Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two classic dinosaur anthologies now available as ebooks

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In a world... a Jurassic World

Are you ready for another walk in the park?

The first full-length trailer for the third Jurassic Park sequel exploded onto the Internet today, and what a difference 13 years makes. That’s how long it has been since Jurassic Park 3 hit theaters. The movie didn’t go unnoticed, but audiences at the time were decidedly unenthusiastic about returning to the franchise. Some of it was an attitude of “been there, done that.” Dinosaurs were out. Dragons were in, or at least fantasy films were. The first Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films made their debuts that year, as did the first Shrek movie. It also didn’t help that audiences still had a sour taste in their mouths from the awfulness that was Jurassic Park: The Lost World. It was unfair, as Jurassic Park 3 was the better of the two sequels, but so it goes.

Jurassic World has enough time separating it from the sequels that audiences have largely forgotten their issues with those movies. The new sequel isn’t a reboot per se, but it is a relaunch of the franchise, this time imagining what Jurassic Park would have been like had it opened to the public. The trailer is fueled by pure nostalgia for first film, crammed with shots meant to invoke famous scenes from the movie:

And there lies my issue with the trailer. I don’t want a film whose main draw is reminding you of that great movie you saw as a kid. I want it to stand as a good film on its own. It is too early to say whether Jurassic World will do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors, but for now I’ll just try to find happiness in the knowledge that next year we’ll get a big-budget dinosaur adventure in theaters.

I’ll have more to say on this on the future, particularly when it comes to what we may see in terms of dinosaur media around the release of the film, but here are a few quick thoughts:
  • There is no ignoring the elephant in the room: The CGI looks awful. Seriously, I’ve seen better work in TV programing — check out Primeval. Here’s hoping the FX wasn’t quite done by the time the filmmakers had to slap together this trailer, which is entirely possible given the movie is still more than seven months away.
  • No feathered dinosaurs. That’s disappointing. The original Jurassic Park was revolutionary not only for its special effects, but for its move away from portraying dinosaurs as tail-dragging sluggards to upright, active animals. It is amazing how much our understanding of what dinosaurs looked like has evolved in the 21 years since the first film. So with that in mind, why are those raptors naked? And don’t say the filmmakers needed to be consistent with the earlier films: The raptors changed in appearance in every movie.
  • Speaking of raptors, looks like Starlord has trained his own motorbike gang.
  • Cool to see a Mosasaurus, but it is way too big. And where did they get the DNA? Were there underwater mosquitoes?
  • Just because the first Jurassic Park had kids doesn’t mean every Jurassic Park film needs kids.
  • I’m not thrilled about the plot hinging on Jurassic World’s creators having engineered a new super-dinosaur from scratch. There are so many weird and wonderful dinosaurs we know from the fossil record, why invent a make-believe one?

Monday, November 24, 2014

New novel: Time Travel Dinosaur

If I had a time machine, I would travel two months into the past and post this news item when this work of fiction first debuted, but since I don't you will have to settle with hearing about it now. Time Travel Dinosaur by Matt Youngmark is new dinosaur novel that is a parody of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that many '80s children fondly remember, myself included. The cover blurb:
You work for the Time Travel Investigation Agency, a job which, to be honest, is mind-meltingly dull. That is, until a raving lunatic in a lab coat breaks the laws of physics and drastically alters the space-time continuum (changing your memory right along with it). Set off on a wild adventure through the Mesozoic Era, the Middle Ages, the steampunk 1880s, and the distant future in an attempt to safeguard the true timeline.

The timeline where people evolved from dinosaurs.

Time Travel Dinosaur is a sci-fi/comedy ­reimagining of the choose-your-own-path stories you grew up with. Find one of 76 possible endings, or get stuck in a time loop and literally read this book forever.
You can purchase the book from the author's website, paying whatever price you want for the digital versions, even $0. That said, don't be a jerk: Pay what you can afford and reward the author for his time and effort.

Time Travel Dinosaur is the latest entry in Youngmark's Chooseomatic series of gamebooks, which he also illustrates. I plan to do a full review of the novel in the near future, after I've had some time to explore most of its possible outcomes. I'm hoping one of them lives up to the cover's promise of a T. rex in a top hat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Kickstart some dinosaur board games

I enjoy board games. I enjoy dinosaurs. Sadly, the two don’t come together as often as you think they would. Three new projects seek to rectify this situation.

First up isn’t a board game but a 15mm miniatures line for gamers who love “lost world” and Indiana Jones-type adventures. The Adventures in the Lost Lands miniatures line features a few of the most popular species of dinosaurs as well as some humans in steampunk and pulp-gear clothing, including a very familiar figure with a bullwhip. There are only five days left in the campaign at the time of this post (Nov. 19), so if you want to support it, better hurry. Kickstarter link.

The next two projects make the mistake of confusing archaeology with paleontology, but I’ll let that slide. The board game In a World of Dinosaurs is unique in that it features two boards, one representing the prehistoric past and the other the modern day. Players kill off dinosaurs on the prehistoric board so their teams of paleontologists can dig up the fossils in the modern day. It is not a serious take on the subject, as paleontologists can also find precious artifacts or face dangers such as man-eating plants. But I admit this is the game I most want to see funded as this point. Kickstarter link.

Last but not least we have Artifacts, Inc., a card-and-dice game in which players are rival teams of archaeologists/paleontologists seeking artifacts and fossils in 1929. It is designed by Ryan Laukat, who already has some hits in his belt, such as Eight-Minute Empire. The art on the cards is especially nice. Backers of this project probably won’t see it until late next year, but in the meantime, they can download a print-and-play version of the game. Kickstarter link. 

But wait! There is one more game worth mentioning! I missed its Kickstarter campaign but it is now out in stores. Evolution is a card game in which players “evolve” strange species that they use to gain points and attack other players' species. It is getting good reviews and the art is drop-dead gorgeous. Boardgamegeek link

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming next year: The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

Do you like Game of Thrones? How about Jurassic Park? If you said “yes” to both, boy, do I have news for you.

First, a bit of housekeeping: Been a while since my last post. I ended up moving over the summer and news about paleofiction is sparse. But I’ve settled down now, and the release of Jurassic World next summer means we’ll see more dinosaur-related news items in coming months as publishers try to profit from the accompanying dino-craze that will likely follow. (More on that in a later post.)

And that leads us to The Dinosaur Lords, which will be released in July, or about a month after Jurassic World comes out. This first novel by Victor Milan is set in a fantasy world where knights ride and joust on dinosaurs. The cover even boasts a blurb by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin: “It’s like a cross between Games of Thrones and Jurassic Park.” Okay, that’s not so much an endorsement as a description, but I doubt most people will see past Martin’s name.

Here’s the blurb from the publisher, Tor:

A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Mil├ín's splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

The Dinosaur Lords is being pitched as the opening chapter in a new epic fantasy series. It is not the first fantasy novel to feature dinosaurs. In the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting of Eberon, dinosaurs are used as beasts of burden by Hobbits (in this case called “Halfings” to avoid getting sued by the Tolkien estate). They also can be found in D&D’s Forgotten Realms, paying an important role in at least one Dungeons & Dragons novel—The Ring of Winter.

I’m looking forward to The Dinosaur Lords, even if I find the premise a little gimmicky. Hopefully it won’t be the only work of paleofiction put out by a major publisher in conjunction with Jurassic World.