Science-Fiction

A Decade Later (Repost)

Ever had one of those crazy months? I’m reposting an old article for that reason, with a few extra comments at the end…
gurney-small.jpgThe dinosaur craze seems to be over, sorry to say. One last hurrah: Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara,
the latest entry in the Dinotopia series, is out now. James Gurney
wrote and illustrated the original 3 books in the 90s, and returns to
the scene of his triumph just about ten years later. Is the magic still
there?


I dunno, I was never super thrilled by dinosaurs… maybe I was too old during the 90s? I mean, I saw Jurassic Park
just like everyone else, but images of dinosaurs don’t have a visceral
thrill for me like some other pop culture items might. My brain is weird
that way. For example, I find vampires kinda boring, but even the
lowliest zombie movie will give me nightmares for weeks. Dinosaurs fall
into the former category for me.

Another odd tic of mine: I get
really enthusiastic about the first work of an author and then less
enthused as time wears on – and this despite the fact that they should
be learning their craft and improving. I might be a novelty junkie or
something. (Another possible explanation: authors have long years to
work on a debut, but the follow-up has to be 12 months later, as they
say).

So, when Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara came out
earlier this year, I had two things on my mind: dinosaurs… why now?
And, will Gurney have improved with age or gotten boring and
repetitious?

As it turns out, the 15 years since the original Dinotopia have worked in Gurney’s favour. At the baldest level, Journey to Chandara is not much more than a reworking of the earlier Dinotopia
books. But Gurney hasn’t lost his writing or painting skills. And the
anti-trendiness is fine too: sure, there’s an element of faded glory
here, but at least it’s not a bandwagon any more. What’s more, the easy
stuff on the topic of dinosaurs has been skimmed off, so Gurney has to
work harder than ever. And that’s always been the key, as far as I can
tell, to making a sequel that doesn’t suck. If you realize that a sequel
is harder, not easier, than go ahead and give it a try. Long odds, but
at least you’ve started off a step ahead of everyone else.

The
book itself breaks down into several types of things. There is text, but
it’s fairly straightforward stuff. An obscure manuscript turns out to
be the long-lost diary of Arthur Dennison, an explorer from the 1860s
who discovered the island of Dinotopia – dinosaurs and humans have a
thriving society together in friendship – and is now crossing the vast
land to the mysterious city of Chandara. The small bits of text are
surrounded by large-scale paintings of the flora and fauna of this
wonderful land.

james_painting.jpgI
was amazed by the amount of detail in the depiction of dinosaurs; for
one thing, the paintings include the proper Latin name of each dinosaur.
Gurney has clearly done his research – a lot of interesting and recent
paleontological research gets channeled into this “fictional” world.
Chandara is like an excuse to portray all of the new finds from the Gobi.

My
particular favourite is a linked set of two-page spreads right near the
beginning of the book. The adventure starts in a city named Waterfall
City, and we’re given a map of it, complete with labels for all the
buildings and geographical features. So far so good, I love that stuff.
Then you turn the page and you get a gorgeous two page spread that shows
the city itself in action. You have to turn the page back and forth,
checking to see what each item is. It was a neat effect, and, oddly,
better than if the map had been an inset right next to the big blow-up.

I
would highly recommend the blog that Gurney set up for the book tour
associated with this latest Dinotopia entry. The blog’s called Gurney Journey
(also available on the Amazon page for the book) and it seems like he
knows everyone in the illustration AND paleontology worlds. But he
doesn’t seem to be much of a pretentious guy – it’s all a big community
of excitable creative types, which makes me a little envious. And the
blog itself feels generous, with lots of advice on drawing techniques,
how to put an immense project together, keeping motivated, etc. I also
like his bits on inspiration: I actually found his blog by way of a
particular post that’s still the best of them all, Cracking Paint and City Streets. I used to love drawing maps and making castles in the mud and such when I was a kid, so this struck a chord for me.

So,
on its own, there’s not much to fault with the latest Dinotopia
venture. It’s got lovely paintings to look at, a story that gives an
excuse to wander through various landscapes, and the book itself is put
together beautifully. Does it add up to more than that? I was more moved
by the book than I thought I would; that’s partly my inner child
speaking, marvelling at the creatures and maps and funny details. But
more than that, it’s an odd, singular vision presented in the Dinotopia
world, and I respond to worlds that are portrayed so coherently and so
lovingly.

**************

Gurney’s blog is still up and running after all these years, and he’s still posting fascinating material.
And I’m using this article as the first in an occasional series about blogging authors… there are lots to choose from, but I want to highlight some of my favourites, and particularly I want to point to some authors (and their books) who I would not have read or enjoyed without the influence of their blog. Gurney is definitely one of them!

Categories: Science-Fiction

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