All My Yesterdays: An Evolutionary Snapshot of Dinosaur Doodles

So a while back I wrote a review on this pretty boss paleoart book. I raved about it, enjoying its refreshing stance and bold ideas concerning a long childhood obsession of mine. All Yesterdays brought a cunning and much needed twist to the newest trends in dinosaur restoration. It highlighted a kind of common sense mentality that seemingly goes missing with the world at large. Dinosaurs were animals.

How could I 'not' salivate at the mouth for this opportunity?!

How could I ‘not’ salivate at the mouth for this opportunity?!

I’ll grant you: Kind of an obvious statement, but I’d argue it’s a message that the majority of people tend to forget. All too often, dinosaurs are regulated to the children’s section of popular culture. And as hard as it is to accept, Mesozoic earth was almost certainly NOT like a page out of a 1950’s pulp magazine.

At its core, this is why I enjoyed the book. It isn’t often that you get such a level-headed and adult take on the subject of dinosaurs.

So why am I doing all of this fanboy harping all over again? Why did I think you guys needed the refresher course on how awesome this book is? Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this rant.

The rough draft version of my All Yesterday's contest entry. Note: I've always used notebook paper. It ain't a doodle without notebook paper.

The rough draft version of my All Yesterday’s contest entry. Note: I’ve always used notebook paper. It ain’t a doodle without notebook paper.

The good folks over at Irregular Books have just finished with their own art contest based on All Yesterdays concepts. 200+ entrants were tallied, and luckily, (thanks heavily to a 10 day extension window) I was able to submit my own piece. I gotta thank those guys for so much grace. Us writer types can be real “last minute” monkeys. At any rate: It took a few rough drafts and aborted attempts, but my precarious doodle and Corel Paint skills saw me through. Taking up the pencil was cool and all, but the most interesting facet emerged when I did a little research. I looked back over some very old “circa 1998” pictures I’d concocted, and was stunned to realize just how prescient I failed to be! I’d fallen into strict 90’s paleoart a trend… and I’d fallen hard.

One of the arguments All Yesterdays makes was that of shrink wrapping: Coating the reconstructed bones of dinosaurs with the thinnest semblance of muscle, skin, and integumentary bites-o-goodness. You didn’t want to speculate too hard, back on those olden days, lest you be labeled a quaking crank.

This “anorexiation” of dinosaurs came from a backlash when paleontologists started viewing dinosaurs as sleek, warm-blooded, speedsters… as opposed to the lumbering walnut-brains of past fame. This Dinosaur Renaissance was spearheaded by an old hero of mine, Robert Bakker; along with his disciple, Gregory S Paul.

Lookin' pretty skinny there, slick. This is my 90's interpretation of some ... ancestral... dromeosaurid? I suppose I figured all cool dinosaurs needed the sickle claw.

Lookin’ pretty skinny there, slick. This is my 90’s interpretation of some … ancestral… dromeosaurid? I suppose I figured all cool dinosaurs needed the sickle claw.

Ribcage sporting dinosaurs were all the rage through the early 1990’s and I was a born again convert.

Lets just say, you couldn’t get my nose out from one of Paul’s gorgeously illustrated books. It was a physical impossibility. Weeks could pass and parents could worry, but I wasn’t fucking letting go.

So I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise when an adult version of me came across one of these little gems.

Shrink wrapping happens, my friends. Witness it to your horror!

Anyways.. I thought that was kind of funny. And a little eye opening. Heed the wisdom of All Yesterday’s dogma. I’ve re-converted. Now my ornithopods have fuzz. It’s the circle of life.

Evolution in action.

Seriously though, if you haven’t read the book, you should check it out.

Now with color. I feel I've come a long way. I call this piece Beachcomber.

Now with color. I feel I’ve come a long way. I call this piece Beachcomber.

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Outward Reviews: All Yesterdays

You know that kid who screamed out the scientific names of dinosaurs he saw during a movie trailer? That kid whom everyone smirked at and whose parents and sibling leaned away from a little too casually? That little guy was me. So with that knowledge, I give you my first book review —

If anything, we dinosaur fans are gluttons for punishment. It’s not like we have anything better to do than slog through the latest iteration of Cretaceous Battle Royal for the umpteenth time. For us, it’s just another day at the office. We really don’t have much of a choice. Hollywood movie monsters garner attention and sadly, that’s about all the seriousness popular media wishes to bestow on the subject of ancient reptiles.

Well known creatures in ways you’ve never seen them: par for the course with All Yesterdays. A plesiosaur uses a camouflage hunting strategy here.

It’s a precipitous and very slippery slope. You’re pretty much guaranteed schlock, even from heavy hitters like the Discovery Channel and the BBC.

Yet we come running every time. It’s like an abusive relationship. It’s the only show in town. We’ll put up with nearly any amount of punishment to get our fix of X-treme archosaurs, shot through the corneas to a soundtrack of overdone roars and bellows.

With stereotypes and clichés so ubiquitous, us paleo-buffs have had to produce some pretty thick skins over the years. I myself have become jaded; bracing for the parade of Mesozoic tropes I know are in store. I’ve got my checklist, derisive snorts at the ready.

How many of us have gathered around our TV’s to chuck popcorn and soda cans at every single tired and over-the-top “seen-it-a-million-times” moments? Rolled our eyes at the scientific inaccuracies *where are the goddamn feathers?!* and taken too much joy in pointing out facts nobody cares about?

Almost any recreation will focus on the Hollywood aspect of the animals. Predators bellow victoriously over fallen enemies every other second. Herbivores are nothing but glorified redshirts, glancing around fearfully before the clawed hammer falls in the next scene. It gets to be a bit much.

Animals do strange things seemingly outside their bodily adaptations, hence Protoceratops forage in a tree to get some tasty morsels.

So when such a cool, tall glass of sanity broaches the genre; I sit up and take notice.

All Yesterdays is the first book to confront these overblown notions and call it out for the nonsense that it is. That’s what stood out to me immediately upon reading it. The level-headed assuredness with which it builds a case for what a younger, Mesozoic earth might actually have been like without all the flashing neon. There is a boldness to openly and beautifully speculate within this book. Couple this with a sound scientific foundation for each and every idea and you have yourself a rare cocktail indeed.

It’s a marvel. It’s addicting. And might I reiterate again: It’s so damn refreshing.

But I need to backtrack from here:

All Yesterdays is the brainchild of several well-known names in the field of paleontology and paleontological artistry. Paleozoologist Darren Naish, known for other dinosaur publications such as Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence as well as his unbeatable blog Tetrapod Zoology; and artists John Conway and C.M. Kosemen combine their talents and ideas with inspired success.  All Yesterdays is a book that does more than celebrate paleoart. It joyfully turns the subject on its head and forces the reader to look at it from a new perspective.

Some of my most memorable sections were the quiet moments. Several entries juxtapose the incessant carnage seen elsewhere with the doldrums we almost never hear about. A lethargic tyrannosaur, sleeping off its latest kill. Allosaurus and Camptosaurus (mortal enemies in any other light) exchanging an unobtrusive glance at a watering hole. The best was a Tenontosaurus simply walking through its wooded habitat with nary a sickle-claw in sight.

How much of the “external bits” would cover up that familiar dinosaurian outline? If this ain’t too weird for you, you can handle the rest. Think of fluffy Antarctic dinos as the whack-a-zoo bar for entrance.

What All Yesterdays does exceptionally well is the speculation. Obviously my favorite. The authors lead you into each piece of art confidently. They lay out the thought process behind each one, comparing behaviors based firmly in reality, but at the same time making it clear that any such proofs would be impossible to confirm without a time machine at hand. In a way, I found it exciting to finally think of these ancient creatures as animals again.

Knowing that there’s plenty of boisterous mating displays, mud-rolling, unanticipated climbing, and chronic sleeping mixed in with all that unrestrained killing really levels the playing field. What is usually so one-sided becomes illuminated. Its horizon made colorful.

All Yesterdays doesn’t impose to preach about “What it was really like”. It simply gives you the tools and insight to realize that there are many facets of the past that we’ll never know. Brilliant, stunning things that are forever lost in time.

In the end, this is All Yesterdays’ achievement. It’s its sheer power to change your perception using pretty (and at the same time deeply thought out) pictures of awesome dinosaurs.

In the latter half of the book, All Yesterdays even turns a mirror onto itself. It projects a future where the next intelligence of earth discovers long extinct ‘currently extant’ species. It postulates what sorts of reconstructions these beings might produce: a cat, a hummingbird, a baboon etc. (Human killer/parasite/venomous predator, respectively) This is the most tongue-in-cheek segment of the book**, highlighting the kinds of mistakes modern scientists and artists make when visualizing extinct creatures.

It’s expertly done, eye-opening, and I loved every minute of it.

**I adored how everything was tainted towards the vicious and merciless. Baleen whales and elephants became the stuff of nightmares. Also, hippo based on the skull: Just back away slowly and hope it didn’t see you.

For those of you in desperate need of a reprieve from DinosaurusX style programming, you should jump at this chance. As a fellow dino-nazi, I can’t recommend this book any higher. The artwork is stunning. The ideas are fresh and thoroughly backed up, leaving your head spinning with the sheer ingenuity involved.

Even familiar faces aren’t safe. Here, Triceratops sees a facelift thanks to recent quill-nob discoveries way down its ancestral line.

There are lessons here that should absolutely be taken to heart.

If only more would.

Oh, and snag a printed version. A kindle’s black-and-white just doesn’t do it justice.

UPDATE: I’ve just been informed by one of the ‘high ups’ (holy crap actual feedback!) that most of you lovely people will get to see the artwork generously colored. Smartphones, tablets and computers are the way to go. Don’t let my Black and White Kindle shriveled heart dissuade you. Now there is literally no reason for you not to get this book.

So off with you! Go find Majungasaurus.

Pomeranian to the Jugular in the Tokyo Jungle

Tokyo Jungle

If you’re like me, you’ve probably caught yourself wondering some fairly random things. Like what it would be like to be a gazelle chased down by a saber-toothed cat. Or a Bengal tiger chasing a zebra because you have a stripey inferiority complex. Perhaps a chimpanzees float your boat; ones who have a thing for slapping hippos and running away screeching.

Well there’s a game for that. What will they come up with next?

Tokyo Jungle is a new download-to-play title released on the Playstation Network and it’s been my good fortune to play it. It’s quirky/addictive, satisfying/fun, and asks all of the poignant questions like the ones I posed in the first paragraph. And there are probably some other crazy encounters that I just don’t have the time to imagine. This game’s got the crazy.

If you’re not like me, but you’re more or less similar to the rest of the world; you probably can’t get enough of the post-apocalyptic views of our world after the fall of civilization. You’ve got your Walking Deads and Survivors TV shows (Not to mention the promising new addition Revolution)… and you’ve got your I Am Alive’s and forthcoming The Last of Us’s on the gaming front.

If you’ve ever watched I Am Legend and had a blast watching the CGI deer and the lions co-mingling, you have absolutely no reason to avoid playing this game. It’s got pixelly ungulates in common! Who didn’t like Will Smith’s dog in that movie? Tokyo Jungle lets you be that mutt. More or less.

Tokyo Jungle is built on the premise – what lengths would our pets go to survive after severing human contact. Would their natural instincts ignite? Would they compete with wild animals? Zoo escapees? Could they thrive in a world still polluted by human toxins? Navigate to procreate?

The ruthless beast-king himself. Note the red slicker — the color of BLOOD!

Would you be cheering your Beagle on when he encounters a pack of Hyenas in a dark alley?

It makes for a fun playground. The possibilities are endless when those pesky humans aren’t in the way to regulate the hell out of the planet.

This is where Tokyo Jungle shines for me. It’s random, chaotic approach to the genre. It certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. How can you when you have packs of Silky Terriers nipping at the toes of Wooly Mammoths? It’s mindless, sure, but underneath it still presents the burning question… “What would happen after humans go–?” Also: Dinosaurs!

The rendering of a decades old Tokyo in decline, slowly eroding away beneath the paws of roving packs of wolves, it’s exciting. It makes you want to see more. Learning the ins and outs of gameplay, and crashing and burning HARD when survival of the fittest kicks you in the nose—it’s in full show here, and done extremely well.

There are more than fifty animals to choose from. Most of them unlikely and implausible, but every single one of them is a sheer blast to try out. I do warn you though – unlocking other creatures might be one of the games weak points. You must manually play through a Survival Mode as different creatures, in a more or less randomly roundabout way to get to the critters you like. Me? I bolted headlong for the chimp before getting utterly hooked and desperate to unlock more.

Another iffy bit? Multiplayer is limited to those couch potatoes beside you. As much as you want to disembowel your friends overseas, you just can’t do it. The actual internet portion of the game is saved for stats posting and leaderboards – and the unholy gamer’s bane, downloadable content. As much as I want to kick ass as a croc, I’m still tentative to pay extra for it.

 —

As it stands, Tokyo Jungle is a great strategic survival game with zany elements. It a lot of fun, and lets crackpots like me draw conclusions about a post-human era in a new and unconventional way.

Why not let the Pomeranians get a chance to rule the world?

Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: Noir, dinosaurs, and — childbirth?

Over at Terribleminds, authorial sage and all around penmonkey, Chuck Wendig is hosting a literary throwdown. Titled “A Game of Aspects”, he asks his fellow monkeys to come up with a piece of flash fiction that combines several strong — and sometimes seemingly conflicting — aspects of genre, elements, and themes. I’m all for a library where readers could find a directory that covers all stories with deep space naval battles, magical garden gnomes, and thrilling police forensics within a single volume! It’s an interesting take of storytelling, and I’d love to dip my toes into the deep end. It’s a good enough excuse for me to put some actual story content here at Outwardbounder!

I was only partly brave with my selection process. I just couldn’t let go of the chance to write about dinosaurs. “Write about what you know” and all that.. I rolled the die and came up with “Noir” as my subgenre and “Childbirth” as a theme/motif. (Alright, more of a motif..) I took my stapler and had at it. I went to town and eventually came up with “Nobody Trusts a Talonfalcon”. Talonfalcon, Maltese Falcon — Yeah, maybe I should have tried a little harder… It’s Noir! Anyways… I’m actually kinda proud of what came out at the other end of Chuck’s inspiring take on the creative process. A tale of a couple ‘wise guys’ that find it hard to agree. One thing is for certain; their job just got a little more complicated.

Hope you have some hardboiled fun.

Nobody Trusts a Talonfalcon

Complements: k.l.macke

Rex McBain had boarded the Ithaca with one thing in mind. The next guy to make a crack about small arms gets it. He was tired of hearing it. It didn’t help that he fit the bill so perfectly. Large, meaty torso balanced on lumbering tree trunk legs. If he paused, he could still hear the laughs. Rex was ready to cave in another nose or two and Erle knew it. Erle Brice; The John. He’d stayed astutely silent over the matter. Oh, sure; he was cordial. Talked about what they were up against. Asked plenty of questions about the dean they were looking to nab. The right questions. Erle Brice knew better than to rib a man like Rex. He was a goddamn insurance agent. Collateral was his mother’s maiden name.

The two men halted in the dim illumination filtering down the foredeck. Through a wordless exchange, they knew it was time to wait up. It was past midnight now; the only opening they’d get. Yet they waited. Only a few cabins showed any life. Rex took care of patrols. He was The Heavy. The larger man looked down at Erle.

“So tell me,” he said in his deep basso, “How many soon-to-be widows see you about life insurance?” Swell, small talk. The shorter man was agitated, fidgeting and looking around. After a tenuous chuckle, he decided to change the subject.

“What do you think, Rex? This job can’t be passed down by naturalists. Naturalists! We’re talking about the loons that fill museums with skeleton deans that still drag their tails.” His derision trailed off. He craned his neck away from the big man’s direction. “Say they won’t change ‘em until it’s proven! Some kind of “scientific integrity!”’

“So what? Long as we get our lizard,” Rex said simply. The silence seemed to stretch after that. Erle cleared his throat, but was interrupted by a jarring clamor. A rustle behind the two men. Rex bulged his eyes with what could have been rage. It was Charlie. Finally. Why’d he come from that goddamn way? Rex was boiling. They’d split at the transom a long time ago. Charlie’s face and hands appeared pure white in moonlight. He was hunched and they could see him quivering. The Inside Guy looked shaken. His fists were bunched in a familiar way. Rex always pictured him carrying a pair of die. Old habits.

“The dean, it got Roy,” he said.

“The hell it did,” Rex said. “Go get Roy and stop fucking around. Dean’s this way.” He pointed to the front of the ship.

“Roy? Roy Faulkner?” said Erle. The other men ignored him.

“Pointy end is crest, back end is wake. We meet up at crest to collect the dean,” Rex quoted.

“I’m telling you. Roy and me found the dean. The thing killed him but I got away, I swear.” Charlie’s voice seemed a little too even-keeled to Erle.

“You came from aft-cargo,” said Rex skeptically.

“It’s eating him. That’s why I could escape. It’s still busy below decks” said Charlie. His hands twitched like he was getting ready to throw snake-eyes. Erle stepped forward in the gloom.

“What did it look like?”

“Red and mean; with scaly black stripes,” Charlie said. He eyed Erle, lingering a little too long. He seemed expectant, as if prepared for something to come barreling down on the shorter man at any moment. “There was leathery folds on its throat that ballooned out big when it swallowed Roy’s scapula.”

“You’re a sick man, Charlie Caine,” Rex said. “And you don’t even know what a scapula is!”

“Look, I’m really sorry for Pally Boy, Roy. It was a shame to see him go. But mostly, I’m just sore I didn’t have him in the month’s pool.” Erle blinked, confused. Rex grimaced painfully.

“You sick fuck,” he said.

“We have to go back for the dean, right away,” said Charlie, motioning behind.

“Hold it,” Rex pushed an enlarged hand forward. “The red one ain’t our dean. The one we need is about to brood.”

“It’s a she? She’s pregnant?” said Erle. His mind whirred.  That makes this haul three times as lucrative! No wonder it’s high profile. We gotta talk surpluses when we get back. Should be more coming to us.

Rex wrinkled his nose, but didn’t look away from Charlie. “It was explained, our dean, the one we’re looking at, it’s pure. It’s as true blue as you can get: feathers, small size, the whole kit.”

“Feathery deans ain’t no deans at all,” said Charlie with a hiss. “I’ve seen The Land Unknown. My dad used to take me to dinosaur exhibits. I’m the expert on deans here. Sounds like you’re talking about a talonfalcon.” Erle looked between the men several times. He wondered why he wasn’t told these kinds of details.

“Talonfalcons are deans,” Erle said. He didn’t sound sure.

“I ain’t blowing money on a fancy crow,” Charlie said. He lurched forward and clasped Erle by the scruff. “We’re going back.” He began hauling Erle along the gunwale.

“I’m tired of you and your Hanky Panky. You’re just as bad as that dean that killed Roy,” Rex growled. Before turning to hoof it down forward-cargo, he leaned his severe bulk toward his retreating accomplices.

“Erle, I wouldn’t go with him. He’s got a death pool going. Horrible gambler, but he’s a little too good at his pools. And kid, it looks like he’s got his eye on you.”

After a yelp, Erle yarded himself free for a moment and cast a thumb about.

“I – I should go meet up with Tommy,” he stammered. “I bet he’s got the johnboat in position.” Charlie’s hand came down heavily on his shoulder.

Rex didn’t see any of this. He’d disappeared down a stairwell and into a musty chamber. There was a warbling noise. Rex wound his way through useless crates and boxes, letting his eyes adjust. He found himself in front of a very strange birdcage. It was reinforced with metal, yet seemed worn. Sun bleached. A faded insignia was stamped into the side. Rex could make out the word “Peru”. Inside was his dean. He could have cradled the thing in one arm. Its black plumage fluttered as he approached. The narrow yet long snout tracked his shadow until deeming him too close. It ducked beneath broad primaries on its arm, concealing a row of super-fine razor teeth beneath obsidian feathers. Rex could still see the folded hooks that made up the creature’s three-pronged fore claw. It was clasped delicately over a ball of living goose down. A fledgling peeped. The mother dean chattered and cooed.

“You found her,” said a voice.

Rex turned to see Erle picking his way towards him. He moved cumbersomely.

“Good to see you’ve got some sense,” Rex said.

“I, uh, talked some sense into him.”

As he approached, the little man leaned closer to the folded form of the dean.

“Why, she ain’t so bad. She’s all curled up.”

“I wouldn’t test that,” said Rex, pointing down at the single recurved talon in view. Erle began backing away. A strange slithering sound ratcheted inside the room. All around them. The openness in the air fueled the noise. A heavy brushing like cat’s tongue on sandpaper. There was a click and a thud. The sound of a baseball bat cracking wood paneling.

“Saint Christopher! It’s the mean one,” cried Erle.

Rex saw it. The red scales looked like dried blood in the dark. A scattering of dusky bands would have camouflaged it, were it in its own element. It was a dean. Or what passed for one for ninety-nine percent of the suckers Rex knew. Its four-fingered paws waved pathetically, raking the tops of some cases and containers. The broad, rounded head was wagging blearily at them. Angry eye slits blinked in the diffuse light. Erle caught a forked tongue spring forward in pure reptilian fashion. Rex was looking at the feet. They were the same. Exactly the same as the pint sized feathery dean. Only this creature’s toe claw was held a good six inches off the ground. The dean was moving. Its back appeared too rigid and upright to the two men. A long and bony tail hovered low but the point never touched the ground.

Erle shrank back beside his taller companion. He bumped into an extended oak of an arm. Rex was holding a piece. A blunted instrument in his oversized fist, it shined despite everything. It was already cocked. There was no lead up, no noise before the explosive concussion. No warning. A great flare up of light scalded Erle’s vision. He managed to catch a ferocious snarl peeling back the dean’s muzzle. An equally brutal grimace gnarled Rex’s face. There might have been a scream, but for the rush of four more shots, Erle couldn’t be sure. Several long minutes passed and nothing stirred. Heady wisps of spent gunpowder cloyed the air in front of them. As they danced and swirled into dissipation, Rex and Erle could make out the fallen form of the bastard dean. The head was partly missing.

“Was that really –? Is that what they look like?” Erle said at length.

“I don’t care. Long as it don’t rattle my check,” said Rex.

After a while the cooing began again.