Friday, January 28, 2011

Naturalism of the Fantastic

Wanting to create your own unique wildlife a la the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or just wanting to get outside your usual monster manuals? Here are a few choice works of speculative nonfiction from my own shelves that you might consider adding to yours:

It’s 50 million years in the future: Do you know where your species is? Answer: Extinct. But hey, check out Dougal Dixon’s speculations about what crazy wildlife might have emerged in that far flung age in After Man: A Zoology of the Future. How about whale-like animals evolved from penguins, or large carnivores descended from mustelids (weasels, and their ilk)? Check out wikipedia for a complete rundown.

After Man won a Hugo Award when it was published in 1981. It has been out of print for a while, so it may be hard to come by, but worth getting if you can find it cheap.

Easier to find, is a more recent (but similar) work by Dixon, this one tied into a 2003 BBC documentary miniseries. The Future is Wild details evolution on earth over a span of 200 million years, checking in at three different periods. Again this is a world post-mankind. Here we get pack-hunting, flightless birds, terrestrial squids called swampuses, and the slithersucker--a predatory slime mold.

Dixon doesn’t have a monopoly on speculative naturalism. Conceptual designers for movies get into the game, too. For those of you who’ve wondered what’s so hard about pulling the ears off a gundark, or what exactly a scruffy nerfherder herds, Whitlach and Carrau provide answers to these questions, and many others, in The Wildlife of Star Wars. It’s far from bantha poodoo.

The World of King Kong gives us an isolated island where dinosaurs got 65 million (give or take) more years of evolution--which turns out mostly to be in the direction of “scary” and “more dangerous.” They share their inhospitable island home with all sorts of invertebrates grown larger than conventional science would say they ought to. And then there’s that giant gorilla everybody’s talking about..

So there you have it, plenty of creative creature inspiration. Enjoy.


Chris said...

Also recommended: Dixon's "New Dinosaurs" (what if: the K/T Extinction Event never happened). The ugly little hive-building mammal-like reptiles and gigantic flightless arctic birds in that were oddly appealing.

Crazy prices on Amazon, but I understand there may be 'try before you buy' digital copies available on the 'lectrowebs.

Porky said...

This opens up broad vistas. For a very silly take, there's also A Field Guide To Doomsday.

Xyanthon said...

Thanks for the tips guys. This gives me more things to squander my money one. Oh, but it will be glorious fun!

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I nabbed a copy of Dixon's 'After Man' on the cheap last year. Absolutely love the book. Def screams to be statted up, if only to serve as an alternate reality the hapless PC party wanders into...

Ray Rousell said...

Very interesting post, I'd not heard of this book, I'll be keeping my eye out, cheers!!

Jayson said...

"After Man" is a fine book, as is the Star Wars Bestiary. I love the finely observed reality of those critters.

I do have to shame Dixon for his "Man After Man" follow-up, given the alleged plagarism of a Wayne Douglas Barlowe project that will now not, sadly, see the light of day.

But never mind. His horrific land bats and wistful rabbucks cannot make me stay miffed.

Trey said...

@Chris - Hmmmm...I wonder if ebay can deliver a better price? I'll have to check.

@Porky - thanks for the link.

@Johnathan - You're welcome. :) I've got plenty of ways for you to spend your money!

@jayson - I hadn't heard about the plagarism issue. Barlowe's got a oouple of nice books in a related vein to his credit, too--The Guide to Extraterrestrials, and the Guide to fantasy

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

The Savage Afterworld has some things like this.

Justin S. Davis said...

I freely admit, with absolutely zero shame, that Dixon's books fueled my Gamma World games as a kid.

My blog wouldn't exist without him. (Thanks for the shout-out, Porky!)