BLENDING FACT AND FANTASY FOR FUN AND PROFIT
I’ve been a huge dinosaur fan since I was a toddler. I’ve been a history buff for almost as long. So when I set out to write the book I’d most want to read in the whole world, I picked one where knights ride dinosaurs. Surprise!
And I wanted real dinosaurs. Not made-up monsters. The dinosaurs of today barely resemble the sluggish tail-draggers I grew up loving. But I love these modern versions with their dynamic horizontal postures and their feathers even more.
So I designed Paradise, the planet where the stories are set, with conditions similar to Earth’s during the Mesozoic (mostly, hotter, but still with cold regions) and filled it with dinosaurs, plants, and other animals from the period that aren’t dinosaurs: marine reptiles, pterosaurs, a few early small mammals.
I have creatures coexisting – aside from, well, humans and dinosaurs – that lived further apart in time than we do from the last non-avian dinosaurs. I try to match what we know about their environmental niches and dietary habits with their habitats on Paradise. I also strive to maintain appropriate predator-prey relationships – it takes a lot of plant-eaters to keep one carnivore alive.
I build my dinosaurs according to the best paleontological information I can find. Theropods –mostly carnivorous bipeds like T. rex and Deinonychus – all have feathers, at some stage of their lives. Big plant eaters like Triceratops, Parasaurolophus, and of course monstrous sauropods like Diplodocus and (yay! she’s back!) Brontosaurus, mostly do not. And Velociraptor is the size of a coyote, not a bald monster as big as a grown man.
Of course, there are things paleontology can’t yet tell us. That’s where imagination comes in. And yes, my sense of what’s cool – which has long been my own best guide to what my readers will enjoy.
As for my human characters – SF/F writers love history. Because it’s full of cool, lurid stories. The names of the rival families who fought the War of the Roses – York and Lancaster – sound oddly familiar to fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones because they’re largely based on it. David Drake, a writer whose work I much enjoy, flat-out admits he cribs his plots from historical sources, since he says he can’t cook up plots near as good as those he finds in history.
Because real history gives us a template how cultures and societies worked at given levels of technology.
And because – and this is key – it’s not copyrighted.
Yeah. I’m saying we steal from history. Ruthlessly. Joyously, even.
For example, the opening battle in The Dinosaur Lords as well as its political context are lifted straight out of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Karyl Bogomirskiy, one of my protagonists, is modeled on Albrecht von Wallenstein, a mercenary commander whose very proficiency scared his Imperial employers so much they had him assassinated.
While I lift from all history, I especially steal from the European Renaissance. Not just because it’s the basic template for Nuevaropa, the empire in which the trilogy takes place, but because its characters and events tended to be larger than life – from the Borgias and Medicis to the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo (and of course, a personal favorite, the diarist, master craftsman, street fighter, and thoroughgoing scoundrel Benvenuto Cellini.) It’s rife with spectacular intrigues, horrors, lurid sex, wars and more intimate murders. Some of my events are based on the Albigensian Crusade (yes, a little before the Renaissance), and on Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities – as well as the lesser-known and unutterably creepy Procession of the Innocents, which preceded it.
What I do in The Dinosaur Lords, and all my works to some extent, is try to build settings that are both exciting and feel plausible, and then interesting characters to play out their stories against those backdrops. So I take real-life dinosaurs, and real-life history, and mix them liberally with my fancy and imagination.
I hope you enjoy the result. I do.
The Dinosaur Knights, the sequel to The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán, is in fine bookstores today!
Put on your armor and ride a dino!
Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel bestselling author Terry Brooks calls, “a fine tale by a talented writer.” He also edited the bestselling anthology Unfettered.