Friday, 31 August 2018

Dinosauria Caspakensis: Diplodocus ajori

During the three days which followed, our progress was exasperatingly slow. I doubt if we made ten miles in the entire three days. The country was hideously savage, so that we were forced to spend hours at a time in hiding from one or another of the great beasts which menaced us continually. There were fewer reptiles; but the quantity of carnivora seemed to have increased, and the reptiles that we did see were perfectly gigantic. I shall never forget one enormous specimen which we came upon browsing upon water-reeds at the edge of the great sea.
 -  Edgar Rice Burroughs, Chapter 3, "The People That Time Forgot" (1918)

Most of the biota of Caspak are terrible creatures indeed, locked as they are in what seems like a constant battle for survival: they menace the crew of U-33, they pursue the hominids of the island, they feast upon each other and fight to the death. 

Diplodocus ajori ("Ajor's Double-Beam") is different: even among the beasts of Caprona, this animal is unique.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Dinosauria Caspakensis: Allosaurus whitelyi

The deer lay in a small open space close to a clump of acacias, and we had advanced to within several yards of our kill when we both halted suddenly and simultaneously. Whitely looked at me, and I looked at Whitely, and then we both looked back in the direction of the deer. "Blimey!' he said. "Wot is hit, sir?"

"It looks to me, Whitely, like an error," I said; "some assistant god who had been creating elephants must have been temporarily transferred to the lizard-department."

"Hi wouldn't s'y that, sir," said Whitely; "it sounds blasphemous."

"It is more blasphemous than that thing which is swiping our meat," I replied, for whatever the thing was, it had leaped upon our deer and was devouring it in great mouthfuls which it swallowed without mastication.
 - Chapter 5
You might be wondering why this series is named Dinosauria Caspakensis, given the first two entries into its records are not dinosaurs at all. I use the term quite deliberately: the Dinosauria was, in the first place, a loose grouping of three creatures. Owens had little notion of the sheer variety of forms prevalent in this great dynasty of beings in 1842, and indeed, the latest taxonomic tumult suggests in its most extreme form that an entire family of what we used to call dinosaurs weren't members of the Dinosauria at all!

There's also the fact that it isn't clear the "dinosaurs" of Caspak are dinosaurs as we understand them at all: likewise for the pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, prehistoric mammals, and even (especially) the humans. If we go by our current understanding of evolutionary biology, many creatures on Caspak must, logically, all be members of the same species, undergoing metamorphic upheaval that makes the life cycles of insects & amphibians positively stagnant in comparison. Nonetheless, for the sake of simplicity, and to evoke the style of the time - to pick the most dynamic and thrilling name - I decided to stick with Dinosauria over the more prosaic Fauna or Animalia, which would probably be more technically correct.

In fact, only three members of the Dinosauria are actually named in The Land That Time Forgot. The first of these was encountered by Tyler and Whitely while out hunting for some venison: I figured that since Olson was immortalised by the crew of U-33, and Tyler already has an eponymous taxon, that the very strange creature they encountered should be named Allosaurus whitelyi ("Whitely's Different Lizard").

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Dinosauria Caspakensis: Pterodactylus tyleri

Above the trees there soared into my vision a huge thing on batlike wings - a creature large as a large whale, but fashioned more after the order of a lizard.
  - Chapter 4, "The Land That Time Forgot," Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918

There are three general "groups" of animals which are not members of the Dinosauria, but due to their size, majesty, and the terror they instill, are included as "honourary Dinosaurs" in the public consciousness. There are the "pre-Mesozoic reptilimorphs" like Dimetrodon ("two measures of teeth"), Scutosaurus ("shield lizard"), and Gorgonops ("Gorgon face"), who may belong to wildly distinct groups, but are sufficiently morphologically similar that they are counted among them; there are the marine reptiles like the Plesiosaurs, Ichthyosaurs, and Mosasaurs; then there are the Pterosaurs, who are the closest related to the Dinosaurs as fellow members of the Ornithodira.

While Burroughs only granted a specific name to Plesiosaurus olsoni, I thought that the other fauna of Caspak deserved that honour. As Bradley coined P. olsoni in honour of the man who slew & subsequently cooked it, I figured that as the first person of the U-33 to see a Pterosaur should be its namesake. That being none other than Bowen Tyler himself, I introduce to you Pterodactylus tyleri, "Tyler's wing finger."

Friday, 10 August 2018

Dinosauria Caspakensis: Plesiosaurus olsoni

The Burroughs master illustrator J. Allen St. John's illustration of P. olsoni

Close by us something rose to the surface of the river and dashed at the periscope. I had a vision of wide, distended jaws, and then all was blotted out...
- Chapter 4, "The Land That Time Forgot," Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1918

The first native of Caspak the reader encounters is, alas, not technically a dinosaur, though it is one of another ruling dynasty of the Mesozoic - a Plesiosaurus ("near lizard"). "The Land That Time Forgot" is not the first story to feature a Plesiosaurus, but as far as I can tell, it is the first to do battle with a German submarine, which earns it a special place in the annals of Man vs. Dinosaur.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

100 Years of "The Land That Time Forgot": Dinosauria Caspakensis

It must have been a little after three o'clock in the afternoon that it happened - the afternoon of June 3rd, 1916. It seems incredible that all that I have passed through - all those weird and terrifying experiences - should have been encompassed within so short a span as three brief months. Rather might I have experienced a cosmic cycle, with all its changes and evolutions for that which I have seen with my own eyes in this brief interval of time - things that no other mortal eye had seen before, glimpses of a world past, a world dead, a world so long dead that even in the lowest Cambrian stratum no trace of it remains. Fused with the melting inner crust, it has passed forever beyond the ken of man other than in that lost pocket of the earth whither fate has borne me and where my doom is sealed. I am here and here must remain.
 - Chapter 1, "The Land That Time Forgot"

There are several significant anniversaries of particular importance to me. Obviously, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is out, as well as the much-anticipated 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park on 9th June. But there are some others:

  • 2018 is the 50th anniversary of Robert T. Bakker's "The Superiority of Dinosaurs," an augur for what would become the Dinosaur Renaissance
  • 30th August is the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel Wendell Williston, the first palaeontologist to suggest birds developed flight cursorially, and (with Benjamin Franklin Mudge) co-discoverer of Allosaurus and Diplodocus, my favourite dinosaur
  • 17th November is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, Willis O'Brien's first dinosaur film, and the first film to combine live-action human actors with stop-motion dinosaur effects
  • 2018 is the 150th anniversary of the first ever mounted dinosaur skeleton

And, of course, there is Edgar Rice Burrough's "The Land That Time Forgot."

This is it. 100 years of the story from which this blog, itself almost nine years old, takes its name.

"The Land That Time Forgot" first appeared in the August 1918 edition of The Blue Book Magazine, the home of many of Edgar Rice Burrough's creations: it was closely followed by "The People That Time Forgot" and "Out of Time's Abyss," a series that became known as the Caspak trilogy.

Monday, 9 July 2018

8-Year-Old Reviews: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 1

Yet if you can't go back to the island, how can you call it Jurassic World? Well, maybe we just need to change the meaning of that phrase. Ever since JPIII, the world has known about Isla Nublar. Jurassic World is a worldwide phenomenon. Yet even before the park was made public all those years ago, BioSyn was hunting for clues, wanting to get a piece of the resurrected dinosaur pie.

Wu leaving the island with the embryos is a pretty tantalizing sequel hook. Of course there are probably still nutters in the military desperate for Raptor Commando Squad, but why focus only on military applications? Indeed, what if Wu went further than InGen, and brought dinosaurs to the world on a scale they never imagined? Having a park populated with giant deadly carnivores is risky, but what about a number of smaller, safer parks with those baby Triceratops, Apatosaurus and Gallimimus, genetically altered to inhibit growth to create "pet" dinosaurs a fraction of the size? The dinosaurs aren't cheap now, but that's because they cared enough to do them right - in the absence of extinct species protection laws, who's to say some company or another will just create inferior knock-off dinosaurs from stolen DNA? Perhaps advances in genetic technology and recreation revolutionise the techniques, making them cheap and reliable enough for multiple applications. Soon dinosaurs could become as normalised as dogs, cats, horses and livestock are now.

The park may be gone, but it's still a Jurassic World. 
 - Me being a soothsayer, 3 years ago

There are good films, and there are bad films, so it seems to go. Some are universally accepted; others have a mixed reception; still more are curate's eggs or flawed masterpieces. As I've watched more films, read more about film theory, and engaged in my own criticism, I can never escape the same conclusion - film criticism is completely and utterly subjective. Films are art. How can it be otherwise?

Yet there's part of us as a collective so obsessed with quantification of everything, we end up applying maths to them - a certain rating, a certain percentage, a certain number. I'd say there absolutely is a place for maths in art, but to act as if it is the be-all-end-all of all artistic expression seems, to me, to be stripping subjectivity from the equation altogether. It's the difference between saying "this film is" and "I think this film is." One is an observation, the other is about what the film meant to you.

36-year-old Aly, is this just a roundabout way of trying to justify that you liked Jurassic World while still acknowledging its weaknesses?

More like trying to understand why I liked it, 8-year-old Aly. After all, there are dinosaur movies I - well, we - don't like, despite dinosaurs. I think it's because even the least celebrated Jurassic Park films have something in them that makes you think.

So this film made you think?

Oh, it sure did.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Finding A Way

I remember playing on my grandpa's island. He owned an island in the South Pacific: nothing too ostentatious, just a couple of square miles, surrounded by lagoons and shallows, easily accessible by yacht or seaplane. The trees were so green; the sharp, fresh scent invigorating and wild. I miss trees. Me, my sister, and Mais just ran around for miles, hide and seek, Marco Polo, and the games we just made up ourselves. Sometimes Mais would argue with me over who knew the most about dinosaurs, but Sis made sure we got along. She was great at humoring me: I could be kind of a pain. I miss them.

Boy dragged me sharply into the undergrowth.

"Shhh. Out there."

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Moon Pool - A Century of Adventure with A. Merritt


The publication of the following narrative of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin has been authorized by the Executive Council of the International Association of Science.
To end officially what is beginning to be called the Throckmartin Mystery and to kill the innuendo and scandalous suspicions which have threatened to stain the reputations of Dr. David Throckmartin, his youthful wife, and equally youthful associate Dr. Charles Stanton ever since a tardy despatch from Melbourne, Australia, reported the disappearance of the first from a ship sailing to that port, and the subsequent reports of the disappearance of his wife and associate from the camp of their expedition in the Caroline Islands.
Because the Executive Council have concluded that Dr. Goodwin's experiences in his wholly heroic effort to save the three, and the lessons and warnings within those experiences, are too important to humanity as a whole to be hidden away in scientific papers understandable only to the technically educated; or to be presented through the newspaper press in the abridged and fragmentary form which the space limitations of that vehicle make necessary.
For these reasons the Executive Council commissioned Mr. A. Merritt to transcribe into form to be readily understood by the layman the stenographic notes of Dr. Goodwin's own report to the Council, supplemented by further oral reminiscences and comments by Dr. Goodwin; this transcription, edited and censored by the Executive Council of the Association, forms the contents of this book.
Himself a member of the Council, Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S. etc., is without cavil the foremost of American botanists, an observer of international reputation and the author of several epochal treaties upon his chosen branch of science. His story, amazing in the best sense of that word as it may be, is fully supported by proofs brought forward by him and accepted by the organization of which I have the honor to be president. What matter has been elided from this popular presentation—because of the excessively menacing potentialities it contains, which unrestricted dissemination might develop—will be dealt with in purely scientific pamphlets of carefully guarded circulation
Per J. B. K., President

"The Moon Pool" illustrated by - who else? - Virgil Finlay.

While many stories utilise the Literary Agent Hypothesis, there aren't many as taught and instantly compelling as the above foreword.

Thus began "The Moon Pool," the third published story by A. Merritt, and the tale which changed everything.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Lost in the Borderlands: William Hope Hodgson

This silence, when I grew fully aware of it was the more uncanny; for my memory told me that never before had I come upon a country which contained so much quietness. Nothing moved across my vision—not even a lone bird soared up against the dull sky; and, for my hearing, not so much as the cry of a sea-bird came to me—no! nor the croak of a frog, nor the plash of a fish. It was as though we had come upon the Country of Silence, which some have called the Land of Lonesomeness.
 - William Hope Hodgson, The Boats of the Glen Carrig

It is 100 years - more or less - to the day since William Hope Hodgson left this earthly plane of existence. With his passing in the monstrous horror that was the Great War, he left behind a rich library of supernatural fiction. I leave it to the Hodgson experts over at the William Hope Hodgson site for a truly fitting tribute, but I thought I'd put my own tuppence ha'penny worth too.

There are three great cycles in Hodgson's fiction, which I'll have the merest glance towards on this important occasion. Hodgson himself considered that his first three novels to be published - The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig,' The House on the Borderland, and The Ghost Pirates - form a "thematic trilogy," but I'd reckon given the multidimensional nature of his work, there's surely provision for a Hodgkins Multiverse that surrounds and penetrates; binds his work together like the tendrils of some dreadful unknown horror beyond the ken of humanity.

Monday, 19 March 2018

William Blain, the Comics Wizard of Gourock

Image taken from This Was The Wizard, courtesy of Down The Tubes
Eventually Willie Blain became Managing Editor of all of the Thomson line of comics, originating their girls' comics with Bunty (1958), their boys' adventure comics with Victor in 1961 and such famous titles as Jackie (1964). Although he rarely gets a credit, a poll of the most important figures in the history of British comics would almost certainly have to include Willie Blain in the top five.
- Steve Holland
Today would have been the 115th birthday of William Blain. You may not immediately recognise the name, but many a child who grew up in Scotland in the 20th Century will be very familiar with his works.