Sunday, December 21, 2014

Will 2015 be the year of the dinosaur?

Let’s skip ahead to the answer: Probably not, but it should still be an interesting year for dinosaur lovers.

Next year will see the release of Jurassic World in June and the animated The Good Dinosaur in November. The last time two big-screen dinosaur films debuted in the same year was 1993, when the first Jurassic Park was followed a few months later by We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story. That same year also saw the release of the film adaptation of Super Mario Bros., in which dinosaurs were a major plot element but otherwise didn’t get much screen time.

Needless to say, 1993 also was a big year for dinosaur merchandise as companies tried to cash in on the sudden revival of dino-cinema. Dinosaur books, comics, posters, magazines, toys, cartoons, and direct-to-video movies were everywhere. Will we see the same thing again?

I have my doubts. One reason for the wild success of the original Jurassic Park was it had the good fortune of debuting during a blockbuster drought. The film’s only competition at the box office was the dismal Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero. Many of the other big hits that year — The Fugitive, Groundhog Day, Cliffhanger – were not the kind of movies whole families went to see. More importantly, they were not the kind of movies likely to sell a lot of merchandise.

A sign that things have changed for Jurassic World is the studio bumped up the release of the movie’s trailer by two days so it would debut ahead of the new Star Wars teaser, which threatened to drown out any buzz for the Jurassic Park sequel. Then there is the upcoming release of a tiny film you may have heard about - Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even the new Mad Max and Terminator films, while not necessarily kid-friendly movie properties, will likely divert the public’s already short attention span away from dinosaurs.

Another reason we’re not likely to see another explosion in dinomania is that cinematic dinosaurs are viewed as passé. The original Jurassic Park showed the public something they had never seen before: Incredibly lifelike computer-generated dinosaurs. But people no longer need to go to movie theaters to see such spectacle. BBC convincingly brought CGI dinosaurs to the small screen with Walking with Dinosaurs and its sequels, as did TV shows like Primeval and the short-lived Terra Nova. Sure, dinosaur lovers like myself could poke holes in the “dinosaurs are old news” argument, but Jurassic World’s creators are not helping. Here’s what the film’s director, Colin Trevorrow, told SlashFilm in May:
What if, despite previous disasters, they built a new biological preserve where you could see dinosaurs walk the earth…and what if people were already kind of over it? We imagined a teenager texting his girlfriend with his back to a T-Rex behind protective glass. For us, that image captured the way much of the audience feels about the movies themselves. “We’ve seen CG dinosaurs. What else you got?” Next year, you’ll see our answer.
Yes, it’s a little distressing the people producing the next Jurassic Park film think dinosaurs are boring. Still, that’s what we got. (It’s also an attitude explaining why the movie’s dinosaurs look so out-of-date compared to what paleontologists now know about their appearance.)

Now that I’ve spent the last few paragraphs poo-pooing the idea of Jurassic World resurrecting another surge of dinomania, let me point out there are reasons to be hopeful we will at least see an uptick in dinosaur-related products.

First, unlike Avengers or Star Wars, dinosaurs are not copyrighted. The Jurassic Park brand is, but book publishers, for instance, can’t release Star Wars-related products without first acquiring expensive licensing rights. No such restrictions apply to books about dinosaurs.

Second, there is a lot of interest in Jurassic World. As of this posting, it was the second most-referenced 2015 film on the Internet, according to Google. That puts it ahead of Star Wars but behind the Avengers. People seem genuinely interested in revisiting Jurassic Park.

Third, the public loves dinosaurs. Sure, dinomania waxes and wanes, but the fascination is always there. Seeing dinosaurs on the big screen is only going to help drive that interest up and businesses will want to cash in on that.

So what are we likely to see in dinosaur-related merchandise? The truth is it’s too early to tell. As far as paleofiction, which this blog is primarily concerned about, next year will see the release of The Dinosaur Lords, an epic fantasy novel combining Jurassic Park with Game of Thrones. There are no other major dinosaur novels announced so far, but I would be surprised if we didn’t get at least one dinosaur fiction anthology or the re-release of some older paleofiction titles. The big question is whether Jurassic World will get a novelization. Jurassic Park 3 was novelized as a kid’s book but there was no counterpart for adults. Note: Michael Crichton’s original novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World were released few years ago as a single volume titled Jurassic World. Don’t mistake that for the movie novelization.

What about toys? We already know Lego is releasing a Jurassic World set, which appears to be repurposing figures from its 2012 Lego Dino series. I’m sure we also will see Jurassic World action figures and playsets, and The Good Dinosaur undoubtedly will come with several tie-in toys. Chances are we won’t know more until Toy Fair 2015, a U.S. trade show in which many of the hottest new toys are debuted. The show kicks off February 14.

Video games are more problematic. Game developers have shown surprisingly little interest in dinosaurs over the years, but that may be changing. The creators of the popular Lego video game series have strongly hinted that their next game would be set in Jurassic Park. Other than that, there are a handful of non-Jurassic World games in the works. The most interesting is Saurian, which allows gamers to play as a dinosaur. Another dinosaur game – theHunter: Primal – is currently out as an unfished release, with the developers promising to add more dinosaurs to the title’s thin roster in the future.

Of course, I’ll update this blog with any paleofiction news as soon as I hear about it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dinosaurs live again in self-published ebooks

In the minds of most mainstream publishers, stories about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are extinct, unless you’re writing for kids. Fortunately, paleofiction for adults lives on in the world of self-published ebooks.

Below are a few titles that have popped up recently on I haven’t read any of them, so I can’t vouch for their quality. I may throw up some reviews in the future, but as a general rule I don’t review self-published works unless I think they are worthy of a larger audience. Yes, it’s a blind spot, but I’m only one man with a limited amount of time, and there are quite a lot of self-published ebooks.

Prehistorics & Primevals: Short Stories of Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Other Extinct Creatures, collected and illustrated by Benjamin Chandler

Here is an anthology of 12 stories about dinosaurs and other extinct animals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Included in the collection is “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie” by Wardon Allan Curtis, which may qualify as the strangest work of paleofiction ever written. Fun fact: The “monster” of the story makes a cameo appearance in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic.

Chandler provides the illustrations that accompany the stories. He also maintains a blog of short paleofiction inspired by paleoart:

The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

First, I owe this author an apology: He sent me an email a few months back telling me about this book, but it was during my summer hiatus and I missed it. Luckily, he didn’t need my help as the novel seems to have done pretty well in sales on

Book description:

Ten strangers trapped in time... and one of them is just as dangerous as the dinosaurs.

A ticking sound fills the air as Tim MacGregor enters The Daily Edition Café to meet his new girlfriend for coffee. Moments later, the café is transported 67 million years back in time, along with everyone inside.

Time is running out as ten unlikely companions search for a way home, while one member of the group plots to keep them all in the past.

- - - Who will survive? - - -

Author website:

Kronos Rising by Max Hawthorne

I found out about this one through Prehistoric Times, which interviewed the author in its most recent issue.

Book Description:

Steve refused to surrender. Even though he knew the creature was right behind him, he wouldn't quit. He would make it. Just as that beacon of hope began to shine down upon him, the bright sun overhead vanished from view. Confused, he gazed wide-eyed as the daylight grew dim. Then he realized the ultimate horror: the creature had overtaken him, its jaws opened wide.

He was in its mouth.

A coastal community faces the wrath of a prehistoric sea beast in Max Hawthorne’s heart-pounding new novel, Kronos Rising.

Devastated by his wife’s tragic drowning, Olympic hopeful Jake Braddock turns his back on fame and fortune and retreats to his childhood home of Paradise Cove, Florida. He accepts the job of town sheriff, hoping to find the solace he so desperately craves.

He finds anything but.

A series of horrifying deaths and disappearances send a flood of panic through the idyllic town. It is only after the ravaged carcass of a full-grown whale surfaces, however, that the real terror begins.

Soon Jake finds himself drawn into an ancient mystery—a mystery that ends with him adrift at sea, battling for survival against the deadliest predator the world has ever seen. It is a creature whose ancestors ruled the prehistoric seas. Now freed after eons of imprisonment, it has risen to reclaim the oceans of the world as its own.

And it's hungry.

Book website:

Here are some quick hits:

Jurassic Dead by Rick Chelser and David Sakmyster: Dinosaur zombies in Antarctica.

The Burial Ground by David Brookover: Magically resurrected dinosaurs in North Dakota.

Extinction Island by Catt Dahman: Shipwrecked survivors on a lost island in the Bermuda Triangle must contend with raptors and other beasts.

Orishadaon: To the Ends of the Urth by Brandon R.J. Rowling: A sword-and-sorcery tale that replaces dragons with dinosaurs.

Charon’s Children and Charon is Coming by Rick Gauger: These two books are sequels to Gauger’s 1987 novel Charon’s Ark. The author originally intended the Charon’s Ark to be the first in a trilogy, but the publisher didn’t oblige. He instead has released the works as self-published ebooks. Worth a look if you are a fan of the original novel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter by Dynamite Comics (2014)

Cover blurb

THE GOLD KEY UNIVERSE BEGINS HERE! Classic Characters by some of Comics Hottest Creators! - Magnus, Solar, Turok and Dr. Spektor! Dynamite is proud to present an all-new adventure ongoing from superstar GREG PAK (Batman/Superman, World War Hulk) and incredible artist MIRKO COLAK (Red Skull: Incarnate, Conan)! Shunned from his tribe, a young Native American named Turok fights to survive, making a lonely life for himself in the unforgiving forest. But his hard-won cunning and survival skills face the ultimate test when man-eating THUNDER LIZARDS attack his people! Why are dinosaurs here? How have they survived? And will Turok use his abilities to save a society that's taken everything away from him?

*Blurb from the first issue of the series.

My thoughts

Turok is a hard man to kill, and not just in his stories. Few comic book characters have been rebooted as often as the "Dinosaur Hunter." He got his start in 1954 in the comic Turok: Son of Stone. In this first outing, he was a pre-Columbian Native American who, along with his young sidekick Andar, stumbles into a lost valley of dinosaurs. He was resurrected in 1993 (the same year Jurassic Park hit theaters) as a gun-wielding hero who found himself up against aliens and cyborg dinosaurs. There were a couple more attempts to revive the comic, but what most people know the character from is the 1997 video game, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. After a handful of sequels, the game was rebooted in 2008, this time turning Turok into a space marine. He even starred in a 2008 direct-to-video animated movie, Turok: Son of Stone, which is a surprisingly decent film.

And that brings us to the most recent incarnation of the comic book series: Dynamite’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. There is no way to review this comic without giving away the big plot twist in the first issue, which shapes the rest of the series. So here’s a summary of my thoughts if you want to skip the spoilers below: I hated it.

In Dynamite’s take on the character, Turok is a young outcast whose parents were murdered by their adopted tribe. Andar is no longer his sidekick but a tormenting bully. The two are drawn together when dinosaurs suddenly appear and attack Andar’s companions. And where did the dinosaurs come from? They were brought to North America by European Crusaders who discovered the New World roughly two centuries before Christopher Columbus.

You see, in the alternate timeline of the comic, dinosaurs exist in the Old World and have been integrated into medieval society. The terrible lizards helped Europeans conquer the Middle East and now the Crusaders have turned their sights on the Americas. The first four-issue arc of the series concerns Turok’s efforts to free Andar’s tribe from the foreign invaders. The next four-issue arc sees Turok journey west, where he encounters a tribe of city dwellers under threat from Genghis Khan’s hordes, who have also managed to find their way to the New World.

I’ll give the creators of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter credit for trying to take the comic in a different direction by setting it in an alternate timeline rather than a lost valley. Still, there is little else to recommend. The writing suffers from trying to cram too much action into too few issues, resulting in illogical leaps in plot and character development. The setting is surprisingly unimaginative: Wouldn’t European culture have evolved in a different direction had dinosaurs still existed? Why settle for generic knights in armor when you could have had something more exotic? And the art goes from serviceable in the first four issues to damn ugly in the next four.

Poor Turok: Someday you will get a reboot worthy of your legacy. Just not today.

  • Turok features feathered dinosaurs, or at least partially feathered dinosaurs. Still, none are drawn with any great skill.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Parasaurians by Robert Wells (1969)

Cover blurb

MEGAHUNT CHARTERED. For a select few, it offered a dangerous vacation from the too-safe world of the 22nd century -- a chance to hunt fantastically real robot analogs of the giant dinosaurs who ruled the Earth in mindless grandeur for a million centuries.

Ross Fletcher could afford Megahunt’s price -- and welcomed the challenge and peril of hunting the

But the safari suddenly changed character, with Fletcher and his companions becoming the quarry, pursued by a hunter more deadly than any monster from the past -- man.

My thoughts

If Jurassic Park and Westworld had a baby, then the offspring would be The Parasaurians -- except in this case the child would be older than the parents, as this forgotten work of science fiction came years before those two better-known titles.

The year is 2173 and Ross Fletcher is bored. He is wealthy and alone, his wife having died a few years earlier and his adult daughter not having much time for him. So it doesn’t take much prompting when a salesman from a company called Megahunt Chartered offers him the chance to purchase a vacation package available only to a select few: A spot on a hunting safari on an island inhabited by robotic dinosaurs. These dinosaurs, called “parasaurians,” have been designed to look and behave like the real deal. In the sheltered world of 22nd century, the hunts offer an opportunity to experience real danger.

After touring Megahunt’s facilities, Fletcher sets out on a hunt with a beautiful photographer, an eccentric professor, and a menacing safari guide. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and Fletcher begins to suspect that some of the dinosaurs may be more lifelike than Megahunt let on.

Reading The Parasaurains was a strange experience. Here was Jurassic Park, yet written 21 years before Michael Crichton’s novel hit bookstands. Many of the same elements were present: A secret island off the South American coast turned into a private resort. A lengthy setup in which the protagonists tour the park and see many of its inner workings. Attractions that turn on the tourists.

That said, Jurassic Park is the better of the two novels. The main problem with The Parasaurians is not much happens in its slim 190 pages. There is a lot of buildup, but most of the payoff is reserved for the final 20 pages. The rest of the novel is spent following its paper-thin characters on a prosaic journey around the island. Granted, Crichton’s characters could hardly be called fully developed, but he did have a better sense of pacing, and he made the most of the premise by fleshing out his dinosaurs using the latest science. While the dinosaur scenes in The Parasaurians make for the most entertaining moments of the novel, they are too few and far between to make it any fun.

  • The novel’s plot twist probably won’t come as a surprise to audiences in an age after Jurassic Park. I won’t spoil it here other to say The Parasaurians may be the first example in fiction to use this particular device. If you want to know what I’m talking about, click here. (See No. 5)
  • I’ve seen no evidence Crichton read The Parasaurians before creating Westworld or Jurassic Park. In fact, Crichton initially hesitated writing Jurassic Park because of its similarities to Westworld.
  • Not trivia, just an amusing aside: The paperback copy I own of this book disintegrated the very moment I finished it. The cover fell off and the pages spilled loose. I’m surprised I didn’t find a sticker on it saying “This book will self-destruct five seconds after reading.”
  • Quark Cognition (Also includes reviews of Wells’ other works.)
  • Prehistoric Times, Issue 16 (Not available online.)

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 Milán'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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Danger: Dinosaurs! by Evan Hunter (1953)

Cover blurb

Owen Spencer would never have agreed to lead the time-slip expedition back to the Jurassic period - the Age of Reptiles - had he foreseen the terrifying experiences in store for the small group making the expedition. Chartering the expedition was Dirk Masterson, a treacherous big game hunter, whose alleged purpose was to take pictures of the enormous reptiles that roamed Jurassic times. Even when Masterson smashed the jeep into the force field, destroying the only protection that stood between the group and the lumbering beasts, Owen could not be sure it was an accident.

Evan Hunter has written a fast-moving tale of people stranded on earth in its infancy and forced to pit their ingenuity and strength against mammoth reptiles. It might not have been so bad if Masterson, with his mania for big game hunting had not continued to shoot at every reptile he spotted. But his madman tactics repeatedly aroused the fury of the hideous dinosaurs, whose attacks drove the farther and farther away from the relay area that would slip them back to the present when the week was up.

The weird circumstances that made Owen's brother, Chuck, take over the leadership of the expedition and the even stranger adjustment of the time stream that left the party with the inexplicable feeling that somebody was missing makes DANGER: DINOSAURS! an unusual and fascinating treatment of the ever-provocative time theme. The desperate search for the relay area, interrupted by fierce fights with flesh-eating monsters, and an earthquake that creates a chaos of stampeding animals give this story action that is as alien as any distant planet.

DANGER: DINOSAURS! is a juvenile science fiction novel, published first in 1953 as one of the books in the Winston Science Fiction series. The author, Evan Hunter, had a very successful writing career. He was also prolific and used a number of pen names. As Hunter, he wrote THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, a novel dealing with juvenile crime and the New York City public school system. It and the 1955 movie based on the book were highly acclaimed. He also had a successful screenwriting career, producing scripts for movies and TV, including the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's film THE BIRDS (1963). However, he is probably best known for the crime fiction he wrote using the pen name Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct series is often credited with inventing the "police procedural" genre of crime fiction. The books were turned into a number of movies and TV series.

*Blurb and cover art from the 2014 digital edition.

My thoughts

I’ve dredged up a lot of turkeys in my hunt for obscure paleofiction over the years, so I admittedly didn’t have much hope for Danger: Dinosaurs! when I downloaded the e-book version from Most science fiction novels that have been forgotten became that way for good reason. But it turned out I was in for a bit of a shock: While not a great novel, Danger: Dinosaurs! is a surprisingly good read with some well-researched dinosaur action.

The novel begins with our protagonist, Chuck Spencer, eagerly awaiting the return of his brother, Owen, a guide who leads tourists on photo safaris to the Mesozoic Era. Chuck is to accompany his brother on his next trip – a jaunt back to the Jurassic Period. The client is one Dirk Masterson, a rich blowhard who thinks his wealth gives him the authority to boss anyone around. Journeys to the Jurassic are usually dangerous affairs, but Owen is bringing with him a force field that will keep the dinosaurs out. However, once the time travelers arrive at their destination, Masterson drives a jeep into the force field, shorting it out. To make matters worse, Masterson then reveals he has smuggled in firearms so he can hunt dinosaurs, which is illegal. Chuck and Owen have no choice but to accompany Masterson, who pushes the party further and further away from the point where they need to be in a week’s time to return to future Earth.

The first thing to strike me about Danger: Dinosaurs! was how much research the author put into the book in order to make sure he got his dinosaur science right. While both earlier and later authors would mix creatures from various time periods in the same setting, Hunter’s dinosaurs are pretty much the ones you would expect to see in the Jurassic. His characters also delve into lectures about the Mesozoic that accurately reflect scientific thinking at the time the book was written. And while the dinosaurs themselves are described as dim-witted, they show reasonably complex behaviors, such as herding. Also, Hunter’s descriptions of the Jurassic environment at times border on poetic, with the author avoiding common mistakes made by other writers, like populating their settings with grass. Too bad the same can’t be said about Hunter’s take on the nature of time, which will leave readers scratching their heads once it becomes a central point in the plot. (To say anything more would spoil one of the novel’s most dramatic scenes.)

The story itself is appropriately action-packed with some scenes of real tension. That said, the characters could be better written. At times they make mistakes so easily avoided that it is obvious the author only had them behave in a certain way so he could advance the story. The villains’ motivations, once revealed, don’t make a lot of sense. Also, Hunter’s physical descriptions of a black man who accompanies the team are far from politically correct by today’s standards, although it should be noted the character in question turns out not only to be a hero, but a vehicle the author uses to critique racial attitudes of the era in which the book was written. Sadly the author’s modern views don’t extend to the novel’s sole female character, who we are told can’t handle the rigors of the prehistoric environment because she is just a “girl.”

Flaws aside, Danger: Dinosaurs! remains a fun little read that might surprise you on how well it has aged. The book is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of paleofiction.

  • As stated in the cover blurb, Evan Hunter actually is a famous author better known for his crime stories written under the pen name Ed McBain. He also penned the screenplay for one of the most famous man vs. dinosaur films of all time, The Birds.
  • Danger: Dinosaurs! is one of several golden age science fiction novels recently reissued by Thunderchild Publishing.
  • Hunter wrote Danger: Dinosaurs! under the pen name of Richard Marsten.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol by Titan Comics (2013-14)

Cover blurb

When the Allies and Nazis develop time-diving technology that could see the Second World War derailed by creatures from the Cretaceous, only the Sarge and his hand of misfit soldiers can save the future – by saving history! Dinosaurs! Giant crocodiles! Albert Einstein with a machine gun! All that barely scratches the surface of the first issue of this astounding, fully-painted pulp spectacular!

* Blurb from the first issue of the five-issue miniseries.

My thoughts

Chronos Commandos starts with a time machine materializing in the Mesozoic. Out from it pour four U.S. soldiers in World War II uniforms. They are led by Sarge, a cigar-chomping macho man who just wants to complete the mission so he can return home and grab a coffee. After some gory encounters with dinosaurs and time-traveling Nazis, Sarge is the only one left out of his squad. He hops in the time machine and travels back to the future only to find his base under attack by Nazis. It turns out the Germans have stolen a vital piece of time travel technology and have fled with it to the Age of Dinosaurs. It is up to Sarge and a small squad of men to travel back in time and recover the tech or risk losing the war.

Chronos Commandos is a tough comic to review because its creators purposely set a low bar for themselves: It is meant as nothing more than a brainless tribute to the pulp comics of yesteryear, in particular The War That Time Forgot. Taking the comic too seriously would be a mistake. That said, there are some flaws that diminished my enjoyment of the title. First is the main character, Sarge, who is supposed to be a tough guy but instead comes across as a jerk more interested in his own preservation than the safety of the men he leads. Another problem is the depiction of the Cretaceous, with the creators mixing and matching dinosaurs from different eras in the setting. I know it is a bit silly to demand scientific rigor from a pulp comic, but I would have liked to seen a broader range of dinosaurs than your standard raptors, T. rexes, and stegosaurs. As for the art, it is serviceable – it does its job but is nothing to write home about.

My verdict of Chronos Commandos is a resounding “meh.” The comic wasn’t a complete waste of my time, but I wish its creators had been more ambitious. There is nothing wrong with B-grade entertainment, but that’s not an excuse not to shoot for something a little grander.

  • Chronos Commandos was not the only dinosaurs vs. Nazis comic series released in 2013: The year also saw the debut of Half-Past Danger.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Night Shapes by James Blish (1962)

Cover blurb

The continent lay before them, vast areas of it unexplored, its forests, plains, jungle and mountains teeming with forms of life unknown to modern man.

Here the witch-doctors reigned supreme, using their inexplicable and remarkable powers on men and beasts.

The purpose of the safari was mysterious, its members an oddly assorted group of people unlikely to have any sane objective in common . . .

* Blurb from the 2011 digital edition.

My thoughts

Kit Kennedy has no use for the Western world he left behind. The former schoolteacher has been living among the natives of the Congo rainforest for years when The Night Shapes begins. Kennedy simply wants to be left alone, but when a Belgian official threatens to alert the authorities about the expatriate’s expired passport, he agrees to guide an expedition into a previously unexplored portion of the jungle in return for the official’s silence.

The expedition’s leaders claim their goal is to provide medical aid to the local natives, but Kennedy suspects they have an ulterior motive. Why, for example, is the relief mission accompanied by a small band of well-armed marines? And who is the woman accompanying the group? The mystery only deepens as the land grows stranger the deeper they penetrate into the jungle. Then there is the legend, whispered among the natives, of a creature known as mokele-mbembe.

The Night Shapes is a lost world tale that is not quite sure what it wants to be. It’s obvious that Blish sought to tell an adventure story in the mold of H. Rider Haggard, but he also wanted to critique the casual racism that infests the genre. The result is schizophrenic, to say the least. A good chunk of the book is a screed against the Western exploitation of Africa and its peoples, but at the same time the novel is filled with simplistic stereotypes of native peoples and has as a protagonist a white hero who knows what’s better for the Africans than the Africans. The third act of the book also is a mess, with Blish quickly wrapping up his main storyline to go in a completely different direction with the plot.

As far as the novel’s paleofiction elements, prehistoric creatures play a critical role in The Night Shapes, but they are relegated to only a couple brief cameos. Blish is more interested in the African setting than paleontology, and as a result he makes some head-smacking mistakes in his descriptions of the animals.

I appreciate what Blish was trying to do in The Night Shapes, but he would have been more successful if he stuck to a traditional adventure story rather than the strange hybrid that he ultimately produced. This is a case where the simpler path would have been the better choice.

  • Blish was a well-known science fiction writer who won the Hugo Award in 1959 for his novel A Case of Conscience, which involved dinosaur-shaped aliens.
  • Mokele-mbembe is a mythical central African creature that some westerners allege is a living sauropod dinosaur. There is no evidence the animal exists, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from making movies about it. The first film based on the myth was Disney’s Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend, released in 1985 to near universal scorn. The second was the equally bad The Dinosaur Project, a “found footage” film that came out in 2012.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jurassic Park III: Island Survival Game by Milton Bradley (2001)

Game description

Choose to ATTACK or prepare to FIGHT BACK!

Decide who you will control, the humans or the dinosaurs. Then battle in 5 dangerous action sequences.

Human players — Your goal is to move quickly across the island and get to the beach… alive! Each action sequence has a different breed of dinosaurs – just waiting to eat you alive! If a dinosaur catches you – get ready for the battle of your life! If you’re the first player to escape the island – you win!

Dinosaur players must stop the humans dead in their tracks before they can escape the island! Anytime a human enters an action sequence a new dinosaur comes alive and the chase begins! Catch the humans and attack! CHOMP! CLAW! GNAW! SLASH! Defeat all the humans before they escape the island and win!

*Cover image from BoardGameGeek.

My thoughts

I never had any intention of picking up this JPIII board game, but when I stumbled across it on eBay for a very low price, I shrugged and said “What the heck.” The game had a colorful board and plastic dinosaur figures, so maybe it would surprise me.

JPIII: Island Survival Game is at its heart a roll-and-move game – you role a die and move your pieces along the board the same number of spaces as the result. That said, it has some features that make it different from your average Chutes and Ladders clone. First, it comes with special dice that have an unevenly distributed set of numbers on them. Second, one player controls the dinosaurs, and it is that person’s job to try to eat the other players’ human pawns. Finally, players can take alternate paths on the game board, so it isn’t necessarily a straight-line race to the finish (although there is only one finish line).

The goal of the game is for the human players to get from one end of the board to the other without becoming dino chow. The board is divided into five sections, each representing a different scene from the movie. Different species of dinosaurs are confined to different sections, but unlike the humans who can move freely, the dinos can’t die. On a human player’s turn, the person rolls one die and moves one of his or her pawns the same number of spaces. If the player rolls a “3 GROUP,” then he or she can move all the human pawns on the same space three paces, including pawns belonging to other players. Certain spaces have “DRAW CARD” written on them, so when a players lands on that space, he or she draws a card and follows the instructions on it.

The dinosaur player moves between each of the human players’ turns. Dinosaurs have their own special die that determine movement. When a dinosaur lands on a space occupied by a human character, they must battle by each rolling a special die. Humans have a 50-50 chance of escape: If they roll “ESCAPE” on their battle die, then they move as many spaces away from the dinosaur as indicated by the die. If they fail to escape, then they take damage equal to the amount of damage indicated on the dinosaur die. Each character has a set amount of “life chips” at the start of the game, and if those run out… well, then the dinosaurs won’t go home hungry.

JPIII isn’t a particularly deep game but it does a good job of recreating the movie experience while remaining accessible to younger players. The biggest letdown was the components – the plastic dinosaur figures were nice, but the board is printed on thin cardboard and the human pawns are cardboard standees. I also would argue the game is a bit unbalanced given the human players have an advantage over the dinosaur player. That said, it is a fun little game that plays relatively quickly. If I had a choice between this game and getting stuck in a never-ending game of Monopoly, I would definitely pick JPIII.