DW3 gets a new cover

DW3ed2coverAs the release date for the new paperback edition of Dinosaur Wars: Blood On The Moon draws near, I’ve finally got the new cover art. I think it gets the point of the story across pretty well.

There’s Kit Daniels, looking pretty in her pink spacesuit, and as formidable as Princess Leia, given the M-16 assault rifle she’s chosen as an accessory.

And there behind her is her favorite beau, Chase Armstrong. He’s helmeted up for a jaunt on the surface of the moon, where some laser-blazing action awaits him.

Behind them, that’s their buddy Gar The Kra, lofting his deadly aseeta blade skyward in anticipation of a showdown with humanity’s arch nemesis, Saurgon, who awaits the heroes in his lair at the south pole of the moon.

AmazonianDW3Compared to the cover of the first edition (at right) this second-edition cover is much more detailed and does a better job of telling the story in the blink of an eye. Of course, it leaves the outcome of the adventure unstated. Debonaire as they may appear, there’s nothing on the cover to betray whether they all make it back from their lunar sojourn.

Those answers await the release of the new edition, which I expect to happen in the next few weeks. In fact, I’ve already pushed the go button for release of the paperback from CreateSpace. It takes a few weeks for a book–whether paperback or ebook–to work its way through the distribution channels, so it’s not time yet to shout it to the world. However, it wouldn’t hurt to check around if you’re interested, because Dinosaur Wars: Blood On The Moon–like Saurgon’s death ray–is poised to hit every corner of the earth!

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New paperback — almost here

Just a quick note to update the status of my latest publishing endeavor. Dinosaur Wars: Blood On The Moon has passed a couple of the final hurdles to publication. I finished red-lining the text revisions for the new book early this week, and I am just now putting the finishing touches on the new cover art. Everything is in readiness for publishing sometime this week–I hope.

Life sometimes sends little inconveniences, like paying work. But nothing on the radar screen just yet, so let’s keep fingers crossed.

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More fuzzy dinosaurs

FuzzysaurusI was ahead of my time when I wrote fur-covered plant-eating dinosaurs into my Dinosaur Wars novels in 2002 and 2004. I had already written and illustrated feather-covered meat eaters in the original story in 2000. Now, in 2014, dinosaur diggers in Siberia have come up with a new, wooly plant eating dinosaur they call Kulindadromeus. Its excellent state of preservation shows the fine details of a never-before-seen type of furry coating on the animal’s body, head, arms, and legs. Click the image for more detail on this cute, bunny-sized (although earless and rat-tailed) critter.

Fuzzy scales up closeThe wooly covering is intriguing in its own right. It consists of scales, out of which sprout bunches of hair-like threads. The scientists who described it suggest its multi-branched structure is related somehow to the multi-branched structure of feathers. So this stuff and feathers probably arose in a common dinosaur ancestor, way back at the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs–or before.

In contrast to the complex branching forms of these structures, the hair that covers mice and men seems almost–gulp–primitively simple. Wait. Aren’t WE the most advanced species around here?

Anyway. If I may brag a moment. I created furry dinosaurs in my Dinosaur Wars novels, and my Dinosaur Tales short stories, based on a simple, unproven, but reasonable thought. If the meat eating dinosaurs were fuzzy and warm blooded (as was known as far back as 1986), then how could the plant eaters escape being eaten, if they weren’t every bit as fast and hot-blooded as their pursuers? So, even in the absence of fossil evidence, I developed some pretty complete verbal descriptions and a few images of plant eaters with warm, wooly coverings.

Wooly pachyI was about ten years ahead of my time when some of those imaginings were published in Dinosaur Wars: Counterattack, which is book two of the series. Since then, I have continued to dream up wooly dinosaurs. Click my more recent image of Pachyrhinosaurus for a close-up view of its furry coat. That took a lot of time for me to paint.

So, real science has finally caught up with my fiction. There’s something satisfying about that.

The only sad note here is that I’m no longer ten years ahead of my times. Hmmm. I’d better get back to dreaming things up again real soon.

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The Unprepossessing Phineus Morton

Fin as WatsonLong ago, while I was writing the original manuscript of The Jihad Virus, I had a minor revelation: the story I was drafting ran strongly parallel to a good Sherlock Holmes mystery.

It had quite a few similar story elements: a brilliant man solving deadly mysteries, scientific sleuthing methods, and a more-or-less faithful follower and chronicler of the events, who had a medical background himself.

In the Holmes stories, of course the chronicler is the now-famous Dr. John Watson, MD, Afghanistan war veteran, and target of Sherlockian epithets like, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

In my stories, Phineus (Fin) Morton has no MD, but like Watson, he is a war veteran with a medical background. Furthermore, Fin is a soldier who served in both Afghanistan AND in Bagdad, Iraq. So he’s actually one up on Watson when it comes to comparing war wounds and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Fin served as a medical corpsman, and hence has plenty of background to inform his witnessing of events like the modern-day plagues threatened by The Jihad Virus and The Neah Virus.

Who better then, to accompany and explain the doings of my stories’ hero, Dr. Peyton McKean, biotechnology researcher, as he confronts evil villains and deadly contagion? Fin has the right combination: he’s a medical man with combat experience!

The parallels between Morton and Watson run deep.

Another realm of commonality is that of romance. In the Holmes stories, Sherlock was, well, just too far out there to end up with a girlfriend. In my stories, the illustrious Dr. McKean has already settled down with a wife and kid who have long since adjusted to his idiosyncrasies. As with the Sherlock stories, it is the sidekick who finds romance. Watson met his future bride on an adventure with Holmes. The same sort of thing happens for Fin Morton–repeatedly.

OuchPoor Fin. He’s had a rough romantic ride, at least so far, in my hands. He’s seen romance appear in each of two novels, first with the lovely and dangerous Egyptian horse trainer Jameela Noori in The Jihad Virus, and then with beautiful Native American shaman’s daughter Tleena Steel in The Neah Virus.

And yet he remains single. How can I be so cruel to him? Worse, he starts each new adventure with a broken heart. Of course, that sets up his redemption in each novel by finding true love.

Wait! I’m giving away much more here than I should tell. No more spoilers.

Because of the many parallels to the Holmes stories–right down to physical descriptions–I welcome you to imagine Fin as the currently most favored Watson, the actor Martin Freeman. He’s as close a match to my description as I have seen. That’s just a coincidence, since The Jihad Virus was first released in 2004, long before Mr. Freeman had become prominent. But it’s a nice coincidence. In The Jihad Virus, Fin describes himself like this:

“I’m a medical reporter, a healthy twenty-seven-year-old male of average height and build and looks, with good vital signs. My tours in the Mideast left no physical scars on me, but I was not to be so lucky in the events I’m about to retell.”

You get the picture?

And, by the way, that Benedict Cumberbatch fellow does a passably good job of looking like my overly-tall, quirky, socially maladjusted sleuth, Dr. Peyton McKean. If Freeman and Cumberbatch would like a suggestion for a new movie together, may I suggest The Jihad Virus?

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Iraq Needs A Senate

Iraq 3 StatesIf Iraqis want the bloodshed to stop, they should create a Senate like the United States has. The not-so-democratic qualities of this institution could save their nation. I truly believe that.

Let me explain, using some maps I drew for the purpose.

In the first, I have drawn some heavy black lines delineating three “States” within Iraq, similar to the U.S.’s states. Think of them like North Dakota, California, and Texas, if you will.

Iraq GovernatesIn the second map, you can see these “states” contain within them subdivisions similar to U.S. congressional districts. I have rather arbitrarily slashed right across the boundaries of these “Governates,” as Iraqis call them. The reason why I did this is apparent in the third map: my “state” lines correspond roughly to the major religious and ethnic divisions of Iraq.

So, imagine an Iraq with a Senate comprised of 7 senators from each of the three “states,” all elected by the total popular vote of their “state.” What would the institution be like?

Iraq DemographicsWell, it would not be democratic, for one thing. It would have an equal number of senators from the Shiite dominated south (all seven having been elected along religious lines by the Shiite majority), and the Sunni west (again, all Sunnis, no doubt) and the Kurdish north (same story there).

Equal numbers of senators despite South Iraq having three times the population of West Iraq? Does that seem fair? Does it sound like a recipe for religious and ethnic division and deadlock?

Maybe not.

Let’s assume the three groups of seven always vote as unified blocks (not necessarily true, but likely). There is actually no possibility of deadlock, simply because of the math. Whatever law or bill is favored by two of the groups wins. And even if there are some crossover voters, the odd number of the total, 21, dictates that either the yeas or the nays will win. No deadlock. The U.S. senate operates slightly differently than this, but the effect is the same.

The key to all this is as follows: the three-state division of the senate would give minorities a voice that they now lack. For instance, if the Shiite “state” tried to pass legislation that the Sunni and Kurd minorities didn’t like, those two “states” could unite to vote the law down.

As things now stand, the only legislative branch up and running in Iraq is their equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives (their Council of Representatives). But this body is elected strictly by popular vote, just like the U.S. House. The problem with that is the lack of representation of minorities and domination of the Iraqi government by the Shiite majority. Hence the need for a Senate.

Of course, a Senate can’t alleviate every problem, but at least the minorities would have some means to get their concerns heard.

Finally, I should point out that the “states” don’t even have to be defined with lines on a map. Given the powerful divisions within Iraq, it would be just as simple to have voters register as Shiite, Kurd, Sunni (other minorities, like Christians and Turkomens might have to join one or another of the three groups as they see fit).

I really believe this “State” orientation would help the situation a lot. It works pretty well in the U.S., a nation with deep regional differences that once suffered though a brutal and bloody civil war of its own.

Why does a Senate help to calm regional anger? Precisely because it is not-so-democratic. Consider North Dakota, California, and Texas. These states are from far-flung regions of the United States and they often have strongly held, disagreeing points of view. But here’s the key: the tiny population of North Dakota has the same number of senators (two) as Texas, the largest state of the three, and California, the most populous.

So, the Senate is the great equalizer in American politics.

Give it a try, Iraq.

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Saving lives–too busy to blog

It’s nice when the biotech industry comes knocking at my door and asks for my help saving people’s lives. I have been acting as an expert consultant to a new biotech company and we are under a deadline to get a clinical trial proposal to the FDA for testing a new anemia remedy.

Considering my father suffered from anemia in the years before he died, I am particularly happy to lend my skills in the battle to create a new drug to fight the disease.

This does, however, put my fiction writing on hold. My next book, Blood on the Moon, will suffer about a month’s delay.

Meanwhile, I wrote ’round-the-clock, literally, yesterday on our Investigational New Drug application. This is its own kind of medical thriller.

Bye for now. Gotta go get with it again.

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Blood On The Moon paperback coming soon

Blood On The MoonIf you’ve been reading Dinosaur Wars in paperback form, then you know the third and final volume of the trilogy, Blood On The Moon, has yet to appear in hard copy. Well, that’s about to change.

I am already midway through redlining the original text, making a few changes so that the story flows more smoothly, but not really changing who-does-what-to-whom. Taking red pen to page is a laborious process, but I had hoped to finish in time to release this new version, formally called Edition 2, by the end of June.

But events have conspired to make that timeframe slip.

RedRiverIf it’s any consolation to those waiting for volume three (I like to think of millions of dedicated fans clamoring, although the reality is somewhat less than that) there is a good reason for the delay.

You see, my old chums in the biotech industry have drafted me back into action. They want me to help them write a convincing application to the Food and Drug Administration so they can get approval to test their new anemia treatment in human clinical trials.

For the die-hard reader, I hope your frustration at the delay is moderated by knowing my sidetracking will potentially benefit millions of people who suffer the debilitating effects of a lack of red blood cells to carry oxygen around their bodies.

I think the slowdown is worth it. How ’bout you?

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Lo, the Mighty Serpopard–er, Sauropod

Narmer's SerpopardsSo did you know the ancient Egyptians dug dinosaurs? The creatures you see at left with long intertwining necks are shown on a five-thousand-year-old sculpture unearthed near the Nile, called the Narmer palette. On it, a predynastic Egyptian king massacres his enemies and even tames the mythic beasts with lassoes.

Click the image for a close-up view of the action.

Archeologists call these creatures serpopards, meaning snake-leopards, although most depictions are non-spotted and rather more lion-headed than leopard-like. Their tails are usually long, and their feet have claws, not hooves.

Dino SealThey have turned up on a variety of artifacts in Egypt and in Mesopotamia as well, at Uruk, a city contemporaneous to the predynastic times in Egypt, just before the pharaohs came to power. At right is the imprint of a Sumerian seal from those times. Now those are some re-e-e-ealy long tails.

Dino DucklingsTake a look at this sauropod dinosaur daddy taking his brood out for a stroll, depicted by me on the cover of my Dinosaur Tales short story, Hatching Alamosaurus. Doesn’t he look quite a bit like the Mesopotamian serpopards? I think it’s no coincidence.

Some will say it’s just that, a coincidence, the result of an ancient sculptor’s fanciful combining of different animal forms, a not-uncommon trick in those times (consider the Sphinx, the prototypical chimeric beast). Some others will say the serpopard is just a crude approximation of a giraffe, and not a dinosaur or chimera at all.

Four DogsWe can put the latter counter-hypothesis to rest easily. Take a look at this sculpture, known as the four-dog palette. On one side it’s got a serpopard, down there at the bottom, right. On the other side it’s got two giraffes, sculpted accurately with hooves, horns, and long legs. But the serpopard has no horns, shorter legs, and multiple toes, and that’s typical of sauropod dinosaurs.

SerpopardsAnd to clinch my argument, take a look at this palette, called the two-dog palette, which has some incredibly snaky-necked serpopards. On its back side, below, is another serpopard and some other creatures as well. Click it for a closer view. Note the well-crafted giraffe at the bottom, and several wild dogs, lions, ibex, bull, and antelope above that, as well as a griffin (another likely dinosaur depiction) and above that, the serpopard. So there is a consistency to the depiction of the creature, and it was clearly distinguished from the giraffe.

Two Dogs BackSo what could it be? Where did the idea ever come from? Let me offer a suggestion. Outcroppings of Mesozoic rocks occur widely around North Africa and the Middle East. In them, scientists have recently found the bones of huge sauropod dinosaurs. So, if a complete, or nearly complete sauropod skeleton was uncovered by ancient Egyptians, then the legend of the serpopard may have been based upon fact.

I believe it. How about you?

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I’d like to thank…

Alumni AwardWell, it really happened. My alma mater, West Seattle High School, put my picture up in their Hall of Fame. There enshrined for a long time to come is my grinning face, enjoying one of the finer moments in life, getting recognition for a lot of hard work.

Several people made flattering speeches about me, and then they handed me this plaque, which you see in its new place of honor on a bookshelf in my writing office, surrounded by some of my dinosaur friends.

If you click the picture, you can get a closeup to read the text.

I hadn’t really stopped to measure the impact of my scientific career until the Alumni Association called and told me I had won their award. But thinking back on my decades in the biotech industry, I can see what they mean. Arthritis treatments, a study of the most potent inflammatory hormone in the human body, those do rate an acknowledgment. And that odd thing, the “FLAG epitope tag,” which I call a molecular handle these days, rates special mention. It is the world’s first commercially successful nanotechnology device. And researchers around the world are using it to study every aspect of human health and disease.

My invention of the FLAG epitope was something like Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb. On the day he made it in his lab, it was just one lightbulb. But a couple of decades later it had proliferated and was illuminating millions of homes and businesses.

I can see my “molecular handle” in that perspective. It has gone on far beyond my invention and become a commonplace tool in scientific laboratories around the world. Thousands of scientific researchers are using it daily to help illuminate the workings of the human body in health and disease.

While I was at the podium making my acceptance speech, I offered the school library copies of my novels, Dinosaur Wars and The Neah Virus, which were gladly accepted.

After that, I thanked the faculty, past and present, for their dedication to seeing each student live up to his or her full potential. I guess the point of all this awarding and accepting is that, in my case, their pedantic labors paid back some dividends.

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Washington’s Ice Age Floods

Mammoth toothThese fragments of mammoth tusk are part of an incredible story. During the last Ice Age, glaciers of the Northern polar icecap dammed up the headwaters of the Columbia River and then broke, releasing some of the largest floods the world has ever seen. Much of the eastern half of Washington State went under, time and time again, as the ice dam broke and then reformed, and then broke again.

Highway workers building an interchange on Interstate-5 just north of Vancouver, Washington in the town of Ridgefield, dug up the tusk fragments and passed them along to paleontologists at Seattle’s Burke Museum. When the scientists went to investigate, they learned that the tusk had been buried within the deep layers of mud and sediment laid down by those Ice-Age floods. So it seems likely the mammoth died in one of those floods and was washed to its final resting place, where the construction workers found it.

Flood ComethIt’s impressive that the flood could carry off and then bury one of the largest elephants to ever walk the earth. This is the Columbian Mammoth, a stupendous creature that makes modern elephants look small. It stood as much as 13 feet high at the shoulder. But the flood that carried it was no lightweight, either. As the picture at right shows, the torrent that was released when the ice dam broke roared down the valleys and canyons of Eastern Washington, reaching speeds of 80 miles per hour and depths of hundreds of feet. That’s a flash flood the likes of which no human has seen in recorded history. So carrying off mammoths was not at all beyond its scope. In fact, the floods scoured the soil and trees away too, taking the canyons down to bedrock, and then sweeping away some of that as well.

Missoula FloodsThe map shows just how stupendous the floods were. On the right, Lake Missoula was backed up behind the ice dam, which was in the Idaho Panhandle near Spokane, Washington. Lake Missoula inundated much of western Montana, and held a volume of water comparable to several of the Great Lakes. When the dam gave way, the water overtopped the river channels and spilled across the landscape of Eastern Washington, pooled into several gigantic temporary lakes, and then spilled down the Columbia River Gorge, where it overwhelmed the area of present-day Portland and Vancouver, and even filled the entire Willamette River valley. Ridgefield, where the mammoth came to rest, was deep underwater at the height of the surge.

The mammoths, and the floods, are gone now with the passing of time and the retreat of the glaciers. But the bones and tusks remain, and are occasionally discovered, bringing back to us the awesome history of this part of our planet. And, oh, by the way, scientists think that maybe–just maybe–the first Native Americans had arrived on the scene to be witnesses. Or victims, perhaps?

It all gets me to thinking. Can’t I come up with a story that weaves these colossal events into a plot filled with mystery and intrigue? Stay tuned.

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