2.5 BILLION T REXES, OH MY!

If you follow new developments in dinosaur research (doesn’t everyone?) you probably heard or read that an estimated 2.5 billion (yes billion with a “b”) Tyrannosaurus rexes roamed the Earth. That’s at least 127,000 generations over two million years. Nevertheless, that’s (gulp) rather a lot of tyrant lizards to contend with. But wait, how many might you be apt to encounter if you lived (tried to live?) in their territory?

This is where the figures get less definitive because they are based upon several estimates: longevity, growth rates, body mass, metabolism rate, geographic range of their habitat, acreage required to sustain a full-sized T. rex, population density for post-juvenile individuals, total length of time the species endured, etc. Some of these calculations are based on extrapolations from modern-day figures for large predators. Kudos to Charles Marshall (UC-Berkeley) and his team for tackling this question and putting together some figures appearing in Science, which they acknowledge could be off by two orders of magnitude.

Suffice to say, there may well have been around 3,800 of them roaming around an area as big as California. This comes down to two for some place the size of Washington, D.C.

Now here’s the question for today: If you could go back in a time machine to the Late Cretaceous of say 68 million years ago, where there was a risk/opportunity to see one of these great uber-carnivores, would you? There could be no guarantees as to your own personal safely or an actual sighting.

This question formed the basis for my interactive adventure novel, T-Rex Time Machine. You can take my time machine out for a spin and see how you fare during the heyday of the dinosaurs. No need to fret about a bad outcome, just play it again. I’d love to hear how you did!

THE REINVENTED HEART WILL BE A THING!

The Reinvented Heart: Here’s to the future of love!

Check out the gorgeous cover for The Reinvented Heart, an exciting anthology of new stories about love and other relationships in the future, coming February 2022. I can’t wait to dig into the stories editors Jennifer Brozek and Cat Rambo have assembled. In their wise and gently insistent ways, these two editors have helped me keep on writing during deeply troubled times. I’m thrilled to have a story included among those written by such talented writers!

Find out more via Twitter or Facebook.

SAINT PAT-REX DAY DINOSAURS

Nope, I’m not going to foist on my faithful readers some cheesy rendition of a T. rex with a leprechaun hat clutching a pint of green beer. I mean, it couldn’t even raise the brew to its mouth. Besides, no self-respecting tyrant lizard would be caught dead in a hat like that. Can I offer you a pair of Irish dinosaurs instead?

But first, pop quiz: Name two dinosaurs that lived in what would become modern day Ireland.

Time’s up! Give yourself about a thousand gold stars if you got even one becauseā€¦(drum roll) the first dinosaurs determined to have tromped across Ireland were only announced toward the end of last year. You’d think there would have been a herd of other dinosaur finds in Ireland long before that, right? I mean, scientists have been unearthing various specimens in England for well over 200 years. Not to be outdone, Scotland and Wales have also contributed dinosaur fossils to the paleontological record. Here’s a flashy map of dinosaur discoveries in the British Isles.

So why did Irish dinosaurs prove elusive?

It’s all due to the age of the rocks. Large swaths of Ireland are geologically too young or old to have dinosaur remains.

Thankfully, we can now celebrate having not one but two Irish dinosaurs dating to the Early Jurassic of 200 million years ago. One is a little-known plant muncher, Scelidosaurus harrisonii. It’s an “armored” Ornithiscian, and it needed all the protection it could get, seeing as the second Irish dinosaur from this time period is a predatory theropod akin to Sarcosaurus.

Not surprisingly, fossils representing Scelidosaurus’ kinfolk have also been found along England’s “Jurassic Coast” as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. David Norman recently published a thorough description and analysis of Scelidosaurus harrisonii.

But like as not, you’re more interested in the three-meter long meat-eater, right? Sarcosaurus skeletons found to date are far from complete. Nonetheless, it is recognized as a “small” theropod, likely sporting a mouth full of respectable fangs. It’s easy to envision it using powerful thigh muscles to dart across the Irish countryside in pursuit of its prey and sink in its claws and teeth.

Personally, I’m rooting for those armored Irish Ornithiscians.

HORROR STORIES: WHAT SCARES YOU?

Announcingā€¦I sold a horror story! This is only the second time I’ve tried my hand at writing one. I’m chuffed to say that I am now two for two when it comes to writing horror. Be sure to stay tuned and I’ll let you know when the time comes for you to buy the anthology it’ll be in. My story is just under a thousand words, so it’ll be easily readable in one sitting when it comes out.

I don’t read a lot of horror, despite tearing through all of Edgar Allan Poe at a formative age. Nowadays, I don’t particularly enjoy being frightened. This means I am even less of a fan of horror movies. That said, my success in selling these two stories leads me to give some thought to what I find particularly frightening. Sure, serial killers and the undead and horrible suffering and predatory velociraptors are on my list. But my biggest fear is something that doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as I think it deserves.

I’m afraid of the widespread public rejection of science. There seems to be no arguing with those who sneer at others’ efforts to understand basic scientific concepts and methods, those who reject anything smacking of science out of hand. This attitude strikes me as closely tied to a more widespread rejection of experts and expertise. It’s especially pernicious these days and I don’t have much in the way of a suggestion to combat it.

But getting back to horror in fiction, I’m curious what my readers and blog followers think:

  1. Do you enjoy reading horror fiction?
  2. How about horror movies?
  3. What scares you the most?

Let me know and I’ll post comments.

FEBRUARY DINOSAUR OF THE MONTH: PROTOCERATOPS ANDREWSI

This being Valentine’s Day, here’s my second monthly post featuring a new dinosaur discovery. Astute readers know that Protoceratops andrewsi, which is a predecessor to the ever-popular Triceratops, is hardly a newly unearthed species. However, a recent study of thirty specimens of these intriguing, sheep-sized dinosaurs looked at a specific physical trait that these dinosaurs might have found attractive in a mate. Like other Ceratopsians, Protoceratops possesses a distinctive and elaborate neck frill whose function is not immediate apparent.

The new study relied on 3D scans to document growth patterns of Protoceratops’ neck frills, and included specimens ranging from day-old hatchlings all the way up to full-sized adults. The evidence established that the neck frills grew at a faster rate than the dinosaurs’ skulls, thus ending up disproportionately large. While it is difficult to ascertain the onset of sexual maturity in an extinct dinosaur, the rapid growth of the neck frills appeared to be a sexually-selected trait.

Of course, anatomical features can serve multiple purposes, Previous hypotheses have suggested the neck frill served to protect the dinosaur’s vulnerable neck from predators such as Velociraptors found in the same environment. It’s also possible the neck frill helped in regulating internal body temperature, thereby preventing over-heating. Another idea is that the frills permitted individuals to more easily recognize one another, perhaps from a distance where there is a clear line of sight. Perhaps the frills enabled Protoceratops to appear bigger and fiercer than they were, thereby prompting those Velociraptors to go after smaller and less intimidating prey.

Where does this leave us? I, for one, am rather drawn to the idea that seventy five million years before Valentine’s Day was a thing, the Laurasian Protoceratopsians were eying each other’s neck frills.

Come back next month for my St. Patrick’s Day dinosaur.

DINOSAUR OF THE MONTH CLUB

How many dinosaurs are there? People ask me this from time to time and it’s a harder question than you might think. Do they mean how many individual critters trod the Earth or how many different species of dinosaurs were there? Those aren’t easy questions either, given that they reached every single continent, including Antarctica. Also, vast areas were not conducive to preservation. While we know quite a bit about some species in certain regions and time periods, more are discovered every year. In fact, dozens of “new” species are announced, named, analyzed, and/or sketched every year.

Yes, I said dozens, which means I can’t keep up! However, I can focus on some neat new discoveries. With that, I am launching a regular (here’s hoping!) new feature of Blogging the Mesozoic: a monthly post about a neat new discovery. Here’s the first one:

Ubirajara jubatus hails from Brazil. I picked it because South American dinosaurs simply don’t get nearly enough love despite being some of the largest dinosaurs ever found. But not this one, which is about the size of a turkey. It’s a carnivorous compagnathid from the Crato Formation 110-120 million years ago.

What makes it cool?

  1. It’s the first South American non-avian dinosaur fossil to show indisputable evidence of fluffy feathers, or perhaps proto-feathers. Plus it had spike-like projections from its shoulders.
  2. The coloration is rather a guess, but it might have been as brilliantly plumed as parrots or macaws, Or possibly it was more sedate. Until we have traces of pigmentation, it’s hard to say.
  3. We don’t know which direction those stiff filaments pointed. Here’s a neat article with illustrations as to some possibilities. I’m fascinated by how paleontologists and illustrators work together to develop various alternatives from crushed and incomplete fossilized remains.
  4. The name combines the indigenous Tupi word for “lord of the spear” with the Latin word for “maned” or “crested.”

What makes it controversial?
The specimen was exported from Brazil to Germany for study in 1995, where it still remains. The legality of the export is under investigation.

WRITERS AND READERS: WE NEED EACH OTHER MORE THAN EVER

2020 was a very tough year for readers seeking signs of hope for the future or solace in a brief respite from reality. It was an equally tough year for writers trying to string words together into something that felt meaningful. When our work did find its way into print or on line, all too often it didn’t attract the attention it merited. It’s time to remedy this! Writers: your readers, both new and old, need to reconnect with your insights. I urge you to put out on social media your 2020 year-end retrospective. Yes, many of cringe at the prospect of doing so. Here’s a bit of advice I wrote on SFWA’s blog as to how you might go about this without coming across as self-absorbed or grubbing for award nominations.

My 2020 YEAR IN REVIEW

I’m pleased to announce that I had several articles published in 2020, all of which you can read for free:

  • Monumental Thinking, which is in the January/February issue of Analog, is my take on suitable replacements for statues being torn down these days.
  • Elections Past, Present, and To Come is a reprint plus update of an article from the March 2016 issue of Analog talking about what it’s like to serve as an election official/poll worker. I’ve done this a bunch of times, including the 2020 Presidential primaries. (Do those ever seem like a lifetime ago!).
  • What I know about writing about dinosaurs was posted on Cath Schaff-Stump’s Fantastic History blog.

My year end retrospective would normally include a list of my fiction that also appeared in print. Alas, 2020 has not been kind to the publishing industry. I was slated to have three science fiction stories make their print and/or on-line appearances. None of them did. Writers: This is why it’s important to make sure your contract addresses rights reversions and provides a kill fee if publication doesn’t happen within a stated time period. Sigh. These stories are all out to other markets once more.

Most Unexpected Pleasure: Serving as a judge for the Endeavour Award. It’s great to have a role in recognizing fine work by my colleagues who don’t make the choice easy!

Best Trip: Philadelphia Flower Show in early March. Have a look at some of my photos from it.

Best Bookstore Book Launch: Docile by K.M. Szpara at One More Page Books in Falls Church. I love listening to authors reading there own work and this one was a particular treat.

Best Educational Opportunities: Smithsonian classes went on line. You don’t even have to be a member (a/k/a Smithsonian Associate) to take them. I loved learning about how birds talk, parent, and think. I also sank into lectures on Paleolithic Cave Art, Santorini, Apollo 13, the Etruscans, Machu Picchu, and the Art of India.

Best Pandemic Antidote: Monthly flower deliveries for Zoom arranging with friends. If you are interested, check out revased.com. Or just have a look at some of my creations on my Flowers page and on Instagram.

Late to the Party: This summer I read and binge watched Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Most Fun New Series: The Queen’s Gambit. This show reminded me so very much of my own days as a kid and high school student when I threw myself into the world of competitive chess tournaments. While my experiences took place somewhat later in time, the gender disparity had not changed much from the 1960s depicted in the series.

Guilty Pleasure: Tiger King. The less said the better.

Things to Come: What will the weeks and months ahead bring? Watch this space for announcements of:

  • The Next Frontier: my novelette forthcoming in Analog.
  • My first flash fiction (under 1000 words) to be published in a horror anthology.
  • My first blog post on a different site aimed at professional writers.
  • More good things I can’t disclose yet!

MONUMENTAL THINKING IS HERE!

Seeing my work published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact never gets old and especially not when I have an opportunity to write about a timely topic from my perspective as an archaeologist. The January/February 2021 issue features my guest editorial about efforts to remove statues and monuments dedicated to various prominent historical figures whom many believe have committed reprehensible acts sufficient to disqualify them from such honors. I’m mindful that these monuments, as well as the names we give highways, plazas, and public buildings, reveal our values to those who will come after us. Thus, I’ve come up with a different approach to creating worthy replacements.

I hope you’ll read the editorial, entitled Monumental Thinking, and then check out all the wonderful fiction and articles in this issue of Analog.

51ST ANNIVERSARY OF APOLLO 12 LANDING ON THE MOON

Give yourself a gold star if you recognized this iconic image of the Apollo 12 Lunar Module known as “Intrepid” sitting upon the Ocean of Storms. (Apollo 11, of course, landed in the Sea of Tranquility.)

Aboard Apollo 12, Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean swung open that hatch and descended to the dusty surface. Make no mistake, their accomplishment marked the second stunning success for NASA’s Moon missions coming just four short months after the first Moon landing on July 16, 1969.

Yeah, we all know, the second of anything doesn’t get even half the love of the first. More’s the pity in this case. Consider:

  • Apollo 12 landed in more challenging terrain than the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 set down.
  • Apollo 12 stayed on the Moon’s surface longer than Apollo 11, permitting the astronauts to spent more time making scientific observations and performing experiments.
  • The Apollo 12 astronauts collected 75 pounds of Moon rocks as compared to the 48 pounds of rocks collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts
  • Even though Apollo 12 was struck by lightning twice when it launched, the mission was a stunning success.

Apollo 12 was intended, in part, to serve as a backup in case Apollo 11 did not come off without a hitch. President John F. Kennedy had famously kicked off the “Moon Race” in 1961 when he announced the plan for the United States to “send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.”

While the Apollo Space program assuredly fired the imaginations of many science fiction writers half a century ago, I’m here to tell you that it still does! In looking back at the 50+ years of the space program, I can’t help but wonder what if things had gone a little bit differently? How might the subsequent exploration of the Moon, Mars, Venus, comets, asteroids, the Sun, and the outer planets have played out?

So I’ve written a story that’s due to come out next year. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell you more from time to time as we get closer to publication. I’ll talk about how I got the idea, the times I kicked around some thoughts with other writer buddies, how long it took me to actually write that story (hint: longer than you might expect), and my process for doing research and finding experts who could check my science and history. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

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