Apr 18, 2009


The thing I love about being done university (finally!) is I can enjoy reading again. Being a teacher has added an extra push to get me turning those pages once more. Afterall if I don't role model enjoying books to future readers, who will?

It's not like I wasn't reading before, mind you. I regularly read posts and articles off 40+ websites and blogs (making for at least 10 a day). At the same time they are very different mediums, books and the net, and it is nice to shake it up between the two.

However fiction just hasn't held much appeal for me lately. I think this has to do with the sting I suffered with Harry Potter (I liked the first 3 Potter books, but the 4th was utter rubbish and turned me right off the series, and it seems fiction books as a whole) and the constant jumping of the shark or cancellations of my favourite fictional TV shows, and now if I watch TV (not very often these days) it is mostly comedy or documentaries. So I've been reading nothing but non-fiction. Which has the bonus of me learning quite a bit.

This week's book was rather compelling, so I thought I'd plug it... as though it was non fiction mimiced the goodness of a fictional book:

That would be Peter Ward's Gorgon. I bought this book back when it first came out in 2004, but as it was in the middle of my uni days I put off reading it. In my recent book blitz I unburied it on my bookshelf and dug right in.

Man I was depriving myself, it was outstanding, and I could hardly put it down throughout the week! It was not what I expected at all!

I'd picked up Gorgon thinking it would discuss the Permian period and the Proto-mammal Synapsids that ruled that world. This is one of the areas my palaeo know-how that is not quite as strong, and I'd thought this book might help fix that. Sadly the book doesn't really get into the technical side of the topics Dr. Ward looks into.

Instead the book presents a personal narrative of his delving into the mystery of the Permian extinction not so much as a scientist but as a person (though these is still plenty of science along the way!). Which is what was so compelling, the story behind the science.

In this book you get the first hand account of what it is like doing field work, research in the lab, the squabbles and obstacles of the internal politics of museums and universities, and the challenges scientists contend with when dealing with the "real" world, all the stuff that doesn't make the newspapers or TV documentaries!
I loved the way Dr. Ward never presents himself as the hero, but simply a player in the story. He gives due credit to others, and often humbly downplays his own involvement (which towards the end of the book pays off in an exciting moment when he 'finally' has his 'moment').

The book is also as much about South Africa's transformation throughout the 1990's as it is about the fossils buried in its soil. Which having studied this eras politics and history in uni, was interesting to see how the massive social changes in the country had effects on its the museums and scientists.


Though the book was based on a true story, it still followed the structure of a first person narrative, and has given me cause to think about some fiction titles in my reading pile. We follow Dr. Ward and the South African Museum's field team on a journey to track down the elusive killer of 95% of all life 250 million years ago. The best part is they (along with dozens of researchers elsewhere in the world, which Dr. Ward gives the proper head nod to when it comes up in the book) in a classic mystery novel are able to track down through the clues it left behind, the most likely cause of the extinction. Giving the book a very satisfying conclusion.

Finishing off the book in the morning on my last day off during "Autumn" break (remember our seasons are opposite down here) I had inspiration and an afternoon off to build this. The start of my ART Evolved piece for May's upcoming Synapsid gallery.

It is not finished of course, but considering my the lack of good references and lack of experience making these sorts of animals, I feel it is a promising start.

My only problem with finishing it is what texture would a Proto-mammal reptile have? Scales, skin, fur, or something else entirely?

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