Monday, October 5, 2009

Why "The Raptor Clause"

I chose the title of this blog as a play on words to incorporate two of my favorite things: dinosaurs and writing.

This is not to suggest that all my stories will contain dinosaurs. Thunderstruck contained no dinosaurs, unless you count the "Patches" outtake. But Rose & Jade features dinosaurs in addition to dragons, so I decided to tip my hat to that passion of mine for the title of the blog.

One of the things that's really cool in modern paleontology is that we are finally able to look at the soft tissue imprints of fossils with more detail and clarity. That's allowed scientists to peek inside the chest cavity of well-preserved dinosaur mummies and check out the heart and other organs. We've had pretty good skin impressions, too. It's kind of sad to think about how many good soft tissue fossils have probably been destroyed through routine efforts to expose the bones, but now that paleontologists have better technology at hand, I expect we'll see more and more discoveries.

Traditionally, most scientists have depicted fleshed-out dinosaurs very conservatively, draping a reasonable quantity of muscle over the bones and providing them with some basic gray-green skin. This is a conservative approach, and scientists are by nature conservative, so that's to be expected.

But dinosaurs were assuredly much more interesting, magnificent, and strange than the bones can indicate.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Take an elephant skeleton, and put it amongst paleontologists who have never seen an elephant or any related creature. What do they make of this peculiar being's skull? How do they suggest it got food to its mouth? The most significant feature of the elephant is its trunk, yet there are no bones in the trunk (just tens of thousands of muscles). I'm not sure what these hypothetical scientists would postulate, but I they wouldn't go as far as nature did. And they'd probably miss the ears, too.

Artists get more leeway than scientists. The dinosaurs I like to write about are colorful, weird, and have adaptations that are unlike anything we see today. I may be wrong about what the real beasts were like, but no more wrong than the super-conservative version. If I'm going to err, I'll err on the side of magnificent.

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