Wednesday, 17 July 2013

In which I review All Yesterdays

I promised a review of All Yesterdays by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen, Darren Naish, and Scott Hartman.  Here it is, folks.  Enjoy.

If I were to choose just one illustration to represent this book, it would be this one.  Apparently the authors agree with me, because they chose it for the cover of the book.   The caption says it all:  "Protoceratops climbing trees because they can".




I particularly like the style of the illustrations.   They are beautiful, almost impressionist paintings where the animals' skin texture is often rendered as spots of colour.   This picture of a plesiosaur camouflaged against a coral reef is a fine example, and is one of my favorite images from the book. 



The concept behind All Yesterdays is simple: it's an exercise in speculation.  Most palaeoart tries to show extinct species the way they really looked, to the best of the artist's ability.  All Yesterdays, in contrast, takes a look at some of the weirder possibilities and contains the kind of pictures you won't see on the Discovery Channel.   However, the speculation on display here isn't just a wild stab in the dark.  Darren Naish is a respected palaeozoologist and Conway, Kosemen, and Hartman are all experienced palaeoartists.  The images in the book are plausible and based on scientific evidence.  

This is also a book with a sense of fun.  The last section of the book is headed "All Todays", and it takes a tongue in cheek look at how palaeoartists in the distant future might reconstruct the creatures we're familiar with today. 

The authors coined the term "srinkwrapping", to refer to the practice of drawing animals with every bone and muscle visible under a thin covering of skin.  This is common practice in today's palaeoart (think the Jurassic Park dinosaurs), but it's likely not very accurate.  In modern animals it's generally not possible to make out the contours of the skeleton underneath all the fur, feathers and other soft tissue.  When you get right down to it, there's no reason to assume dinosaurs were any different.  To illustrate this point, the authors of All Yesterdays applied the shrinkwrap treatment to modern animals with hilarious results.  Can you tell what this animal is?

The teeth are the giveaway here; it's a hippo.

I absolutely, unreservedly love this book.  I love the sense of fun, the beautiful illustrations , the fact that it's thought-provoking, and most of all I love the fact that all this is packaged with a bit of wackiness.  I mean, where else are you going to see a stegosaur trying to shag a haplocanthosaurus?




If you're at all interested in dinosaurs,  palaeoart, or palaeontology, this is the book for you.  My only complaint is that it's a very short book.  I could have done with there being more of it.  All Yesterdays is available from Amazon,  and it's well worth coughing up the extra money to get a hard copy version.  The Kindle format does not work well for this book, as some of the reviewers have noted.

If you want to see more of the authors' work - and trust me, you do - they all have websites.  John Conway's art can be found here.  C.M. Kosemen has some fascinating sci-fi work online here under the pseudonym Nemo Ramjet.  Darren Naish, of course, is the author of Tetrapod Zoology.  Scott Hartman has a website too, and it's excellent.