Sunday, October 31, 2021

Fun with FanExpo

 Yesterday I dropped in on Denver FanExpo, formerly Denver Pop Culture Convention, formerly ComiCon. I said hi to other writers, handed out ads for the new book, met one other Harry Dresden, and won a LARP fight (staff vs sword, three touches to two, and the experienced guy half my age CLAIMED he didn't go easy on me.)  After a year of canceled meet-ups like this, it was good to renew the inner nerd!, 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Rare African Owl: First photo in wild ever!

This is really cool, Shelly's eagle-owl (Bubo shelleyi) (aka the dark eagle-owl) was described in 1872 from a single specimen and remained very hard to find. Twenty specimens were collected over 150 years, but photos of the live owl were nonexistent, save for those of a specimen held in the Antwerp Zoo in the 1970s. The IUCN estimated the population as low as 1,500 when the species was assessed in 2018.  In October 2021, two scientists took photos in Ghana that captured the barred, brownish owl's yellow bill, black eyes, and impressive size (up to 61 cm / 24 inches long). Congratulations!

The photos are not reproduced here for copyright reasons, but Johannes Gerardus Keulemans painted it in 1875.  

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

GONE: a haunting book on vanished species

 Gone: A Search for What Remains of The World's Extinct Creatures

Blencowe, Michael (2021: Leaping Hare Press, 192pp.)

What remains of a species after it has gone extinct? In this moving book, Blencowe introduces us to 11 extinct species. He offers a history of how each one became extinct and travels to see for himself what remains have been preserved. Most memorably, he goes to a Danish museum to look in the eyes – just the eyes, preserved in a jar – of the last two Great Auks ever to live.  (Their hearts are there, too, but the skins went to other museums.) In another museum (there’s a list and map in the backmatter), Blencowe looks at the head and foot that comprise the only soft tissue remains of the dodo. 

Most of the extinctions are famous ones, like the dodo and Steller’s sea cow, but at the end he adds Ivell’s sea anemone, an almost-transparent invertebrate only 20mm long.  It lived on one English lagoon, where Blencowe searched for it on a child’s inflatable alligator. (Field work is not always dignified.)  

Blencowe spares no words in describing exactly what humans did to make each species vanish. Sometimes it was development (California’s Xerxes blue butterfly, killed off when the plant necessary to its diet was bulldozed), sometimes thoughtless overhunting (surely no sailor harpooning a sea cow thought they were limitless, but he faced hunger right now), and sometimes just not caring (releasing goats on Pinta Island – handy for visiting sailors but death to the island’s tortoises. 

Some of these cases are understandable because of the eras in which they happened, but understanding why sailors valued a permanent food supply over tortoises doesn’t make Blencowe’s visit to Lonesome George’s grave any less poignant.

Blencowe drives home, not in speeches but in with poignant words, that every one of these species is a warning because they didn’t have to be extinct, and the ruins of their once-vibrant bodies should remind us we can allow no more. Get the hardcover edition for more wonderful illustrations by Jade They.

Twitter: MattWriter

Friday, October 01, 2021

Meet you at MileHiCon

Writer friends: I'll be at MileHiCon, the conference for lovers of literary science fiction, in Denver this weekend to appear on two panels: Saturday at 4 is "The Year in Science News," and Sunday at 10 is "Why we Love Dinosaurs." Hope to see as many of you as possible there. I will, of course, be pressing postcard ads for my new book (out December 1!) on everyone who will take one.

Twitter: MattWriter