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Sternberg and Fiction (Marine Dinos)



The Sternberg fiction passage is indeed .....  Odd,  but was
fun to read considering when he wrote it and the influences
he must have had at the time - Verne and Burroughs and Conan
Doyle - combined with the odd feeling I suspect many of us
have when we're in the field : I always get flashes of being
back in the time I'm collecting in, sort of an odd genetic
memory deja vu kind of thing. Not that I was short on oxygen
while collecting in the Cambrian or anything, although there
was the one time I was diving off the Calvert Cliffs looking
for big shark teeth when I really was starting to feel a big
un was running around me....

That brings up some thoughts that probably are related to
the 94 degree temps here right now combined with a pollen
count of 524. I'm always amused that paleontologists in
fiction (including the movie versions) always seem to know
the exact species of dinosaur (or other) that they're
looking at in the flesh for the first time. Most of these
tend to be early 20th century books or later nods to them
(Lin Carter's Zanthodon series for example) but it always
got me to thinking just how good we would be. During the
time period the books tended to be written in,
paleontologists tended to name new species almost casually
based on small to non-existent differences, so it seems
pretty implausible to me that they would do any better than
the generic level most times and, in some of the more boring
morphologies such as in the theropods, probably would have
trouble even there. Whatdoyathink ladies and jellyspoons?
Anyone think they would do better.

Finally, what fiction do you consider best captures the
gestalt and feel of the beasts when they are presented?
Which best transforms you either back to the time, or to the
context where the dinos, et al. are most real? I've always
found that Sprague de Camp did a great job when he entered
paleo subjects. Bradbury generally wasn't trying to achieve
that in favor of a general literary device so I never found
he made me feel transformed, although the stories are always
great to read. There is a David Drake novel (I'll try and
remember the name) where time goes haywire and a big
Theropod terrorizes a bunch of Romans and their horses out
in the country. Parts of it really makes you feel the exact
terror the horses, for example, would feel when confronted
with a large theropod. Gave me the willies. But what other
ones really stand out? I know ones that just don't work.
David Gerrold's Deathbeast has a large theropod jumping all
around and falling off of mountains and just jumping up and
getting back to the chase, which allometrically is totally
awful. They don't have to be accurate for this time but can
be great at conveying the animal as it was thought of at the
writing time.

Anyway, would be interested in opinions here, in case I've
missed or too quickly read some really wonderful stuff.
Perhaps is a good time to start assembling a summer reading
list.

Ralph Chapman



Ralph E. Chapman
Applied Morphometrics Laboratory
National Museum of Natural history
ADP, EG-15  NHB, 10th & Constitution, NW
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 20560-0136
(202) 786-2293, Fax: (202) 357-4122
Chapman.Ralph@nmnh.si.edu