Otherlands

I was around six-years-old when I came face-to-face with my first dinosaur. It was in the book aisle of the grocery store where my family shopped, in the pages of the How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs. My mom bought the book for me and I poured over the pages of the book, fascinated by the large, lumbering brontosaurus, the fearsome allosaurus, the triceratops with its three horns and the duckbilled trachodon, munching away on leaves in a swamp. I learned how to pronounce those long dinosaur names my mom stumbled over and I went on to check out even more books with pictures of dinosaurs from the library.

My love of dinosaurs stayed with me even as Voyager’s encounters with the planets lured me into a career in astronomy. Through astronomy, I came to learn that Earth has only existed for a short time in the vast history of the universe. Reading about dinosaurs as a kid, I knew that humans existed only a short time compared dinosaurs and other creatures lived before the dinosaurs and also between the dinosaurs and us. While working on my physics degree, I took a course in geology and got to know the geological eras and learn a little more about the life that lived in those times through the fossils they left behind. During the field-mapping exercise I did as part of my geology class, I even found the fossil imprint of a Cretaceous-era leaf. During this time, I became keenly aware of how fragile life can be and how there have been several mass extinctions. I learned, among other things that the mass extinction that gave rise to the dinosaurs was far more extensive than the one that doomed them.

I was fortunate to marry an amazing person who shares my love of nature and of dinosaurs. One of our most memorable vacations was a trek to Dinosaur National Monument in Northern Utah, where numerous dinosaur fossils were buried in a flood millions of years ago.

Otherlands by Thomas Halliday

It’s from this perspective that a friend recommended the book Otherlands by Thomas Halliday. Halliday takes a fascinating approach with his book. He steps backward from the present day through the geological eras. He picks a place where the fossil record is well developed, and tells you what it would be like to be in that place if you arrived there on a day in that time. He introduces us to giant penguins and feathered, nearly silent dinosaurs. He shows us eras where plants dominated the landscape and we learn about trilobites scuttling along the sea floor with multifaceted eyes focused at different distances. I was fascinated to realize that in terms of number of species dinosaurs, in the form of birds, still dominate the planet today. Of course, humans dominate the planet in the sense of shaping it to accommodate our needs and whims. Halliday does point out we’re not the first species to impact the planet and its climate, we just may be the first one to make conscious decisions about how we impact the climate. The whole thing paints a picture of just how small a place we humans take up in the whole history of the Earth. If you’re fascinated by paleontology, dinosaurs, and the creatures who lived in other eras, this is a book well worth reading.

I can probably trace my fascination of not only dinosaurs but books to that copy of the How and Why Wonderbook of Dinosaurs. That funky duck-billed trachodon has always stuck with me. I came to learn that it’s a type of hadrosaur and some hadrosaurs like parasaurolophus and tsintaosaurus have single growths on their heads, resembling unicorn horns. When my wife and I founded a science fiction and fantasy small press, we looked to the hadrosaur as a visual metaphor because it was at once a creature of science and fantasy. I encourage you to look up Otherlands, but I hope you’ll also drop by hadrosaur.com and learn about the books we publish. No doubt you’ll find something to stir your imagination!

The Valley of Gwangi

Last month, Robert E. Vardeman mentioned that he’s a fan of the Ray Harryhausen film The Valley of Gwangi in a post on his Patreon site. A couple of weeks later, when I was on a panel discussing Weird Westerns with Jeff Mariotte at the virtual CoKoCon, the film came up again. Although I had been aware of the film and had seen clips, I’d never watched the whole thing before, so I took this as a sign that I should finally sit down and watch it.

Cowboys and dinosaurs meet in The Valley of Gwangi

The film starts off looking like it’ll be a pretty ordinary western. T.J. Breckinridge runs a struggling rodeo on tour through Mexico in the early 20th century. Her former boyfriend, Tuck Kirby, wants to buy her out, but she doesn’t want to sell. T.J. has an ace up her sleeve. Gypsies brought her a tiny horse from Forbidden Valley and she expects it will be a great attraction. A paleontologist named Horace Bromley, recognizes the animal as no ordinary horse. He declares it’s the prehistoric horse, Eohippus. The leader of the gypsies say the little horse is cursed and convince Bromley to capture the horse and return it to Forbidden Valley. Bromley, of course, is interested to see what other creatures might live there. To get the horse, the gypsies have to knock out one of T.J.’s men, Carlos.

Tuck sees the gypsies leaving and discovers they’ve taken the Eohippus. He sets out after them. Unfortunately, Carlos saw Tuck and thinks he’s responsible for the theft. T.J., Carlos, and several of the rodeo riders set out after Tuck. They all soon arrive just outside the Forbidden Valley. After sorting out what’s going on, Tuck nearly recaptures the Eohippus, only to have it disappear into a cave in the cliff face. T.J., Tuck, Horace, and the rodeo riders set out after it. It turns out the Eohippus didn’t go into a cave, but entered a passageway leading to the Forbidden Valley. The rodeo men clear out some rocks and soon our band goes riding into the valley.

Once in the valley, our heroes discover that Eohippus isn’t the only prehistoric creature living there. They’re soon attacked by a pteranodon. After dealing with the flying creature, they encounter a small plant eating dinosaur. The rodeo riders decide it would make an even better attraction than Eohippus, so they chase it, only to have the dinosaur snapped up in the jaws of Gwangi, an Allosaurus. From this point on, the movie becomes full-on cowboys versus beautiful Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs. Our rodeo riders take refuge in a cave that foreshadows the Land of the Lost TV series I watched as a kid. Eventually, the cowboys capture Gwangi and take him back to town. In a finale reminiscent of King Kong, Gwangi breaks free and rampages through the town where he corners T.J. and Tuck in a cathedral.

All in all, the movie is great fun and a terrific example of a Weird Western story. As always, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters are a marvel to behold. There’s a scene where the rodeo riders attempt to lasso Gwangi and Harryhausen seamlessly blended the live-action and stop-motion photography. The only real problem with the effects happened because the film’s post-production was rushed and Harryhausen was never allowed to color correct his footage. As a result, the dinosaurs have a tendency to change colors from purple to gray to green from scene to scene. While I’m not generally a fan of tinkering with old movies, I wouldn’t mind seeing a color-corrected special edition of this film where the dinosaurs are each a consistent color.

You can find Robert E. Vardeman’s Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/robertevardeman

As a friendly reminder, this blog is supported and kept ad-free in part by my Patreon, which is at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Extinct?

In the spring of 2014, when I first visited New Orleans, I looked up at the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the St. Louis Cathedral and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Jackson was riding a hadrosaur instead of a horse. As that thought occurred to me, I could almost hear the bellowing of hadrosaurs echoing the walls of Pirate’s Alley behind the cathedral and I knew I wanted to write a story about the Battle of New Orleans with dinosaurs.

That fall, I went to MileHiCon in Denver and Dana Bell told me that she was considering an anthology about extinct and mythical creatures living outside their time. She wanted to ask what if those ancient creatures of so beloved in fiction, myth and science had not disappeared or been real? What type of uses might have been developed to handle them and how might man have felt about the thundering giants in yesterday’s, today’s, or tomorrow’s worlds? I pitched my idea and she invited me to send the story. I wrote it up, sent it in, and she ultimately accepted it. And now, I’m pleased to announce that Extinct? is available for sale and “Jackson’s Hadrosaurs” is the lead story in the volume.

What else will you find in the book? Imagine a sanctuary for dinosaurs that displaces humans. Raptors used on a distant planet as scouts for a new colony. Dodo birds leaving a record about what happened to them or an unusual way dragons help settlers. A conqueror who learns a hard lesson from a goddess and two children who create their own monster.

You’ll find lovely tales about those lumbering giants of old in ways not shown before, of those who ruled the skies and many others once thought to be mythical, and yet, here they appear in Extinct?

I’m thrilled once again to be listed in a table of contents alongside so many of my favorite authors. Here are the stories you’ll find in this anthology:

  • Jackson’s Hadrosaurs – David Lee Summers
  • The Horse Man – Rebecca McFarland Kyle
  • The Wizard and the Dinosaur Riding Pirate – Sam Knight
  • Flutterlight – Ronnie Seagren
  • One More Bad Decision – M.R. Anglin
  • Ryuu Poo – Tam Lin
  • Unmaking Lord Rex Tyran – A.M. Burns
  • Dunce de León – Quincy J. Allen and Aaron Michael Richey
  • Fury – Spencer Carvalho
  • Dinosaura & Hominana – Todd A. Walls
  • The Goons – Matt Bille
  • The Mask Maker of Venezia – C. John Arthur
  • Song of the Sireini – Sean Jones
  • Across the Blood-Stained Sea – Rob S. Rice
  • The Prophecy Foretold – Lorelei Suzanne
  • Dodo’s Atlantis – Tam Lin
  • Man Versus Rex – Denise Miller Holmes
  • Lift – R. Joseph Maas
  • Children of the Goddess – Carol Hightshoe
  • Best Decision – Dana Bell
  • Brown and the Allosaurus Wrecks – J.A. Campbell

One of the things I wanted to explore in my story was the notion of herbivorous dinosaurs somehow being “tame” or “safe.” I think anyone who has spent time on a farm or around animals knows that herbivores can be dangerous if not treated with respect. On another trip to New Orleans, I stopped at a rest area and saw a crane standing in a bog while an alligator swam around hunting. The bird and the reptile were completely at ease with each other. Both seemed much more interested in eating the fish that swam around them than fighting. It made me think of symbiotic relationships in nature and I began to wonder how alligators would react to dinosaurs. Would they be friends or enemies? You can see my approach in the story.

When I was in New Orleans this past summer, I drove out to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the real Battle of New Orleans. I was gratified to see it that it was much as I pictured it from descriptions. What’s more, I found descendants of dinosaurs wandering the field.

Extinct? is available in print at: Amazon.com

And as an ebook at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0778XYJ67/

Bubonicon 49

Today’s main event is the solar eclipse happening over much of the United States. I hope you have a good place to watch with clear skies and proper eye protection. I’m in Louisiana, where we should see about 80% of the sun eclipsed, presuming we get clear skies.

This coming weekend, I’ll be in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Bubonicon 49. The link will take you to their page with more information. This year’s theme is Back in Time (Time Travel). C.J. Cherryh and Sherwood Smith are the author guests of honor, Ursula Vernon is the toastmaster, and Elizabeth Leggett will be the guest artist. The convention is being held at the Albuquerque Mariott Uptown at 2101 Louisiana Blvd NE. Read on for my tentative schedule.

Friday, August 25

  • 4-5pm – Main Room – Jurassic Spark: Dino Appeal. Not just kids love dinosaurs. They’ve fascinated people of all ages for almost 200 years. Why? What is the enduring appeal of dinosaurs in the popular imagination? Dreaming about dinosaurs constitutes mental time travel. Usually. Does this fascination explain the appeal of Godzilla, Rodan, etc? On the panel with me are C.J. Cherryh, Steven Gould, Emily Mah, and John Saberhagen. Victor Milan will be moderating.

Saturday, August 26

  • 10-11am – Salon A-D – Fancy Pants: Idea Strategy. Are you a pantser? An outliner? How do you get at your material? The most common question asked of SF writers is “Where do you get your ideas?” and we’re all interested. Do you keep ‘em in your pants? Should we rephrase that? Where do you find them? What are your ideation strategies? Is that an idea in your pants, or are you just happy to see me? On the panel with me are Brenda Drake, Betsy James, and Susan R. Matthews. Robert E. Vardeman will be moderating.
  • 2-3pm – Main Room – Exo-Planets: What We’ve Learned. Astronomers have discovered several planets in orbit around far stars. What have we learned? Are there any in reach? Are any *really* habitable, or is it just that some could be habitable if all the conditions are just right? On the panel with me are Larry Crumpler, Loretta Hall, Kathleen Kitts, and Cathy S. Plesko. I’ll be the moderator.
  • 4-5pm – Main Room – SF As a Stealth Delivery Platform. Everybody knows that SF has inspired legions of young people to grow up and become scientists; half of NASA was weaned on Star Trek. But does SF’s influence with these people end with their choice of career? Might SF actually serve as a legitimate means of transmitting scientific ideas between working scientists in different disciplines? Might it, in certain circumstances, be more effective than usual technical publications? On the panel with me will be Kathleen Kitts, Pari L. Noskin, and Corie Weaver. Emily Mah will be moderating.
  • 5:25-6:40pm – Main Room – Mass Autographing. I’ll be joining all the Bubonicon participants in the main room where we’ll all be happy to autograph your books, programs, and anything else you want signed!

Sunday, August 27

  • 10-11am – Carlsbad – 55 Minutes with David Lee Summers. Although this is billed as a solo event, I’ve invited Gene Mederos to join me and we’ll read stories from Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales and Kepler’s Cowboys. We’ll be happy to answer questions and there may be some surprises as well. Come by and join us for 55-minutes of thrilling science fiction adventure!
  • 1:30-2:30pm – Salon A-D – Ask a Scientist! Larry Crumpler, Cathy S. Plesko and I will field your questions about science!

As usual, I will be helping with the Bubonicon Author Tea on Sunday afternoon. Check the program book for details. Because of my schedule, I’ll be helping at the second session. There are always some amazing teas to try and lovely snacks to eat.

What will be unusual for me this year, is that I won’t have a dealer’s table. I will be a free range author at this year’s Bubonicon. You will be able to find my books at the Who Else Books Table and possibly at the Barnes and Noble table as well. If you’re in Albuquerque this weekend, I hope to see you at Bubonicon!

The Dinosaurs of Cabazon

This weekend finds me in San Antonio, Texas at the seventy-first annual World Science Fiction Convention. For better or for worse, it’s hard for me to think of San Antonio without thinking of Tim Burton’s first film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

For those who have never seen it, Pee-wee Herman’s bike is stolen. He visits a phony psychic who tells him the bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo. Pee-wee then makes a cross-county trek only to find that the Alamo has no basement. To be honest, I’ve always been curious to find out whether or not the Alamo has a basement, or an underground cellar of some kind. I’ll be sure to let you know!

Along the way, Pee-wee stops off a diner in Cabazon, California where he finds giant sculptures of dinosaurs. Thing is, Cabazon is not too far from San Bernardino, where I grew up. I used to see these dinosaurs just off the freeway as I passed through. During a recent trip back to California, I had the opportunity to stop off and actually see the dinosaurs up close.

Cabazon Dinosaurs

I found it the dinosaurs a fun stop. I particularly enjoyed the fact that you can climb up into them, just like they showed in the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Inside the apatosaurus is a gift shop and you can visit it for free. There is an admission to climb into the tyrannosaurus and walk through the museum and dinosaur garden.

The museum and garden mostly consist of robotic dinosaurs in displays with modern animals. I gather the owners are creationists who would like to convince visitors that dinosaurs and humans lived on Earth at the same time. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be entertaining, inspiring or off-putting. As a person of faith who recognizes the evidence of evolution, I was in the first category.

View from TRex

Here we see my daughters sitting in the mouth of the Cabazon Tyrannosaurus Rex, much as Pee-wee and Simone did in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Of course, the version of the mouth in the movie was a Hollywood Set, but it is fun to see the “Eat” sign atop the Wheel Inn through the mouth of the T-Rex. All in all it was an entertaining little roadside attraction that reminded me of a movie that brought me a smile during my college years. And who knows, these little attractions often have a way of turning up in stories down the road.