Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dinosaur Thunder by James F. David (2012)

Cover blurb

Eighteen years ago, the prehistoric past collided with the present as time itself underwent a tremendous disruption, transporting huge swaths of the Cretaceous period into the twentieth century. Neighborhoods, towns, and cities were replaced by dense primeval jungles and modern humanity suddenly found itself sharing the world with fierce dinosaurs. In the end, desperate measures were taken to halt the disruptions and the crisis appeared to be over.

Until now.

New dinosaurs begin to appear, rampaging through cities. A secret mission to the Moon discovers a living Tyrannosaurus Rex trapped in an alternate timeline. As time begins to unravel once more, Nick Paulson, director of the Office of Security Science, finds a time passage to the Cretaceous period where humans, ripped from the comforts of the twenty-first century, are barely surviving in the past. Led by a cultlike religious leader, these survivors are at war with another sentient species descended from dinosaurs.

As the asteroid that ends the reign of dinosaurs rushes toward Earth, Nick and his allies must survive a war between species and save the future as we know it.

James F. David's Dinosaur Thunder is a terrifying, futuristic thriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton and Douglas Preston.

*Blurb from publishers website.

My thoughts

The first thing you should know about Dinosaur Thunder is it isn't a standalone story. It is the second sequel to the 1995 novel Footprints of Thunder, which was followed in 2005 by Thunder of Time. Anyone who hasn't read those two earlier novels may find themselves bewildered by Dinosaur Thunder as its plot relies heavily on knowledge of what has come before. A prologue brings readers up to speed but it is no substitute for having read the two earlier novels.

As for myself, I cracked open this book with trepidation. I enjoyed Footprints of Thunder but hated Thunder of Time, both for its poorly researched depictions of dinosaurs and its heavy-handed political stereotyping. In Dinosaur Thunder, David has put a little more effort into fleshing out his star animals and dialed way back on the political ranting. The novel is a better book than its predecessor as a result, but it still has several flaws that prevent me from recommending it.

Dinosaur Thunder is a novel with nearly a dozen main characters and nearly as many plot threads. To summarize as briefly as possible, the discovery of a living T. rex on the moon hints there may another disaster coming like the one that caused large swaths of modern-day Earth to be replaced by their Cretaceous period equivalents. Stranger still, dinosaurs from the past seem to be leaking into our world through doorways in time that may have something to with the comet/asteroid strike that killed them off. When the presidential science adviser goes off to investigate one of these doorways, he finds himself stranded in the ancient past. He is not alone. Also stranded are a group of people led by the Reverend, a Jim Jones-type cult leader who believes the Earth is only 10,000 years old despite the presence of dinosaurs all around him. Then there are the intelligent, spear-wielding dinosauroids who the human survivors are at war with.

Had the author focused solely on the plot elements I outlined then I would have enjoyed Dinosaur Thunder more. The problem is there are other, less interesting plot threads that break up the action, like that of a woman raising a pack of young Velociraptors. The novel has a lot of filler, and while it is less than 400 pages, the book feels too long for the story it is trying to tell. Not helping are the bland characters. The female characters in particular are treated poorly, with their most distinguishing characteristic being their looks. We're reminded repeatedly about just how gorgeous the heroic female leads are, while the most annoying character in the book is a fat woman (and the fact she is fat is turned into a running gag).

That said, Dinosaur Thunder isn't a bad book. Stylistically, it is better written than some other books I have read for this site. It also has some decent action in its latter half. The problem is it just isn't memorable. Much of the mystery of the first book is gone as we now have nice, tidy (and silly) explanations for time travel. The dinosaurs come out a little better this time around, but they are still only bit players in a story more about time travel than paleontology. And for reasons I already pointed out, the plot drags when it shouldn't. I can only recommend Dinosaur Thunder if you have read the first two books in the series and are a completist.

  • David is dean of the School of Behavioral and Health Science at George Fox University, a private Christian college in Newberg, Oregon.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Coming to Kickstarter: Savage Empire

Jurassic World is nearly here, but before it arrives you will be able to throw some money at a new graphic novel that will soon debut on Kickstarter.

Savage Empire by is described by its creator as Jurassic Park meets Black Hawk Down, although from the description it sounds more like Escape from L.A. meets Dinosaurs Attack! The comic also shouldn’t be confused with the excellent 1990 computer game of the same name, which is set in a lost world of dinosaurs.

Here’s the cover blurb:
A massive earthquake has shattered the West Coast, tearing a large swathe of California coastline free. At the quake's epicenter, pulsing energy portals appear - random gateways to another world. Through these portals, ancient creatures reclaim their territory, killing indiscriminately and acting as harbingers of an even more malevolent force in the Pacific.

This is the story of a group of wetworks operatives, sent into the zone to retrieve the technology that holds the key while acting as the reluctant handler for a man who specializes in finding those who don't want to be found.

A thrilling tale of extraordinary people and extraordinary odds, set against a backdrop of the ultimate apex predators - dinosaurs vs. humanity!
Apparently the creator of Savage Empire was the designer of the 2008 video game reboot of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, and he is already talking about a possible video game based on the comic. Only time will tell if that will happen.

Hopefully we will learn more about the comic—including art previews—once its Kickstarter campaign launches June 2.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Death in the Mesozoic: Paleontology in mystery novels

Paleontologists are homicide detectives — it's just that bodies they uncover have been dead for a very long time. The problem for writers is that investigations into 65 million-year-old crime scenes rarely make for compelling reading. If they want to grab readers' attention, their murders need to be of the more recent variety.

According to one report, mysteries rank behind only romance as the most popular literary genre. Countless mysteries have been written with settings ranging from the modern day to ancient Rome. The genre is so extensive it basically has its own version of Rule 34: If it exists, there is a mystery novel about it. So it should come as no surprise that a handful of mysteries feature paleontology as a plot point. Rarely do we get living prehistoric animals in mysteries — that's the realm of science fiction — but many authors aren't shy about sprinkling a little science in their crime novels.

The most recent example of a “paleo-mystery” is Dry Bones (2015) by Craig Johnson. The latest installment in Johnson's popular Longmire series, the plot heavily borrows from the real-life legal battle over the remains of Sue the T. rex. From the cover blurb:
When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sheriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum — until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond. With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government. As Wyoming’s Acting Deputy Attorney and a cadre of FBI officers descend on the town, Walt is determined to find out who would benefit from Danny’s death, enlisting old friends Lucian Connolly and Omar Rhoades, along with Dog and best friend Henry Standing Bear, to trawl the vast Lone Elk ranch looking for answers to a sixty-five million year old cold case that’s heating up fast.
It should be noted that in the case of Sue, no one was murdered, although a fossil dealer did end up in prison.

Another recent paleo-mystery is The Dinosaur Feather (2008) by Sissel-Jo Gazan, which won an award for best mystery novel in the author's home country of Denmark. The plot revolves around a paleontology student who becomes involved in a murder investigation after her academic supervisor is killed. Closer in time is Homer Hickam's The Dinosaur Hunter (2010), about a ranch hand wrapped up in a murder plot surrounding the discovery of dinosaur fossils in eastern Montana.

Most paleo-mysteries are one-off affairs. One exception is Mesozoic Murder (2003) by Christine Gentry, which was followed by a sequel, Carnosaur Crimes (2010). Both feature Ansel Phoenix, a paleoartist who solves crimes in Montana.

Readers looking plucky heroines may want to check out Bone Hunter (1999) by Sarah Andrews. The fifth in a series of novels featuring forensic geologist Em Hansen, the protagonist finds herself the main suspect in the murder of a famous paleontologist on the eve of a Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Salt Lake City.

The famous crime novelist Patricia Cornwell dabbled in paleontology in The Bone Bed (2012), featuring her popular character Kay Scarpetta. From the description:
A woman has vanished while digging a dinosaur bone bed in the remote wilderness of Canada. Somehow, the only evidence has made its way to the inbox of Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, over two thousand miles away in Boston. She has no idea why. But as events unfold with alarming speed, Scarpetta begins to suspect that the paleontologist’s disappearance is connected to a series of crimes much closer to home: a gruesome murder, inexplicable tortures, and trace evidence from the last living creatures of the dinosaur age.
Other paleo-mysteries include Dinosaur Cat (1999) by Garrison Allen, The Last Dinosaur (1994) by Sandy Dengler, Rattle His Bones (2011) by Carola Dunn, and the young-adult novel Old Bones (2014) by Gwen Molnar.

All the novels mentioned so far feature human protagonists, but at least one series includes living dinosaurs. Anonymous Rex (1999) by Eric Garcia is set in an alternate reality where dinosaurs didn't die out and are living among us in disguise. A parody of hard-boiled detective fiction, the book has two sequels: Casual Rex (2002) and Hot and Sweaty Rex (2005).

Know any paleo-mysteries I missed? Feel free to mention them in the comments.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thun'da by Dynamite Comics (2012)

Cover blurb

The time is now. A Military helicopter crash lands in a remote valley in Africa. A lone survivor awakens with no memory of who he is or what he was doing there, but he's wearing a uniform and is a skilled combatant. From the wreckage he learns only his name — ROGER DRUM. As he explores his new surroundings he is confronted by a bizarre lost world of dinosaurs and other strange creatures. Drum must learn to survive in this terrifying new reality while coming to terms with fragments of a past he isn't sure he wants to remember.

As a bonus, this over-sized issue also includes the original first issue with fantastic art by the one-and-only Frank Frazetta at no extra cost!

*Blurb from the first issue.

My thoughts

The year 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet hurdling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction. Man's civilization is cast in ruins. Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn. A strange new world rises from the old. A world of savagery, super science and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice...

Hold on... that's Thundarr the Barbarian. The comic I'm reviewing in this post is Thun'da, an even more obscure character that was the creation of legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. This isn't a review of the original comics but rather Dynamite Comics' attempt to revive the character in 2012 with a five-issue miniseries. Thun'da basically is a Tarzan knockoff living in a lost land filled with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. There is little about the character to make him stand out from the other Tarzan clones (such as Ka-Zar), and there is little about the comic to make it stand out from countless other lost world stories.

The first issue begins with Thun'da – a U.S. soldier named Roger Drum – awakening after a helicopter crash that has left him stranded somewhere in central Africa. Thanks to the selective amnesia that only occurs in fiction, he can't remember who he is but he has retained all his survival skills and military training. The sudden appearance of a T. rex assures Thun'da that he is not in Kansas anymore, so after blowing up the helicopter, he escapes into the woods to get his bearings. What follows is a series of adventures with a sabertooth cat, Neanderthals, intelligent apes, and a scantily clad native princess.

The most memorable thing about Thun'da is just how forgettable it is. I read the series twice but have trouble retaining any details about the plot. That is largely because the comic is simply one lost world genre cliché after another, with the barest thread of a narrative arc holding it all together. The same blandness extends to the art, which isn't terrible but also isn't distinguishable in any way from the art that graces thousands of other comics. Together the story and the art add up to a whole lot of “meh.”

Thun'da is a comic you can comfortably skip. It isn't the worst comic I have read, but it may be among the most boring.

  • The first three issues of Thun'da include Frazetta's original comics, which boast much better illustrations than the reboot. The one exception is in the third issue, where Frazetta's art includes racist caricatures of native Africans. The original comics were drawn in the 1950s and reflect the racial attitudes of the times.
  • The original Thun'da made his big screen debut in 1952 in the Columbia Picture's film King of the Congo. He was portrayed by actor Buster Crabbe.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Jurassic Park once again available as an audiobook

It's hard to believe the novel Jurassic Park is now 25 years old. Unfortunately, we're not getting an annotated or illustrated edition of the book to celebrate its anniversary. What we are getting is a new audiobook released to cash in on the premier of next month's Jurassic World.

The unabridged recording of Jurassic Park, read by Scott Brick, is now available through Brilliance Audio and other online audiobook retailers, like Audible. This is a big deal as there hasn't been an unabridged recording of the novel available since its initial release in 1990, making it hard to find. In fact, it has been much easier to find recordings of the book's inferior sequel, The Lost World. Now you can listen to Jurassic Park for only $16, which is pretty cheap compared to the cost of most audiobooks.

I highly recommend reading/listening to Jurassic Park if you haven't already. Don't worry if you've seen the movie a million times: The novel is very different from the film (and also much better).

What other dinosaur-themed works of fiction are available as audiobooks? Well, as already mentioned, the sequel The Lost World has been around for a while. Here are some other novels I found through Audible:
  • Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker: The famous paleontologist's fun novel about a female Utahratpor surviving in the early Cretaceous.
  • Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston: A modern-day thriller about a mysterious T. rex fossil and the secrets it contains about why the dinosaurs went extinct. It suffers from the problem of giving too much information away at the beginning of the story.
  • Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion: The novelization of one of the TV series' more infamous episodes.
  • The Dinosaur Hunter by Homer Hickam: A murder mystery involving paleontology in modern-day Montana.
  • Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear: An unofficial sequel to the original The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I rather enjoy this book, although other people have called it one of Bear's weaker efforts.
  • Dinosaur Park by Hayford Piece: I haven't read this one, but it concerns aliens, time travel, and dinosaurs.
  • Deathbeast by David Gerrold: The well-known science fiction writer turned his attention to dinosaurs in this time travel story that I didn't like, but maybe you will.
  • The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs: The first of three novels set on a lost continent of dinosaurs from the creator of Tarzan.
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: There are at least four unabridged readings of this classic dinosaur novel on Audible. There also are two full-cast audio productions.