Friday, January 28, 2011

Creature Research

Okay, now it's time for me to blog again. I was reading this article the other day on how to make your blog better, and one of the suggestions they had was to do pillar articles. That's basically when you explain how to do something in a series of short steps (usually five). This is going to be the first blog where I do that, and the topic will be on researching critters for books.

1. Know the land. Having a new land with exotic creatures is good and all, but what is the land like? What's the geography and weather, the climate and ecology like? It's no good having an animal in a land if you don't know what the land is like. You can't expect a polar bear to be happy in the Sahara, and a camel won't survive in the Arctic. You must have an idea of what kind of ecosystem the animal is used to before you write it in, whether it be prehistoric, modern, or legendary.

2. Make a list. When coming up with a new place for a story, it helps me to know what kind of bestiary the land has in my imagination. When I write down what I'd like to see there, it helps me to know what I need to research and leave the others to the side. This brings us to our third step.

3. Do research. Writing about animals is good and all, but how much do you really know about them? It helps to read about the animals you'd like to write into your story so you know how to make them seem realistically. Suppose you want to write about Triceratops. You can't make it out to be a bloodthirsty monster living in the desert, because no one would believe that. You need to find out what it's home was like sixty-five million years ago, what it probably ate, what it's social behavior was probably like, etc. With creatures that never existed, you should read what you can about them, and try to make them seem believable for your story.

4. Decide what's going into the story. Now that you've done your research, you can decide which critter you really want in your story. Just make sure it'll help with the plot in some way. For example, in my book it was due to the appearance of a Great Lizard (known as Megalosaurus in our world) that caused Josun to head out on his adventures. Once you're sure of what's going to go into the story, you're ready for the final step.

5. Write. Now you can actually do your story. Be sure your critters are as believable as possible, and then put your story down on paper.

This doesn't just apply to animals. It's important to do research on humans if you're creating a world based off ancient societies. If you don't know how things were done in ancient times, you risk doing a bad story.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Top 10 Movies of 2010

I know I'm late again, but finding the balance of time in College is easier said than done. I'll try to blog when I can. To follow up with books that I'm looking forward to this year, I thought I'd blog about what movies I liked that aired last year, and why I enjoyed them.

10. The Last Airbender. Based off the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, this movie follows Katara and her brother Sokka as they find a person frozen in an iceberg, who turns out to be Aang the Airbender. Aang's the Avatar who's been missing for 100 years, and the Fire Nation wants to capture him to stop him from preventing their conquest of the world. The three friends flee to the North Pole so Aang can master Water Bending and stop the Fire Nation from conquering the Water Tribes. This movie didn't seem as great on the big screen, and after I watched the animated series, decided I like the TV show better. They had some of the stuff in the film right, but not all.

9. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The first book in the series comes to life as Percy Jackson finds out his father is the Greek god Poseidon and goes on a quest across America to rescue his mother and recover Zeus's Master Bolt before the Summer Solstice. I enjoyed the book, and was severely disappointed with how different the film was.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The first part of the final Harry Potter story, Voldemort is getting stronger and starting to force the Wizarding World to accept his views and ideas (using tactics that in the books reminded me of Europe in World War II). Harry, Ron, and Hermoine all leave school to search for the Horcruxes, which allow Voldemort to live, and destroy them. Very true to the book, but some places were pretty sad.

7. Alice in Wonderland. The newest adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic story, but this time with an actual story. This movie features Alice as a grown-up who's about to get married, but falls back into Wonderland (but called Underland in the film, as it was in the original story) and rejoins her old friends in an attempt to free Underland from the evil Red Queen. I enjoyed this movie's story, visual effects, and the cast who portrayed each of the characters, but I still like the animated version since I grew up with that.

6. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This movie is based off the video game series The Prince of Persia, and follows the adventures of Dastan, who seeks to clear his name of his father's murder and save Persia from his wicked uncle. I was disappointed with the adaptation of Super Mario Bros., but even though I haven't played the games this film was adapted from, I thought they made a good story about the strength of brothers.

5. Shrek Forever After. The final story of Shrek's adventures, the ogre this time finds himself in a mid-life crisis because nobody fears him anymore. The sly Rumpelstiltskin offers Shrek a day off in exchange for a day he can't remember. Shrek agrees, and ends up in a story similar to It's a Wonderful Life when he finds himself in a timeline where he never existed, and he has to undo the spell before a full day has gone by. I thought this was a good ending for Shrek's adventures.

4. The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Based off the short from Fantasia, this film features a sorcerer named Balthazar Blake who finds an apprentice in New York City and works to train him to stop the sorcerer Horvath from unleashing Morgana le Fay who wants to take over the world. This film had a good story to it and was very humorous. Still, I think I'll always like the original version.

3. TRON: Legacy. The long awaited sequel to the 1980's movie, this film features a teenager named Sam whose father Kevin was missing for several years. Finding a secret room in his Dad's arcade, he gets beamed into a virtual world with programs who act like people and has to get his Dad out before a rogue program called Clu uses him to escape into the real world. I thought the original film had a good story to it, and I enjoyed seeing how the sequel improved on it.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Based off the book by C.S. Lewis, this story brings Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace to Narnia where they join Caspian's voyage to find the Seven Lost Lords. Along the way, they learn of a green mist from Dark Island that threatens to destroy the light in this world, and the only way to stop it is to gather seven swords that Aslan gave to protect Narnia and lay them at Aslan's Table. Different from the book in many ways, I still enjoyed the film and thought it was better than the book. They had several funny moments and brought the characters to life in great ways. I especially liked Eustace's reactions to being in a magical world. I hope they will continue to adapt the Narnia stories as films.

1. Tangled. I've grown up on Disney animated films (I don't know anybody who hasn't), and the story Rapunzel was one I wished they would adapt so they could have all the major fairy tales as films. When I learned that it was going to be released as Tangled, I was very disappointed. I thought they changed the title to try and market the film to boys as well, but that wasn't the case. Disney said they retitled it because it features Rapunzel and Flynn Rider as the main characters. I decided to give the film a chance, and I'm glad I did. This is one fairy tale that was worth the 80 year wait of Disney animated films. There isn't a Disney collection that would be complete without it.

There were several other films I saw that I enjoyed, but they're not on this list because I didn't see them in theaters. I hope that the new year will bring more wonderful stories to the big screen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Birds of Terror

We all know what birds are. They're warm-blooded creatures that have feathers, can fly, sing, and are pretty friendly (unless you happen to be a rodent facing a bird of prey). There were times when fierce birds roamed the Earth. Throughout the Cenozoic era (the time period after the dinosaurs up to now), the world has seen ferocious predators known as Terror Birds.

Terror Birds is a term given to a large, flightless, predatory bird. They can be as tall as a person, or even taller. What separates these birds from other giant flightless birds like the ostrich is their beaks. They were thick and powerful, perfect for bringing prey down. If they were still alive, pets would most likely be on the menu (maybe even people).

One of the earliest terror birds was Gastornis (known in North America as Diatryma). Gastornis stood about as tall as a person (sometimes even taller by six inches), had a beak built like an upside down canoe, and was top predator of its time. It lived during the late Paleocene and the Eocene eras in what is now North America and Europe. During this time, mammals were still small and had not yet risen to power. This was the time when birds were in charge. Gastornis was capable of eating what it wanted, mainly small mammals like Propaleotherium and Eohippus (which would later evolve into horses). However, as time went by, mammalian predators would evolve, and probably were able to out-do the Gastornis. Inability to adapt is probably what caused Gastornis to pass on into extinction.

Years later, during the late Pliocene era, another Terror bird would appear in what would become South America. This Terror Bird, known scientifically as Phorusrhacos, stood about eight feet tall and had legs built for running. It also had the honor of being the first to receive the nickname Terror Bird since its discovery in 1887, but wouldn't be recognized as a bird until four years later. Phorusrhacos probably hunted small mammals like Gastornis, but these probably were limited to offspring. I think there are two possibilities for why it went extinct:
1) It got out-competed by Smilodon (better known as the Saber-Tooth Tiger).
2) It couldn't adapt to the Ice Ages.
Whatever the reason, these birds would've made family outings to South America a bad idea.

There are many more terror birds in the fossil record, but those two are easily the best known thanks to the documentary Walking with Beasts. These two have become some of my favorite Terror Birds, but if any others catch my interest, I'll be sure to blog about them. In the meantime, here's a little tribute to Terror Birds in popular media:
I will say this: I don't think the Earth has seen the last of the Terror Birds. In my opinion, if we wait long enough, the secretary bird of Africa might evolve into the world's newest Terror Bird. But like I said, it's only a guess. We may never know if such predators will walk on the planet again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I've just learned of the title for the new book in the Kane Chronicles: The Throne of Fire. I won't reveal too much in case you want to read the story, but if you want to find out more click here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another Late Post

I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for being so bad with posting on this blog. With school back in session, I need to find a time balance so I can get all my schoolwork done and find time to do the things I want. Hopefully I'll be able to do that before too much time passes away.
I probably should've done this at the beginning of the year, but we're still early, so better do this now. With 2011 here, we've got some interesting new books coming out that continue good series. Here are some I'm looking forward to:

1. Adventurers Wanted: The Horn of Moran. Continuing the adventures from Adventurers Wanted: Slathbog's Gold, the young Alex Taylor goes on another adventure with some of his friends to find the Horn of Moran in order to save a kingdom from destruction. However, Alex is being plagued by some unusual nightmares. What could they mean?

2. Goliath. Possibly the last book in the Leviathan series, the stories take place in an alternate reality where they have walking war machines instead of tanks, and Darwin didn't just theorize evolution, but discovered DNA. Alek is the son of the murdered Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and is still involved in the Great War (World War 1), along with midshipman Dylan Sharp (who's really a girl named Deryn Sharp) aboard the fabricated airship, who witness the war take place and both play a role that could turn the tide of the war.

3. Kingdom Keepers IV: Power Play. The newest book in the Kingdom Keepers series continues the adventures of a group of unlikely friends who sign up to be holographic hosts at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, but they find out they become their holographic hosts when they go to sleep at night. The team has to work together to stop the Overtakers, a group of Disney villains who want to take over the park (and possibly the world). In this newest adventure, the Kingdom Keepers search in Epcot for their missing mentor, but have a run in with the newest Overtaker...Judge Claude Frollo!

4. Beyonders: A World Without Heroes. Written by Brandon Mull, author of the bestselling Fablehaven series, this book is about a boy named Jason who gets pulled into another world called Lyrian along with a girl named Rachel. Here they discover that an evil emperor rules with an iron fist and has crushed all resistance, allowing fear and suspicion to dwell in the hearts of the people. In order to get home, Jason and Rachel will have to find the secret to the emperor's weakness and save this world without heroes.

5. Book 2 of the Kane Chronicles, a series in which two siblings, Carter and Sadie, find out that they are descendants of Egyptian magicians and the gods of Egypt are coming back to the world. In their previous adventure, their father, Julius Kane, accidently unleashed Set from the Rosetta Stone while trying to summon Osiris, and they had to stop him from turning North America into another Sahara by journeying to Set's Red Pyramid. In the sequel (not yet named), the two of them have to find the Book of Ra, but the bad guys are out to stop them. If you want to learn more about Egyptian mythology but don't want to indulge in tedious reading, this is the book to pick up. Oh, and if you liked the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (which focuses on Greek mythology) and the first book in the sequel series (The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, which focuses on Roman mythology), the second book in the new series, The Son of Neptune, comes out this year as well.

I hope some of you are looking forward to some of these books like I am. If you haven't heard of these series before, now you've got some books to check out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Apologies (and review)

My apologies to everyone, I know I've been meaning to update, but the holidays have been keeping me real busy. To make up for lost times, here's a review for one of my favorite stories.

Since the release of the live-action adaptations of Tolkien's epic, people across the world have come to know the heroes Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, and the rest of the Fellowship of the ring. However, the story that came before the legend is in a league of its own. The story I refer to is, of course, The Hobbit.
This story follows the adventures of Frodo's adoptive father, Bilbo Baggins, whose quiet life in the Shire is ruined when Gandalf the wizard comes with an adventure for him (which he wants nothing to do with, as they make one late for dinner). However, later that week, he gets a bunch of strange visitors: a band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, who are friends with Gandalf. Bilbo learns that they plan to take back their home and treasure, which was stolen by the great dragon Smaug, and they want Bilbo's help to steal back parts of the treasure at a time. Greatly reluctant at first, Bilbo agrees to go with them.
As Bilbo and his new friends journey through the northern lands of Middle-Earth, they encounter trolls, elves, and goblins along the way. During one misadventure, Bilbo encounters Gollum, who accuses him of stealing his precious (the One Ring, which Bilbo found on accident). Bilbo manages to escape Gollum, and later proves his worth when he saves his friends in the forest of Mirkwood.
Despite all his accomplishments, nothing can prepare Bilbo for when they make it to the dwarves former home, The Lonely Mountain. Smaug proves to be more terrible and wicked than Bilbo thought, for after Bilbo steals from his hoard, Smaug goes on a terrible rampage and destroys Esgaroth (also known as Lake-town). A few days later, Bilbo and his friends learn that Smaug was slain by a man named Bard, and armies of elves and men had come for a claim of the treasure. Thorin, by now, has become obsessed with the treasure, and refuses to yield any of it. Conflict seems inevitable, especially when dwarves from the Iron Hills come to aid Thorin.
Just before either side can start fighting, Gandalf alerts them to an incoming army of goblins who are bound determined to take the land for themselves. The three armies unite to stand against the goblins, but during the fighting, Bilbo is knocked unconscious and doesn't come to until the battle is over. A few of Bilbo's friends have perished, and Bilbo grows to dislike the aftermath of a battle. Good times do come though, as a new alliance is made between the men, the elves, and the dwarves. Bilbo is given some treasure for his efforts and he finally returns to his nice Hobbit hole.
This story is easily one of my favorites, because it tells of a person who has to leave his comfortable life and go on a long and hard journey. The character grows and matures more than he could ever do at home, and he (unknowingly) finds the key for the future of Middle-Earth. This is definitely one story that will never get old, no matter how much time passes. I recommend this book for any fantasy lover.