Monday, February 19, 2018

My 22nd Pair of Reviews

As an Art Evolved member, I post a pair of my reviews here every so often, the 1st being positive & the 2nd being negative. I'd greatly appreciate you reading & voting "Yes" for said reviews in the bolded links below. Besides wanting to make sure said reviews give a good idea of what to expect, they need all the "Yes" votes they can get because 1) the 1st is for a great book that deserves more attention, & 2) the 2nd is outnumbered by opposing reviews (which don't give a good idea of what to expect). Many thanks in advance.

P.S. For my previous reviews, see the following posts:
-My 1st-10th Pairs of Reviews:
-My 11th-20th Pairs of Reviews:
-"My 21st Pair of Reviews":

How to REALLY build a dino ( ): 5/5

Short version: Cooley/Wilson's "Make-a-saurus: My Life with Raptors and Other Dinosaurs" (henceforth Life) may be the best children's dino book when it comes to showing kids how to build a dino. I recommend reading Life in conjunction with other, more recent books (E.g. Naish/Barrett's "Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved" in general & Chapter 3 in particular).

Long version: Read on.

This review's title is a reference to Horner/Gorman's "How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever" (which, to paraphrase Kosemen, should've been called "[How to build a] sort of dinosaur look-alike retarded monstrosity").* Point is, to quote Willoughby ( ), "paleontology is unique in that there is no equivalent method of using film to capture the reality of its natural subjects...we must paint, sculpt and draw to bring these animals to life." Life may be the best children's dino book when it comes to showing kids how to do that. In this review, I list the 3 main reasons why I think that is.

1) As you may remember, Life was 1 of the books that got me into feathered dinos, along with Sloan's "Feathered Dinosaurs". Cooley's life-like models of feathered dinos are 1 of the main reasons why that is (See reason #1: ).

2) Life provides a lot of background info. This is especially apparent in the introductory section: 1st, Currie explains why art is important to his science (See the Currie quote); Then, Cooley explains why science is important to his art (See the Cooley quote); Last, "The World of Sinornithosaurus" tells a day-in-the-life story of the Sinornithosaurus specimen Cooley's model is based on; More specifically, it tells a story of how said specimen lived, died, & became fossilized.

3) Similarly to Gardom/Milner's "The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs", Life uses a "popular approach [that] not only accurately mirrors the methods used by [paleoartists in creating] dinosaurs, but also satisfies the overwhelming curiosity of people to know what dinosaurs were like when alive" ( ). This is especially apparent in the main sections: 1st, Cooley explains the paleoartistic process without dumbing down; Then, Cooley shows readers how they can adapt said process using tools & materials around their house (E.g. Instead of beginning "with a welded steel armature," they can make an armature using "rolled-up newspaper, wire, foam and tape, even balloons"); Last, Cooley shows readers how they can go 1 step beyond & create dino environments (I.e. Dioramas, which are the best dino exhibits).

If I could, I'd give Life a 4.5/5. My only gripes are a few weird bits in the text (E.g. Dino scales, which are non-overlapping, are compared to lizard scales, which are mostly overlapping) & writing (E.g. Liaoning is misspelled as Laioning). However, for the purposes of this review, I'll round up to 5/5.

*Google "Is it Possible to Re-Create a Dinosaur from a Chicken?"
Quoting Currie: "Even with all my training and experience, I still learn a lot when Brian asks me how the bones of a skeleton actually go together. Often we end up pulling bones out of the Museum's collections so we can consider how they fit together and how the muscles were attached. Most people can learn more by building models than by just looking at museum displays and books." 
Quoting Cooley: "Life takes us in marvelous directions and, as luck would have it, the first job I found upon graduating from art school was sculpting a volcano for the Calgary Zoo's new Prehistoric Park. That led to making a dinosaur for a company in Vancouver. My wife, artist Mary Ann Wilson, worked on that dinosaur with me, and since then we have completed many dinosaurs together. While doing research for that project, Mary Ann and I met Dr. Philip J. Currie, who was soon to become one of the world's most prominent paleontologists. It was Dr. Currie whose enthusiasm and riveting stories about new discoveries and theories rekindled my passion for dinosaurs. Twenty years since that meeting, I'm still making dinosaurs".

Bad dino doc + bad dino movie ( ): 1/5

Short version: As far as I know, most dino time travel books aren't meant to be educational. Of those that are, I recommend reading White's "Dinosaur Hunter: The Ultimate Guide to the Biggest Game" in conjunction with other, more educational books (E.g. Naish/Barrett's "Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved"). Miller/Blasing's "Dinosaur George and the Paleonauts: Raptor Island" (henceforth DG) fails at being either a decent educational book or a decent science fiction book.

Long version: Read on.

As you may remember, I said that "Jurassic Fight Club" is 1 of the worst dino docs ( ). Despite this, I originally thought that DG was going to be better than JFC given that dino books are usually better than dino docs. Boy, was I wrong about DG! Not only is DG as bad as JFC in some ways, but also as bad as the movie "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (henceforth JP2) in other ways. In this review, I list the 4 main reasons why I think that is, besides the annoyingly-repetitive writing.*

1) In DG, George is the only well-defined/developed character, & not in a good way: He's basically an 18-year-old male version of Sarah Harding from JP2 (I.e. A "naive, impulsive paleontologist...whose dumb decisions constantly put the team in greater danger");** This is especially apparent when he 1st compares the Saichania's poor eyesight to that of rhinos, but then makes a sudden move; Similarly, in JP2, Sarah 1st explains "the dangers of the bull rex tracking the group with its powerful olfactory sense, but [then] brings the jacket coated in the infant's blood with her as they flee."** The other Paleonauts are just character archetypes. More specifically, Vince Witmer is "The Lancer", Lloyd Lance is "The Big Guy", Parker Holtz is "The Smart Guy", & Sonya Currie is "The Chick".** There's also Professor Stone & Dr. Morgan, but they're only in Chapter 1.

2) In some ways, DG's dromaeosaurs are better than JFC's (E.g. They're more fully feathered, though not entirely). In other ways, DG's dromaeosaurs are worse than JFC's (E.g. They have whip-like tails). In still other ways, they're about the same (E.g. They're "super persistent" predators of "impossibly large prey").** This is especially apparent in Chapter 8, when a pack of 30 flightless, blue jay-sized "mini-raptors" attack George over & over again despite being blasted with a surge gun & attacked by a 20-ft constrictor, among other things. Put another way, Chapter 8 is basically an extreme version of JP2's "Compy Attack" scene.

3) I have 2 major problems with DG's story: 1) It's dependent on the reader caring about the characters; See reason #1 above for why that's a major problem; 2) As indicated by its sub-title, DG mostly takes place on/around Raptor Island in Southern Asia, presumably the Gobi region given that that's where all the dinos are from; The problem is that's near the center of the continent, & it's not like Asia ever had an inland sea like the Western Interior Sea of North America; In other words, DG's story is dependent on a setting that could never have existed.

4) DG's text is hit-&-miss in terms of getting the facts straight. This is especially apparent in "PaleoFacts" because the misses stick out more with less text.*** However, the main text misses may be worse in degree: Like JFC's misses, some of DG's are due to being very outdated (E.g. Compare the Miller/Blasing quote to the Naish/Barrett quote; It's also worth mentioning that Sauropoda is a suborder or infraorder, not a family); Also like JFC's misses, some of DG's are due to being very nonsensical (E.g. "A creature, about the size of an owl, suddenly swooped down from its perch above and grabbed the lizard in midair. At first, George thought it must have been some sort of bird, but when it landed on the ground it quickly ran into the woods on only its back legs. It was no bird. It was a flying dinosaur!").

*E.g. The fact that George dislikes guns is stated 4 times in the span of 1 chapter, including twice in the same paragraph.

**Google "The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Film) - TV Tropes" & "Raptor Attack - TV Tropes" for reasons #1 & #2, respectively.

***In "PaleoFacts" alone, it's claimed that Nemegtosaurus was 7 m tall & 15.2 m long (More like 2.46 m tall & 12 m long), Saichania was 2.4 m tall (More like 1.3 m tall), Plesiosaurus was 7 m long & 3 tons (More like 3-5 m long & 150 kg), Plesiosaurus lived during the Late Cretaceous (It didn't), Bactrosaurus means "Bactrian lizard" (It doesn't), & Tylosaurus was 20 tons (More like 4.5 tons), among other things.
Quoting Miller/Blasing: "George knew this species. His uncle taught him a lot growing up. Because of that, he knew by the end of the Jurassic Period nearly all members of the Sauropod family had become extinct. A few species managed to survive all the way to the end of the late Cretaceous Period when they, along with all other non-avian dinosaurs, became extinct. The majority of the long necks that survived into late Cretaceous were from the Titanosaurus family. Although not as large as their earlier cousins, they were still massive dinosaurs and among the largest living things on earth by the end of the Cretaceous Period." 
Quoting Naish/Barrett (See "Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved"): "As recently as the 1990s it was thought that sauropods were a mostly Jurassic event and that they had largely disappeared by the Cretaceous. We now know that this view was completely inaccurate, and that sauropods were a major presence on many continents throughout much of the Cretaceous. And, rather than being stagnant or static in evolutionary terms, they were constantly evolving new anatomical features and new ways of cropping plants."