Thursday, April 21, 2022

Book Review: Pteranodon Canyon (2022)

Do you like the Old West? Do you like dinosaurs? Or perhaps even both? If so, you'll love author Tim Meyer's new novel Pteranodon Canyon.

The Plot

In an Old West where dinosaurs survived west of the Mississippi and have made life...interesting...for the settlers, the conservationist-leaning federal government has just heavily restricted the hunting of pteranodons. To deal with illegal hunting, the feds hire bounty hunter Charlie Archer, who has a very personal grudge against the outlaw Francis Burner. Acquiring two companions along the way--the female gunslinger Elinor Watts and the mysterious Finn Hampton--Archer sets off on his mission, facing threats both reptilian and human along the way.

The Good

*The book is fast-moving and fun to read. I read a lot of it on the elliptical at the gym and it's a fast read. It's never boring.

*The timing for laws against dinosaur poaching does make sense historically. Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 and the conservation movement was very active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The possibility of dinosaurs--extinct in the Old World and in much of the New--being threatened in their last surviving redoubt could potentially galvanize the conservation movement even earlier than in our history.

*Meyer's use of Old West dialogue is clever and as far as I know, period-accurate.

*Meyer also clearly knows and loves dinosaurs. His descriptions of the animals and how they hunt is well-done.

The Bad

*There are some plot threads that could be developed more deeply. I'm not going to go too deeply for reasons of spoilers, but late in the book certain medicinal uses of pteranodon parts come up. I don't recall this being discussed earlier in the book.

*Also being vague here for reasons for spoilers, but one character has lost a body part to another character and bears a grudge over that. During their inevitable confrontation they rant in very specific detail about how this has hurt their life, but I don't recall those specifics coming up in earlier scenes featuring the character.

*Finally, the U.S. and Old West seem pretty much the same despite there being a surviving dinosaur population. Assuming there was no impact beyond the Americas (no pterosaurs making their way to Europe via Iceland and Greenland?), European colonization, the Native American cultures, etc. are going to be very different with dinosaurs being around. No attempts to weaponize the dinosaurs during the Mexican War or Civil War? No attempts at dinosaur domestication? What impact did mega-carnivores have on the bison? Meyer could have gone in a lot of different directions with this. Obviously he can't go too far and create a totally unrecognizable world if he wants a Western with dinosaurs, but there could've been Easter Eggs like references to Sherman setting loose raptors on his March to the Sea to further devastate whatever Confederate livestock he couldn't steal or Lewis and Clark bringing dinosaurs back to Washington D.C. to show Thomas Jefferson.

The Verdict

A fun read for the elliptical, although I'd recommend more for Kindle Unlimited borrowing than for buying. 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Movie Review: The Northman (2022)

Thanks to an online group I'm in getting perks, I was able to score early passes to see The Northman, much like I did Dune. And just like I did with Dune, you're getting an early film review out of it. :)

The Plot

In ancient Norse Ireland, King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns from raiding and slaving to his queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and young son Amleth (Oscar Novak). Treachery arrives with his brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), leaving his son to flee and vow revenge. Years later Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) is a Viking raider pillaging in modern Russia, but a religion vision reminds him of his vow of revenge. Allying with the Slavic sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), he sets off for the end of the world -- Iceland -- and a final confrontation with his uncle.

The Good

*The cinematography in this movie is simply beautiful. Even though the film is rather ponderous (more on that later), the film simply looks so good that it doesn't matter.

*The soundtrack is also marvelous. I don't claim to be a great expert on authentically Norse music, but it stylistically sounds a lot like the Scandinavian-themed and actually Scandinavian music I've found on YouTube, like the Norwegian band Wardruna.

*The film does an excellent job captured just how alien the pagan Norse are to modern Westerners. Lots of strange (and often bloody) rituals, hallucinogenic sequences, unrepentant violence, and eschewing common sense in favor of belief in Fate. From what I know about Norse history and culture, they get it all correct. The fact that it was co-written by the Icelandic poet Sjón no doubt helps quite a bit.

*The acting is generally good, particularly Bang's Fjolnir.

*There are some unexpected and creative plot twists.

The Bad

*The movie is rather slow-moving at times. It's even divided up into sequences with title cards, something I found objectionable in The Free State of Jones.

*Per the above, Skarsgård stares at the camera a lot. Although he's by no means a bad actor, he's one of the least interesting performers in the bunch.

The Verdict

Definitely worth seeing once. 8.0 out of 10.