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Dragon, the video game, is running a Kickstarter campaign right now. Grant Williams of Red Level Games is raising money to produce the game, in which players move through an open landscape having adventures. It sounds pretty familiar, except that in this game you play the dragon.

Your actions will lead to either a savage or an enlightened society. So although it’s being hyped as Grand Theft Auto meets Skyrim, I think you could equally say Black and White meets Skyrim. Much as I enjoy Skyrim, I hope the mechanics for controlling a dragon in flight are more fluid here.

Still, I can hardly resist any game where I get to play a dragon! The Kickstarter is about half way to its goal, so I hope a few of you will consider supporting it and/or passing the word along to your friends who love dragons. There are roughly two weeks left in the campaign.

Click here if you want to find out more.

The Dinosaur Court was a wonder of Victorian England, but by the 1950s the site had fallen into obscurity. People knew the sculptures were still there, though it was hard to see them with all the brush that had grown up. However, people everywhere adore their dinosaurs, and the people of London didn’t forget them forever.

The first major restoration began in 1952, under the direction of Victor H. C. Martin. This involved removing vegetation and cleaning the concrete sculptures. Unfortunately, in some ways, Martin did more harm than good. Many of the sculptures, mainly of the mammals, were moved to a location where they would be more visible. This location was also more exposed, so that the figures began to deteriorate more quickly. Some of them were painted, which had not originally been done. Finally, in the 1960s, a limestone cliff that formed the backdrop was destroyed by explosives.

A second, even more extensive renovation began in 2002. This included building a new cliff and changing the paint to better reflect current science. Alas, some of the sculptures had been badly damaged, especially in the tails and toes. Most of them were patched or repaired with new cast pieces. A few could not even be located. Fiberglass replicas were created for these.

Today, the Dinosaur Court is once again a London landmark. Families and tourists flock to see these amazing heritage sculptures.

The Dinosaur Court of Crystal Palace Park was actually more of a menagerie. It included extinct mammals and some creatures we no longer consider to be true dinosaurs. They were divided roughly by age (as it was then understood) and placed on three islands in an artificial lake, where water levels could be raised or lowered to show more of the sculptures at certain times.

The sculptor, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, made every effort to depict dinosaurs in a realistic and accurate way. He consulted with top scientists of the day, including Sir Richard Owen, who first gave dinosaurs their name. Looking back from another century and a half of dinosaur science, it’s easy to laugh at the grotesquely squat Iguanodons, and the Ichthyosaurs basking on the shore like seals. It’s important to remember that Hawkins did his best with the limited knowledge then available.

The dinosaur installation was much talked about, and an immediate success at its unveiling in 1854. Hawkins made good money selling smaller replica sets for classroom use. Unfortunately, the creation of each sculpture was expensive and time consuming. Crystal Palace Park operators began cutting Hawkins’ budget as early as 1855. Ultimately he gave up on the project. Several more models that were in process were destroyed, despite a public outcry.

Hawkins went on to other achievements, including the first mounting of a dinosaur skeleton in the United States. Crystal Palace Park remained a popular destination for a time, but inevitably public tastes and world events moved on. There were fires at various times, including one in 1936 that destroyed the Crystal Palace itself. During World War II, other parts of the exhibit were taken down so that German bomber pilots couldn’t use them as a reference point.

After this, true neglect set in. Brush grew high enough to hide the figures from view. Other parts of Crystal Palace Park continued to see use, particularly the sports arena. Still, it seemed the world had forgotten the Dinosaur Court.

The story of this landmark continues on Tuesday. See you then.

The Dinosaur Court

Back in 1851, the British Empire was so powerful that it held its own World’s Fair. This Great Exhibition was housed in a remarkable structure of cast iron and glass dubbed the Crystal Palace. (Although, personally, I think it looked more like a gigantic greenhouse.) At the end of the Great Exhibition, investors bought the Crystal Palace and moved it to a site in South London, where it became the centerpiece of Crystal Palace Park, a major tourist destination. The Dinosaur Court was commissioned as part of the landscaping there.

The Dinosaur Court was born of an ambitious and original concept: constructing life-sized models of extinct animals for the education and entertainment of the public. Prior to this, most scientific work was done behind the doors of universities and a few exclusive gentlemen’s clubs. However, dinosaurs had been the subject of public fascination from the earliest recognition of what their fossils represented, in the 1840s. Dinosaur sculptures would have been a sure winner for the park, even without the effort at accurate science.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, who had been one of the directors of the Great Exhibition, was hired by the Crystal Palace Park to design and construct their Dinosaur Court. He consulted with noted paleontologists to make these models as accurate as possible, then spent months sculpting and casting concrete to create the final versions.

Although they look all wrong to us now, Hawkins’ dinosaurs were enormously influential. For nearly 100 years, they were the essential image of a dinosaur. On Saturday, I’ll talk more about their history. Meantime, here’s an image of the Megalosaur, taken by C. P. G. Grey in 2005.

London_-_Crystal_Palace_-_Victorian_Dinosaurs_1

It’s here! January 16th is Appreciate A Dragon Day, 2016. This holiday was created by Christian children’s writer Donita K. Paul in 2004 to commemorate the publication of her novel, Dragonspell. This was the first in her award-winning Dragonkeeper series.

Paul called upon her readers and fans to recognize the significance of dragons in cultures all over the world. She urged participants to choose one special dragon character and re-create it for others, explaining why the dragon is your favorite. Her web site includes a number of suggestions, such as puppetry, classroom or library activities, and various art projects.

How can I resist? My favorite dragon is Mnementh, the first speaking dragon character in another first-of-series book, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. This, of course, was the first in her ground-breaking Pern series. I read it as a teen. Until then, I had heard and read only of evil, destructive dragons. The idea that dragons and riders could bond in a friendship that nothing could destroy was captivating.

Mnementh was a bronze dragon who stayed calm and carried on while all the humans were getting frantic. He set the standard for me, and I went on to write lots of Pern fan fiction in my twenties and thirties. Many friends I met during that time are still close today. My husband, for one!

So here’s a toast to Mnementh and his writer, Anne McCaffrey.

Ms. Paul has gone on to create several other series. Check them out at her official web site.

Coming up on January 16th, it’s Appreciate a Dragon Day! In the spirit of the commemoration, I here offer ten things we should appreciate about our dragons.

10) Dragons are great and faithful guardians, whether you’re protecting a sacred artifact or some foolish enemy has threatened your family. They hardly ever eat their owners.

9) The lair is always toasty warm, even in the hearth of winter.

8) Dragons are excellent bankers. However, clients who default on their loans will be eaten.

7) Other monsters will never dare to attack you. Even some godlings will think twice.

6) Dragons are very wise and give excellent advice no matter how often you ignore it. There’s no better tutor for a future dictator or master wizard.

5) They are long-lived and can carry out your revenge for generations.

4) Dragons are very effective for clearing forests to plant new crops, or making sure enemy strongholds are properly razed.

3) They can eat anything, from thieving goblins to political prisoners to swamp demons.

2) Dragons are practically indestructible and can do battle under the most extreme conditions. Land, air or sea? Glacier or desert? No problem!

1) Incomparable beauty and terror. Dragons are the ultimate symbol of power, whether worldly or spiritual.

There you have it — all the great things to appreciate about our wonderful dragon friends!

We return to the alt-future Los Angeles of Van Eekhout’s Daniel Blackland trilogy for the con of a lifetime and the finale. If you haven’t read these books, perhaps you should skip the rest of this post because of spoilers.

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Ready?

At the end of Pacific Fire, Daniel and his adopted son, Sam, were racing each other for the right to sacrifice their own lives in order to destroy the pacific firedrake created by a consortium of bad guys (and one not so bad). Which is, by the way, one of the best father/son scenes I’ve read in years. Sam won the dubious honor. His personality now inhabits a fire-breathing monster that roams the kingdom of Southern California torching neighborhoods because it can.

Daniel has gathered a posse to try and somehow get Sam out of the dragon’s body. They include old friends Moth, Cassandra, and Sam’s sort-of girlfriend Em. After a failed rescue attempt, guerilla fighters from the enemy kingdom of Northern California swoop in to abduct the firedrake. Now the race is on. Joined by the not-so-bad mage, Gabriel Argent, and his BFF, Max the magic-hound, Daniel heads north to get the one object that can save Sam.

This he does by impersonating his clone-brother, Paul, who met his fate at the end of Pacific Fire. To be fair, Paul tried to kill Daniel but Daniel turned the tables. Now Daniel has to navigate the treacherous waters of Paul’s life, including mentors, friends, lovers,  and Paul’s four-year-old daughter (a monstrosity in her own right). Not to mention the mother who left Daniel behind all those years ago. Virtually everyone is insanely ambitious, and some of them keep trying to kill him.

Meanwhile, Sam struggles and fails to stop the firedrake’s rampages. He encounters a young woman named Annabel, one of the original Hierarch’s numberless victims. Together they search for answers, penetrating the thickets of the dragon’s brain, only to confront their mutual worst nightmare. All this while Cassandra, Gabriel and Max face their own moments of decision between loyalty and justice.

As in previous books, there’s a lot of crazy magic and horrific references, leavened by snappy banter. The caper moves throughout. But this series is really about characters who lay it all on the line for family and friendship. Add in the pacific firedrake, and there’s not much more you could ask for.

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