaphysical speculation is thrown into the mix. Visit the Web site of Open Page Publishing for ordering information.
As far as myself, I'm still debating whether to review self-published fiction. That may seem unfair given I have already reviewed self-published comics and will be reviewing a couple self-published RPG games in the near future, but I admittedly hold authors who have sold their works to publishers to a higher standard. They've had the benefit of an editor to review their manuscripts and a publishing team to market them, something self-published writers rarely have.
Regardless, if you want to get the word out about a novel or other work of fiction concerning prehistoric creatures -- no matter how it's published -- feel free to drop me an e-mail at prepulp(at)hotmail(dot)com. I'm always happy to at least let readers know the work is out there.
This is where paleo-fiction started.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne was first published in 1864. The famous story is the first major work of fiction to feature prehistoric creatures surviving to the modern day.* Ironically, there are no true dinosaurs in the novel, since the beasts hadn’t captured the public’s imagination at the time the book was written.
The novel is narrated by Axel, a young man who is apprenticing under his geologist uncle, Professor Otto Lidenbrock. The two come across a cryptic manuscript alleging that a passageway to the center of the Earth exists inside an extinct volcano in
That’s admittedly a short description of a novel that has had a profound influence on science fiction, but the story is so well-known that most people know it by heart. A Journey to the Center of the Earth has been adapted into comics, cartoons, video games and movies numerous times, although few have been faithful to the source material. The best-known adaptation is probably a 1959 movie starring James Mason and country gospel star Pat Boone. (Boone recently called evolution a “false religion” in an opinion column, apparently forgetting that he once starred in a dinosaur movie.)
The book itself is one of Verne’s more famous titles, but I’ve never really considered it one of his better works. It’s a bit sluggish in parts, and it lacks any particularly memorable characters such as Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The humor seems forced by modern standards, and the whiny narrator can come across as annoying rather than funny.
Nonetheless, it would be unfair of me to leave you with the impression that this is a bad book. While it may not be Verne’s best, it’s still fun. There is a terrific sense of wonder in it missing from most of today’s science fiction. Verne just throws wonder after wonder at the reader, so much so that it isn’t until you’re near the end of the novel that you realize it doesn’t have much of an actual plot. No adaptations have really captured the full extent of Verne’s imagination, so even if you have seen two or three versions of the story, you’re still likely to be surprised by what the explorers find in the underground world they discover.
Also, how many science fiction novels are there where the authors write so lovingly about geology? It’s a topic that most writers find drab compared to quantum physics or space travel, but is just as fascinating in its own right. Paleontology really isn’t the central focus of A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it’s pretty clear from reading the novel that Verne considered it a branch of geology rather than a separate science. The prehistoric creatures here are just window dressing, although when Verne does use them, he does so for maximum effect.
The novel is available for free on many places on the Internet, including this Web site.
* Some of the above information about the novel came from Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction by Allen A. Debus.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Wasden also reports that the first issue of Technosaurs will be released in print in late September. He currently has a sketchbook available for sale.
Also relating to online comics, I forgot to mention Commodore Dinosaur by Brad Olrich when I linked to it a while back. I haven't had time to read through the series yet, but it is about a superhero whose power is turning into a dinosaur. The comic appears very tongue-in-cheek, from what I saw.
TRAVEL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE EARTH…
to a place you never dreamed existed.
BENEATH THE ICE…
a hand-picked team of specialists makes its way toward the center of the world. They are not the first to venture into this magnificent subterranean labyrinth. Those they follow did not return.
OVER THE ROCKS… ACROSS THE YAWNING CAVERNS…BEYOND THE BLACK RIVER…
You are not alone.
INTO THE DARKNESS…
where breathtaking wonders await you—and terrors beyond imagining…Revelations that could change the world—things that should never be disturbed…
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE EARTH IS THE BEGINNING.
toward a miracle that cannot be…toward a mystery older than time.
It takes a lot of nerve to write a lost world story set in the modern day, particularly one that borrows heavily from Journey to the Center of the Earth. But that’s exactly what we have in this techno-thriller.
Subterranean opens when the two main characters, paleoanthropologist Ashley Carter and expert caver Ben Brust, are recruited by the U.S. military to investigate an enormous cavern in Antarctica. There are archaeological ruins inside the cave dating back before humankind had evolved. Who -- or more precisely, what -- built the ruins? The answer lies deeper in the cave system. Carter and Brust will lead an expedition into the depths of the Earth to find out, a journey that a previous team attempted, but never returned.
The monsters populating Subterranean are not prehistoric survivors in the strictest since, but the plot and the setting rely heavily on paleontology, so I'm not bending the rules too much. The novel is about finding out what creatures inhabited Antarctica in the 30-million-year gap between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the coming of the ice. Many authors would've used aliens to explain away the pre-human ruins, and I will give Rollins credit for coming up with a more imaginative and more interesting idea.
That said, Subterranean isn't a good book by any stretch of the imagination, with boring characters and frequent action sequences that defy logic. The main villain will offend some readers because of the ethnic stereotyping, and the monsters will feel very familiar to anyone who has seen Jurassic Park. Still, for some reason, I liked it. Why? I'm not quite certain. Perhaps because it is an old-fashioned lost world story with an appropriate sense of mystery and wonder. Or maybe because I read it at a time in my life when I was looking for some popcorn-movie escapism, and it fit the bill.
Subterranean is a good "bad book" -- not one I could recommend if you prefer your literature to be, well, literary, but a fun one as long as you don't take it seriously. Be warned that it does weigh in at a whopping 430 pages, which is about 130 pages more than the author honestly needed to tell the story.
- James Rollins is the pen name for veterinarian and amateur spelunker Jim Czajkowski. He has written several thrillers where evolutionary biology and archeology are the main focus.
- The author's web site is www.jamesrollins.com
- The only ones I can find spoil the book's central mystery, so I'm not linking to them.
Friday, August 24, 2007
What’s long and hard and full of Victorians? Why a giant drilling machine, of course.
OK, I’m really sorry for the corny joke, but At the Earth’s Core is a pretty corny novel. It was first published in 1914 and kicked off what was to be a lengthy seven-part series set on the inner shell of a hollow earth inhabited by prehistoric creatures and primitive tribes of humans and ape men. The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, is best known as the creator of Tarzan, a character who would visit the hollow world in the crossover novel Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.
Pellucidar, the name Rice gave to his world, hasn’t enjoyed as much fame as Tarzan, but it has had a surprising amount of influence on pop culture over the years, more because of the unique setting than any merits of the novel.
At the Earth’s Core starts when the unnamed author stumbles across one David Innes in the middle of
Well, things happen, and Innes and Perry soon become prisoners of a race of intelligent pterodactyls called the Mahars. It will be up to Innes to lead the humans of Pellucidar in a revolt against their reptilian masters, and save the girl at the same time.
Had I read At the Earth’s Core when I was 10 rather than the older, cynical man I am now, I might have enjoyed it more. And yes, there are things to like about it. The setting is fun, and the novel is the first work of fiction to feature intelligent creatures evolved from prehistoric reptiles, paving the way for the Silurians, the Yilane, and the Quintaglio. I don’t fault Burroughs’ imagination, but his writing leaves much to be desired. His books are just badly written, with virtually no characterization, horrendous prose and giant leaps of logic in the plot. His heroes are so flawlessly good they can never make mistakes, and there is no situation they can’t fight their way out of, no matter how overwhelming the odds against them. His books get very boring very quickly.
There also is the blatant racism, although Burroughs is hardly the only early 20th century pulp writer guilty of that sin. Still, with few other redeeming values in the work, it sticks out like a sore thumb here.
I know many people have fond feelings for Burroughs, but that has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. My love of paleo-fiction only goes so far, so I won’t be reviewing any other the books in this series. I could barely make it through one – I can’t imagine trying to get through all seven.
All the books in the Pellucidar series are in the public domain. Update: Scratch that. It appears that only the first two novels are freely available. Below are all seven titles, with the Project Gutenberg links to the first two.
- At the Earth's Core
- Tanar of Pellucidar
- Tarzan at the Earth's Core
- Back to the Stone Age
- Savage Pellucidar
- As I’ve already stated, the Pellucidar series has had a substantial influence on pop culture. The hollow world setting has been used in games, comics, other novels and even a handful of cartoons.
- The novel was turned into a 1976 movie of the same name staring Doug McClure. The actor would also star in another Burroughs adaptation, The Land That Time Forgot.
- There are a couple fun web sites about Pellucidar and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first is ERBlist.com, which probably is the most comprehensive site about the pulp author. The other is von Horst's Pellucidar, which has more information about the setting.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
THE KNOWN WORLD: IT ISN'T FLAT, BUT IT IS HOLLOW!
Within the sphere of the Known World is another world, a hollow world. There your characters will meet ancient Nithians, long disappeared from the surface world and thought extinct; Blacklore Elves, living in a magical valley and served by automatons -- devices that take care of everything, from serving their food to trimming their grass; Arcans, terrifying, war-mongering natives whose taste for battle extends even into their favorite game -- the losers always die -- and many more. Monsters abound as well, from dinosaurs to aurochs.
In the Hollow World, the sun never sets. Magic works differently than it does "outside"-- some spells don't work at all. And quite often, getting in is much, much easier than getting out.
There was a time when the people producing Dungeons & Dragons games were more creative than they are now, and when the company that put out the famous roleplaying brand -- originally TSR but now Wizards of the Coast -- experimented with several campaign settings. I actually learned about this RPG supplement through a video game that used the setting: Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun for the SEGA Genesis, a favorite of mine even though I never did manage to beat it.
D&D: Hollow World is set in the campaign world of Mystara, or rather, below it. The planet of Mystara isn't a rocky solid ball floating in space, but rather a hollow sphere with an interior lit by a small sun. Dinosaurs and civilizations that have long disappeared from the surface thrive in the hollow world, and magic doesn't always work as expected.
Basically the campaign combines the J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired world of D&D with the hollow earth setting Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar series. This allows gamers to encounter civilizations other than the Western European kingdoms found in most D&D games. There are Romans, Aztecs, Egyptians and other cultures, most of which never interact because of the high mountain ranges that separate them. The Hollow World also has its own pantheon of gods, including Ka the Preserver, who is an intelligent Tyrannosaurus rex.
Sure, it's all pretty silly, but no more than your average D&D setting. There is an interesting backstory about how the Hollow World came to be and what function it serves, but that information is for game masters only so I won't spoil it here. What's nice about the campaign world is the author gives players plenty of different cultures and creatures to choose from -- the Hollow World is a big place and gamers could spend a lot of time exploring it and never run into the same thing twice. One valley may contain a lost Roman civilization, while the next one over may be filled with primitive cavemen and dinosaurs. Any setting that allows player to tailor the game to their own tastes is a winner in my book.
D&D: Hollow World uses the original rules, not the advanced rules, although the game is generic enough that it could be easily converted. The boxed set is now available as a $4.95 download on RGPnow, which is a bargain considering you get 264 pages of material for less money than you would spend buying lunch at McDonald's.
- The author, Aaron Allston, has written several gaming supplements and science fiction novels, the latter mostly tie-ins to film franchises such as Star Wars. One of his current projects is a rewrite of the 1985 RPG supplement Lands of Mystery, which is about creating lost world settings for games. It is scheduled for release later this year.
- Allston also wrote the story for the roleplaying computer game Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, which is set in a valley filled with dinosaurs and primitive tribes. I recommend The Savage Empire and Warriors of the Eternal Sun to any gamers looking for fun RPGs that are a little different from your standard sword-and-sorcery fare.
- The author's web site is AaronAllston.com
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
First we discovered that the Earth is round.
Then we discovered that it's hollow.
Now we must keep its secrets from falling into the wrong hands.
Explore one of the world's greatest and most dangerous secrets: the Hollow Earth, a savage land filled with dinosaurs, lost civilizations, and ferocious savages! Players take on the role of two-fisted adventures, eager academics and intrepid journalists investigating the mysteries of the Hollow Earth. Meanwhile, on the surface, world powers and secret societies vie for control of what may be the most important discovery in all of human history.
Set in the tense and tumultuous 1930s, the action-filled Hollow Earth Expedition is inspired by the literary works of genre giants Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The subterranean action is powered by Ubiquity, an innovative roleplaying system that emphasizes storytelling and cinematic action.
Hollow Earth Expedition: There's a whole new world of adventure inside!
* Cover image from publisher's web site.
I should start out by saying that this won't be a true review because I've never had the opportunity to test this game out by actually playing it. But ever since I purchased the PDF version of Hollow Earth Expedition, I've had a lot of fun leafing -- or in this case, clicking -- through its gorgeously illustrated pages.
Hollow Earth Expedition is a pulp roleplaying game set in the 1930s. Think Indiana Jones with dinosaurs. The premise is based on the occult belief that the interior of the Earth is hollow and inhabited by prehistoric creatures and lost civilizations. The authors don't provide a lot of background about the world of the hollow earth; they just give the game master the tools to build his or her own setting around the idea. Players can expect to encounter everything from dinosaurs to Caribbean pirates -- it's pretty much up to the game master to decide how crazy to make the world.
What stands out about the book is its production values. It is illustrated with colorful maps and top-quality black-and-white drawings. It also is well-written, with a lot of information crammed in its 260-or-so pages. One downside is that most of the book is dedicated to game mechanics and doesn't delve much into exploring the historical and literary precursors of the lost world genre. (I would recommend GURPS Atlantis for an example of how well it can be done in an RPG supplement, although that's an unfair comparison because GURPS comes with a separate core system rulebook.)
Another shortcoming is the sparse bestiary. There are not many animal stats provided to populate your hollow earth, and given that the game engine is unique to the book, it may be hard for gamers to create animals on their own until they have a good grasp of the system. The publisher has two supplements in the works that promise to fill in some of the gaps in Hollow Earth Expedition.
Regardless of these complaints, the book is still worth the cover price -- $20 for the digital version and $40 for the hardcover version. There is more than enough information about how to build characters and how to play in a hollow earth setting to make any gamer happy, and the fine illustrations are the icing on the cake.
- The most obvious inspiration for Hollow Earth Expedition is the Pellucidar series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which are set in an interior world heated by a miniature sun. Burroughs also is the creator of Tarzan, a character who visited the Pellucidar in the crossover novel Tarzan at Earth's Core.
- I prefer RPGs with relatively simple dice systems, and the Ubiquity system of Hollow Earth Expedition seems to fit the bill -- although, as I've stated, I haven't had the chance to try it. It is a dice-pool system in which players try to role as many positive numbers as possible to score successes. It can involve rolling a lot of dice, but the publisher also sells special 8-sided dice that help cut down on the number of dice you must roll.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's another world, a pristine Earth where mammoths and saber-tooth tigers still roam. Where there are no cities, no highways, no pollution, no laws... no people at all.
It lies just beyond the heavy wooden door, hidden in the back of the old barn, through a tunnel that enters a hillside in South Texas but doesn't come out the other side.
It belongs to Charlie. A whole world accessible only through the doorway on the ranch that his uncle left to him free and clear. But to explore a planet, you need help. And equipment. And money to buy the equipment. Money to live on while you explore; money for taxes on the ranch, and to pay for the training you need to survive in a completely wild world.
So Charlie decides to capture some extinct birds -- passenger pigeons -- and sell them on the tame side to finance his venture. He sells more than a dozen of the birds, and Wildside Investments is born. That is the beginning of the end.
For how can you keep a secret like that, once anyone gets wind of it? Now Charlie and his trusted friends are going to have to fight for the preservation of the Wildside -- and their own lives as well.
Charlie sure has a swell uncle. Most people would be lucky to get a few items of furniture when their close relatives pass away, but in Charlie's case, his Uncle Max has left him an entire planet.
Wildside is told from the first-person point of view of Charlie, a teenage boy who is about to graduate from high school with his four friends when the novel opens. Charlie is a bit of an outsider, agreeing to drive his friends to the prom because he doesn't have a date. But in exchange for the favor, Charlie asks them to accompany him to his late uncle's ranch, which he has inherited. He has a business proposition.
The ranch is more valuable than it first appears because on the property is a tunnel leading to a parallel Earth where humans never evolved. As a result, Ice Age megafauna such as mammoths and saber-tooth cats have survived to the modern day. (The author assumes that the overkill hypothesis for the Ice Age extinctions is the correct theory.) A world without humans also is a world still abundant in natural resources, particularly gold. The group secretly sells off a few passenger pigeons to zoos in order to raise the money for the equipment they need to start prospecting for gold, but that turns out to be a mistake. The federal government soon learns about the parallel world and all those resources ripe for the taking...
Wildside is an entertaining little novel despite the fact Gould never realizes the full potential of his Big Idea. The prehistoric animals here are only for color, and the author could've left them out entirely and the novel would still read the same. Gould seems more interested in aeronautics, which he describes in such detail that after you read Wildside, you may feel like you qualify for a pilot's license. It would have been much more fun to watch Charlie and his gang face off again saber-tooth cats, hulking mastodons and giant short-faced bears rather than government bureaucrats, but unfortunately that's what we're left with. The deus ex machina ending also leaves a lot to be desired.
That said, I still enjoyed Wildside for the things it gets right. Charlie and his friends are interesting characters, even if they seem to know a little too much about science -- particularly physics and paleontology -- for your typical teens. They evolve over the course of the novel from seeing the wildside as something to exploit to something to protect, so the book has a good, if heavy-handed, message about the environment. And the novel is short and fast-paced, so the plot rarely drags.
Wildside was originally marketed as adult science fiction, but it has since been reshelved in the young adult sections of most bookstores. It also sports a new cover with mammoths, saber-tooth cats and an Apache helicopter, although none are central to the story.
- Steven Gould shouldn't be confused with paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.
- The author's web site is www.digitalnoir.com/s
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The following paleo-tales are all available on the Web for free, either because the author posted them or because they are now in the public domain. I'm planning a future post about novels in the public domain, so none of those titles are listed here. The titles below are all short stories.
First up is science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, who has posted several of his short stories on his web site.
- Just Like Old Times -- The mind of a serial killer is transferred to a Tyrannosaurus rex, where he gets to stalk the greatest prey of all.
- Gator -- A scientist investigates the urban legend about alligators in the sewers and finds the truth is more bizarre than the tabloids would have you believe.
- Forever -- Intelligent dinosaurs prepare for the asteroid that will bring their era to a close.
- Peking Man -- A secret history is revealed through the bones of a missing fossil.
- The Dragons of Summer Gulch by Robert Reed -- A tale set in an alternate world where the age of dinosaurs was replaced by an age of dragons. Fossil hunters in what may be the American West fight over some extraordinarily well-preserved dragon eggs.
- The Ugly Chickens by Howard Waldrop -- A ornithologist searches for the last dodos on Earth after encountering an elderly lady on a bus who claims to have seen them.
- The Seven Geases -- A personal favorite of mine, although it is admittedly a strange piece of work. The story is about a snobbish aristocrat who is cursed to follow an archaeopteryx into the bowels of a mountain, where he encounters horrors both mythological and prehistoric.
- Ubbo-Sathla -- A man purchases a strange stone from a curio-dealer and uses it to travel to the dawn of life on Earth, where a great horror awaits. (Try to ignore the ugly reference about the "dwarfish Hebrew" -- early pulp fiction writers were notoriously bigoted.)
Visit the web site's fiction section for a larger list of stories. Below are links to the titles with a paleontology theme. Just be warned that some contain racist attitudes that were unfortunately common for the time they were written.
- The Last Haunt of the Dinosaur by Henry Francis
- Aepyornis Island by H.G. Wells
- The Terror of Blue John Gap by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- A Relic of the Pliocene by Jack London
- The Killing of the Mammoth by H. Tukeman
- The Monster of Lake LaMetrie by Wardon Allan Curtis (gets my vote for the strangest paleo-story ever published)
- The Pterodactyl by Thomas Charles Sloane
- The Ancient Horror by Hal Grant
- The Paradise of the Ice Wilderness by Jul. Regis
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Note: This article was inspired by an essay about dinosaurs in science fiction appearing in Dougal
Dr. Frankenstein had it easy. He had all the body parts he needed when resurrecting his creature: a heart, some lungs, a brain. Writers of paleontological fiction are not so fortunate. The animals they write about have been dead for thousands of years, usually millions. The soft tissues have rotted away, the bones have turned to stone. In most cases, we don’t even know what the critter looked like.
Readers must expect to suspend their disbelief when delving into any science fiction story about extinct creatures, but the fact remains that the more plausible the scenario for bringing back the animals, the more acceptance a work will receive from the public. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned The Lost World at a time when large regions of globe were still unexplored and the prospect of finding living fossils in the distant lands seemed possible, if highly unlikely.
Fantasy, of course, operates under different rules than science fiction, although fantasy authors usually are more interested in dragons than dinosaurs. Still, readers of the genre have expectations for scientific accuracy. One reason the Dinotopia books by James Gurney are so popular is because of the anatomical detail of the animals he paints, even if they are portrayed as smart as humans.
Throughout the years, writers have relied on eight plot devices to resurrect dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals in fiction, some more plausible than others. Many stories use one device. Others use two or more -- a lost world story, for example, can be set on an alternate world. Then there are a few odd titles that don't fit into any of the eight categories, but given they involve such things as dinosaurs walking around disguised as humans, scientific accuracy usually is not what the authors have in mind.
1. Through Their Eyes
Readers see through the eyes of a human or an animal to experience prehistory as it happened in this scenario. The stories here are set in the prehistoric past rather than the modern day, and they can be the most realistic take on paleo-fiction if the writer does his or her homework. That's not to say using this plot device always means the science will be right, because it includes caveman-and-dinosaur melodramas such as One Million Years B.C.
One example of a serious take on the scenario is Raptor Red by Robert Bakker, which features a Utahraptor as its main character. Another is Evolution by Stephen Baxter, which traces human evolution through a series of stories, each told from the viewpoint of one of our ancestors. Baxter's Longtusk, the second book of his mammoth trilogy, explores the Ice Age world through the eyes of a mammoth.
Comic books have depicted dinosaur life as red in tooth and claw. Age of Reptiles: Tribal Warfare and Age of Reptiles: The Hunt, both by Richardo Delgado, are set in the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. Jim Lawson’s Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous is a little less gory by comparison, but its characters’ lives are still brutal.
2. The Lone Survivor
An individual creature or small group of the same species survives into modern times in this scenario. This is the realm of cryptozoology, the pseudoscience concerning the search for unknown animals and living fossils, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti.
Prehistoric survivors are usually hidden somewhere inaccessible to man, like the brontosaurs deep in the
Stephen Baxter's Silverhair is about a small herd of mammoths that still lives on an isolated arctic island. A wealthy Arabic family has been gathering prehistoric survivors from all over the globe for centuries in Bestiary by Robert Masello, a thriller set in modern-day
The expansive and largely unexplored oceans provide plenty of territory for prehistoric animals to hide in. Both Meg and its sequels by Steven Alten and Extinct by Charles Wilson are about the survival of the super-shark Megalodon.
3. The Lost World
The most famous example of this device is the book that gives it its name, The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In it, British explorers discover a South American plateau populated by dinosaurs and ape men. A lost world is different from the previous scenario in that an entire ecosystem survives hidden and unchanged, although animals from different time periods are usually thrown into the same setting.
This scenario was first used by Jules Verne in 1864 with the publication of A Journey to the Center of the Earth, in which the heroes discover a giant cavern populated with extinct creatures. It became a staple of early 20th century pulp writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs in his The Land That Time Forgot trilogy, set on a lost continent, and his Pellucidar series, set inside a hollow earth.
The plot device has waned in recent years as the blank spots on maps have been explored, but modern examples include Dinotopia and its sequels by James Gurney; Subterranean by James Rollins; and Greg Bear’s Dinosaur Summer, a pseudo-sequel to The Lost World set in an alternate timeline. Then there is The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, a movie tie-in and illustrated guide to the wildlife of an island where dinosaurs continued to evolve and thrive.
Paul T. Riddell has written an excellent essay about the scientific implausibility of a lost world as portrayed in fiction.
4. Freeze and Thaw
In the animated movie Ice Age, one of the characters stumbles upon a Tyrannosaurus rex frozen mid-stride in a wall of ice. That’s not far off from what some authors have used to resurrect prehistoric animals.
In the novel Carnivore, Leigh Clark freezes a T. rex egg in Antarctic ice so it can hatch in the present day. Author Jeff Rovin literally freeze-dries a pride of saber-tooth cats in Fatalis so they can stalk prey in
5. Attack of the Clones
You’ve seen Jurassic Park, right?
Then you know that in this case scientists find ancient DNA and resurrect dinosaurs using genetic engineering. It should be pointed out that Michael Crichton wasn't the first use this device. Harry Adam Knight -- a pen name for B-movie historian John Brosnan -- unleashed genetically engineered dinosaurs on an unsuspecting British public in his 1984 novel Carnosaur, which hit bookstores six years before
6. Time Travel
Time travel is the plot device usually used to resurrect extinct species, for obvious reasons.
A tiny subgenre has sprung out of time travel stories: the dinosaur hunt. Ray Bradbury’s famous short story “A Sound of Thunder” deals with the consequences of time travel after a botched Mesozoic hunt. David Drake glorifies the trophy hunt in Time Safari, later republished as Tyrannosaur with a new opening story. L. Sprague de Camp’s time-traveling safari guide Reginald Rivers serves up a series of funny stories in Rivers of Time. "Trouble with Tribbles" writer David Gerrold speculates that laser guns may not be the weapons of choice when hunting dinosaurs in Deathbeast.
Humans have traveled into the past for more benign purposes. Explorers seek out the cause of the dinosaurs’ demise in Dinosaur Nexus by Lee Grimes. Mysterious benefactors give paleontologists the chance to study their subjects up close and personal in Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick. The time-traveling Doctor and his companion Martha Jones visit a museum where every species that has ever gone extinct has been saved and placed in suspended animation in Doctor Who: The Last Dodo by Jacqueline Rayner. Scientists find a wristwatch-wearing caveman beside the corpse of a Mammoth, by John Varley. Two researchers learn what really killed the dinosaurs in Robert Sawyer’s End of An Era. You get three guesses about what the expedition in The Virgin and the Dinosaur by R. Garcia y Robertson finds in the prehistoric past. And a couple who finds a time-traveling alien in their backyard turns the creature's talent into a very profitable enterprise in Mastodonia by Clifford D. Simak.
The prehistoric past can become a prison for those who are not careful. A family takes a vacation to the end of the Cretaceous in Cretaceous Sea by Will Hubbell only to be stranded as the K-T asteroid comes crashing down. One of the survivors heads back in the
Sometimes the past comes intruding into the present with disastrous results, such as the case in Footprints of Thunder by James F. David, where time ripples replace chunks of modern-day Earth with their Mesozoic equivalents. The causes of the disaster are further explored in Thunder of Time. Our future is replaced by an alternate earth where dinosaurs never died out in First Frontier, a Star Trek novel by Diane Carey and James I. Kirkland, the change a result of alien tinkering in prehistory.
7. Aliens from Earth
Is it possible that on a distant planet with similar conditions to earth, evolution has produced dinosaurs and the alien equivalents of other extinct creatures? Probably not, but that hasn't stopped authors from using this device.
Beyond the Gates by Martha Wells hinges on convergent evolution on a galactic scale. Dinosaurs also are found on an alien world in The Mystery of Ireta, which combines the novels Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors by Anne McCaffrey, who usually writes about dragons.
Luckily, some aliens are environmentalists rather than invaders, and they have used their technology to ship dinosaurs to another world before they went extinct here. The Quintaglio trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer depicts a distant world where dinosaurs continued to evolve after they were transported there by a friendly alien force. The series starts with Far-Seer. Aliens have terraformed Venus and have populated it with prehistoric animals in The Sky People by alternate history writer S.M. Stirling. Pluto's moon turns out to be a gigantic game preserve in Charon's Ark by Rick Gauger. And in Icebones by Stephen Baxter, mammoths find themselves on a terraformed Mars.
Intelligent dinosaurs managed to escape extinction by fleeing into outer space in The Homecoming by Barry Longyear and in Dinosaur Wars and its sequel Dinosaur Wars: Counterattack by Thomas P. Hopp.
8. The Best of All Worlds
What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs missed? What would the earth be like today? The alternate world genre usually deals with changes in human history, but a few authors have reached further back in time to speculate on divergences in natural history.
The survival of the dinosaur seems a favorite theme here, but there are a couple examples of more recent changes. A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove depicts a world where Homo erectus rather than modern humans populated the
Fantasy worlds also belong in this category, given they are a type of alternate earth. The illustrated The Katurran Odyssey by Terryl Whitlatch and David Michael Wieger takes place in a world where both living and extinct mammals live side-by-side and can talk.
9. The Oddballs
There are some works that really don't fit into any of the above categories.
The novel Bone Wars and its sequel Two Tiny Claws, both by Brett Davis, involve early paleontologists encountering fossil-stealing aliens and holographic dinosaurs, so its prehistoric creatures are not real in the strictest sense.
Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia is a detective story in which dinosaurs are not extinct, but living and hiding among us in fake human skins.
The comic Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz is set in a future where every species that has ever lived has been resurrected. Schultz has yet to explain the reason for his weird world, but he hints at genetic engineering on a massive scale.
Devolution -- that is, evolution in reverse -- is the explanation for the future return of a world-spanning Triassic swamp in The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard. The cause is a sudden flare-up of the sun, which floods Earth with heat and radiation.
There are certainly many other stories out there that bend the rules. If you know of any, feel free to e-mail me at prepulp(at)hotmail(dot)com
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Release the beasts of
A manuscript illuminated with fantastical creatures said to have roamed the Garden of Eden, the bestiary has been handed down throughout the centuries by one of the Arab world’s most prominent families. Commissioned to restore it is the beautiful young art curator, Beth Cox.
But it is Beth’s husband, Carter – a young paleontologist making his own dire discoveries in
… and you open the Gates of Hell.
Now, myth and reality are about to collide. Carter wills step back into a world before time… and unleash the creatures that haunt our dreams and nightmares.
Imagine if the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park didn’t show up until the last 15 minutes of the movie, and for the two hours before that we got to watch the film’s unexciting characters go out on dates, take hikes in the woods, look after their kids and do other everyday things. The result would be Bestiary.
Bestiary is an interesting wreck of a novel because Masello has a great idea, but he squanders it like a sailor’s paycheck while at port. Beth Cox is assigned by her employer to preserve a previously unknown medieval bestiary titled The Beasts of Eden, which belongs to a wealthy family who has recently fled
Bestiary fails on so many levels. It is a boring, over-bloated thriller, filled with plot threads that go nowhere and no sense of pacing or suspense. There are hints of a mystery involving Native American remains at the tar pits, a subplot involving an oddly aggressive pack of coyotes and the introduction of a supernatural being from Masello’s first novel, Vigil, but none of these have any relevance to the main plot, are themselves never resolved and only serve to stretch Bestiary out to a grotesque 450 pages. Even the bestiary of the title is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
The characters themselves are bland. Most of the first 400 pages is simply spent following their mundane lives around, and the main plot about the exotic zoo largely takes a back seat until the final 50 pages when the creatures break free. I sincerely doubt most readers will make it that far.
- The novel shouldn't be confused with the 2007 novel The Bestiary by Nicholas Christopher, which also is about the quest for a long lost manuscript about fantastic animals.
- The author's web site is www.robertmasello.com
Monday, August 13, 2007
The Doctor and Martha go in search of a real live dodo, and are transported by the TADRIS to the mysterious Museum of the Last Ones. There, in the Earth section, they discover every extinct creature up to the present day, all still alive and in suspended animation.
Preservation is the museum’s only job – collecting the last of every endangered species from all over the universe. But exhibits are going missing…
Can the Doctor solve the mystery before the museum’s curator adds the last of the Time Lords to her collection?
I’ve dropped enough hints throughout this blog for any readers to have guessed I’m a Doctor Who fan. For any Americans who have no idea what I’m talking about, Doctor Who is a long-running BBC science fiction series about a mysterious “Time Lord” called the Doctor who travels in a time machine that can take him to any point in time and space. He always takes along one or two human companions wherever he goes. Despite having a time machine, the Doctor has never bothered visiting the prehistoric past during the course of the series. There were a couple memorable episodes based on the idea that intelligent reptiles had evolved early in the planet’s history, those being “The Silurians” and “The Sea Devils”, but the show’s tiny budget pretty much kept dinosaurs off-screen. The one episode that did feature the reptiles, “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, was a special effects disaster.
The Doctor finally stumbles across dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in the novel The Last Dodo, but by accident. His most recent companion, Martha Jones, tells him she would like to see a dodo after noticing that the Doctor is using a dodo feather for a bookmark. He plops the feather into the console of his TARDIS – the time machine – intending to use its DNA to hone in on the species in the past and visit it. The TARDIS instead lands in a natural history museum the size of a planet, where the last dodo is kept in suspended animation along with every other animal species that has ever lived, from Earth and countless other worlds. (Extinct plants seemed to have been snubbed.) The two soon learn that several preserved earth species have gone missing, and they set out to solve the mystery. However, the Doctor faces a bigger threat when the curator, Eve, learns that he is the last of his species.
The first thing that should be said is the plot of The Last Dodo has an uncanny resemblance to a 1996 episode of Superman: The Animated Series, with an alien “preserver” trying to collect Superman because he is the last of his kind. I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I’m betting it is just a coincidence. And, anyway, a planet-sized natural history museum with living specimens is an interesting setting. Unfortunately, Rayner never realizes its full potential, and the plot is rather unwieldy and unfocused, as if the author couldn’t figure what the story should be about. Rayner makes too many leaps of logic to get the characters out of sticky situations, although this always has been a weakness of the TV series. Also, the main villain’s motivation and final defeat are ripped straight from “Ghost Light”, a TV episode where evolution was the central theme.
The characterization of the Doctor is spot-on, although readers not acquainted with the most recent incarnation of the TV show may be taken aback by his goofiness. Martha is a different matter. The novel alternates between Martha’s first-person point of view and a third-person point of view. Mostly the first-person point of view is used when Rayner wants to cover large spans of time in a few pages. But these passages, which read like the diary of a pop-savvy teen, don't fit the intelligent, doctoral student of the show. They remind me more of the Doctor’s former companion, Rose, and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw on Wikipedia that The Last Dodo was originally supposed to feature Rose. The author and publisher just threw in a few references to Martha and plugged in her name wherever Rose appeared.
The Last Dodo is now available as a small hardback, the only reason being so the BBC can get a few more dollars out of readers than if it issued a paperback. Still, I admit I wish more hardbacks came in its handy, easy-to-hold size rather than the backbreaking tomes lining shelves today.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
TIMEBEAM TO DANGER
There were eight of them – six hunters and two official guides.
Their destination was Earth as it was a hundred million years ago, long before human dominion, when the great hot-blooded dinosaurs ruled supreme.
Each of the time travelers had a different motive. Some were on this strange safari for pay. Others were taking a psychological and sexual holiday from civilization. There were women who wanted to show themselves the equal to men – and men out to test and prove their manhood.
But whatever their drives and desires, their strengths and weaknesses, the ultimate horror was waiting for them all…
The best thing Deathbeast has going for it is its simple and straightforward plot. A group of hunters from the future travel back to the Cretaceous Period to take down a Tyrannosaurus rex, but the animal proves more than they can handle. Unfortunately, Gerrold stumbles in about every other regard.
Deathbeast is a horror novel despite its science fiction trappings. It is Jaws with a T. rex instead of a shark. The 40-foot-long dinosaur has an unnatural ability to sneak up on unsuspecting people and gobble them up, and regardless of the amount of damage that the hunters inflict on the creature, it… just… won’t… die!
That said, Gerrold’s hunters are not particularly well-equipped to take out the beast. They carry laser guns, which because of some scientific mumbo-jumbo about water content in bodies, do little except really tick the creature off. We learn in the course of events that previous hunting expeditions also had failed to bring down a T. rex, so you wonder why they haven’t got the hint by now that laser guns don’t work. And, more bizarrely, at one point a character takes down a brontosaurus with a single laser rifle. There isn’t much logic about how the novel’s high-tech weaponry is supposed to work.
The book is notable for being one of the first examples of fiction to fully embrace the idea of warm-blooded dinosaurs, but Gerrold didn’t do much research beyond that. He places animals from different time periods in the same setting, so there are allosaurs and tyrannosaurs walking side by side. At one point he writes that dinosaurs had gone extinct only 10 million years before the emergence of humankind, although he later corrects himself.
The author also makes the mistake of filling Deathbeast with a group of thoroughly unlikable characters. The hero is a safari guide who cracks jokes while the people he is supposed to be protecting get slaughtered by the T. rex, and the rest of the cast are just as despicable. When one character, for example, is in an understandable state of shock after seeing her significant other get eaten, the rest of the group treats her with hostility. It’s hard to care about what is going to happen to any of these people. Gerrold’s error is one common to horror fiction: It’s not scary if the characters are only getting what they deserve.
The writing itself can be laughably melodramatic, particularly anytime the “deathbeast” of the title shows up. Gerrold sure likes his dashes– his triple periods… and his exclamation marks! A little subtlety in the writing and a cast of humane characters would’ve gone a long way toward improving Deathbeast.
- Gerrold is a science fiction writer who may be best known for writing the famous Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
- Of interest to readers of this site, Gerrold also was the story editor for the first season of the original Land of the Lost, a Saturday morning children’s show about a family trapped in a prehistoric valley. The show, during its first two seasons, was quite good, showing much more maturity in its stories and characterizations than most children’s programming.
- The author’s web site is www.gerrold.com
Friday, August 10, 2007
Sixty-five million years ago, an alien ship is cruising in the general vicinity of Jupiter when the crew’s unseen opponents blast the vessel to smithereens. One of the pieces strikes a passing asteroid, nudging it off course by a hair. This is the rock that, in our timeline, killed the dinosaurs. In Neozoic, the asteroid was deflected just enough so that it strikes the moon instead, taking out a sizable chunk of the satellite in the process.
The dinosaurs never go extinct as a result, leading to a modern-day world of besieged humans, giant T. rexes and – if the cover is any indication – women with two right hands.
Neozoic is an upcoming title from the new comic company, Red 5 Comics. It’s written by Paul Ens, with pencils by J. Korim and colors by Jessie Lam. And to skip to the end, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it, although as a first issue, it’s really only a tease of what’s hopefully to come.
Ens works with an interesting premise: Instead of having dinosaurs continue to dominate the mammals after their aborted extinction, the two groups have been engaged in 65 million years of evolutionary competition. Humans have evolved and are the same as we know them, so are horses. Wolves, however, have grown to gigantic sizes to prey on the dinosaurs. The terrible reptiles themselves are pretty much the same ones we know from the fossil record. A T. rex plays a central role in the first issue but is depicted as much larger than the real thing, more for dramatic effect than scientific speculation about what the species would have evolved into. Neozoic isn’t a hard-science take on the alternate world theme, but rather a fantasy with dinosaurs substituting for dragons.
The main problem with the first issue of Neozoic is that, as a first issue, it needs to provide a lot of backstory about its universe in a short two-dozen-or-so pages. Add on top of that the fact the comic has a rather large cast of characters. Ens and his team make the smart decision of keeping the opening story fairly simple so the reader can absorb all the new information: A young architect is working on a project outside the walled city on Monanti, much to the disdain of a squad captain from the famous Predator Defense League, whose mission is to defend the city’s population from the predators beyond its walls. Needless to say, the league will have to put its skills to use, and before the end there are hints of a romantic subplot, political intrigue and a mystery involving the dinosaurs.
The art by Korim is highly stylized, eschewing the ultra-realism of, say, Mark Schultz for a more cartoon-like look. For the most part it is excellent, and his jungle environments in particular stand out. There are a couple anatomical irregularities with the humans, though. I couldn’t get over the oddly-formed round gut on one character, and readers both here and elsewhere have pointed out that the female on the cover has two right hands. I strained my eyes looking through the comic to see whether that was some strange feature of the character or just a mistake, but if she is supposed to have two right hands, I didn’t see any evidence of it.
Also a shout out to Lam, whose colors are appropriately muted for the setting and manage to capture the hazy atmosphere of the outdoors.
It’s hard to give a final word on Neozoic because this is only the first issue of what could be a long-lived series, but I like what I see. The writing shows promise, and the art is more than satisfactory. This is not a comic for people who insist that the science in their fiction be as accurate as humanly possible, but if you get a kick out of watching a hot chick take down a T. rex with nothing more than a sword and a gauntlet that shoots acid -- à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer with dinosaurs -- this title is for you. I’m definitely interested in seeing where this one is going.