Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beasts of Antiquity

So, it looks like my new book, Beasts of Antiquity: Stem-Birds In the Solnhofen Limestone (Pan Aves 2014), is now available for preorder! Well, the ebook version anyway, but that's not a bad thing (see below).

Beasts of Antiquity started life as "Age of Dragons", an idea to do a dinosaur book without really talking about "dinosaurs" (inspired partly by this post). The idea was to focus on all members of the avian stem group (and talking about the historical taxon name Dracones, hence the title), not just dinosaurs, each from a different continent or formation in different books in the series. The first was going to be focused on the stem-birds of North America and would feature many of the recent illustrations on my Web site, plus obviously a lot more. Suffice it to say this is a little ambitious for a summer project, so I decided to try releasing the whole thing piecemeal in short installments based on formation first. As I recently teased on social media, this particular concept would focus on several short, stand-alone ebooks that would later be combined with new material to form a single, print volume.

I settled on focusing on Solnhofen first, for a few reasons. One, it has decent number of stem-bird species represented, but not so many that it would take ages to research, write, and illustrate (especially since it would require nearly 100% new illustrations). Second, most of those are pterosaurs, and having last done a book on Mesozoic Birds, this felt like a refreshing change of pace. Third, I've always had an inexplicable fascination with the original specimen of Pterodactylus and its history.

Above: Comparison between the Kindle (top), iBooks (middle), and print (bottom) editions of Beasts of Antiquity: Stem-Birds In the Solnhofen Limestone.

That last bit turned out to be the idea's undoing, because what started as a brief intro/historical background for one taxon ended up as a long exploration of the history of study and interpretation of pterosaurs! I no longer had a 20-30 page ebook on my hands, this was a 100+ page proper book. Add a few chapters on the history and geology of the Solnhofen Formation itself, and I ended up with a sort of less-technical than usual primer on one historically important center for the development of paleontology and our understanding of bird-line archosaurs. There have been other books written on Solnhofen, but this is intended to be more of a synthesis of current research and understanding of it and its stem-bird fauna accessible to a general audience. The name of one of the first pterosaur papers inspired the title for this book and ultimately for the whole series: Beasts of Antiquity.

Though this was originally meant to be an ebook-only project, a print version is coming (very) soon, but the ebook versions will debut first. The book is now available for preorder for both iBooks and Kindle. Both feature the full BoA experience found in the print book, but there is a caveat. One of the main reasons I didn't do a proper ebook versions of Mesozoic Birds is that this kind of illustration-focused, layout-heavy book is not really conducive to the standard ebook style of free-flowing text and in-line illustrations. Work arounds are possible as happened for the Kindle edition, but it definitely does not look as snazzy on the Kindle.

iBooks, on the other hand, offers authoring tools that allow better locking-in of the layout and images. For that reason, the iBooks version not only has a much nicer look and feel than the Kindle ebook, it ended up matching or at times rivaling the experience of the print version! Unfortunately, this superior layout can only be read on iPads and your computer screen. If you read ebooks on Kindle devices or your phone, the Kindle version is completely serviceable and will actually give you more options than iBooks to control font size, landscape vs. portrait orientation, etc. If you have most of your ebook collection on Kindle-family devices or apps, I can fully recommend the Kindle edition of BoA. But if you really want the fully realized layout and faithful reproduction of how the print edition looks, but on a screen, I would definitely suggest at least downloading the free preview chapter from iBooks.

Just to complicate matters (I guess I don't have a shining future in sales!), if you are interested in buying the print version from when it's available in a few weeks, you will be able to get the Kindle version at a hefty discount. So if you're not big into ebooks but like the idea of having a copy of the book to go, you might want to use this option.

1 comment:

  1. That is a fantastic news! Didn't expect this book from you and I'm really looking forward to read it as soon as I can.

    Of course can't wait to see what drawings you did this time too.
    Hope to hear something more about it.