The Speculative Dinosaur Project


Those of you with long memories might remember that I was involved in the Speculative Dinosaur Project back when I was in high school. The project is moribund now, but it’s still getting attention. Nikolay Kilyachkov is one such attention-giver, and kindly asked me some questions about Specworld.

1. When did the Specworld project begin?

The Speculative Dinosaur Project began in 2001 with this thread on the Dinosaur Mailing List.

2. What idea lay in the beginning of Specworld project?

“What if the KT extinction didn’t happen?”

  1. How Spec team gathered together? Did you look for them or did they come up themselves?

The original Spec collaborators were contributors to that DML thread, but after we started our own web page, other people found us. The primary collaborators to the original Speculative Dinosaur Project were me (Daniel Bensen doing webhosting and editing), David Marjanovic (science), Brian Choo (writing), and Tiina Aumala (art and web design), with a few other people contributing bits and pieces.

  1. How was the work over the project organized?

We all contributed pictures and descriptions of species. I was the editor and had final veto power. David had the best grasp of science, so he also had a lot of veto power. Tiina ended up with final say over creature designs because she was the best artist of us. Brian gave the world a lot of its humor.

  1. Where did you get the ideas for Spec?

Sometimes we tried to illustrate concepts in biology using fictional creatures (baleen-squids, for example). Other species were extensions of Mesozoic clades (like the draks). Some were jokes, like Brian’s “dire rhea.”

  1. What Spec creature / idea / text did you like most?

My favorite organism is the paintree. I like how it tied together several species into a believable ecosystem.  (a close second is the rectal probe)

7. What Spec idea you really liked, did not finally appear on Spec site?

I was the editor. Everything I liked ended up on the site 🙂

  1. It seems that Spec is devoid of creatures that could ever become sentient. No apes, no corvidae, no troodontids. Was it a deliberate decision?

Yes. We decided early on that Spec would be a playground for speculative BIOLOGY, not speculative ANTHROPOLOGY. So no sapient dinosaurs. But if we had any, they would probably have looked like this.

  1. After all, what happened to Spec troodontids? 🙂

We kept them dumb. Sapients are bad for megafauna! 🙂

  1. It appears that the first versions of Spec had more ankylosaurs, including some aquatic forms. Why were they dismissed afterwards?

I deleted the aquatic ankylosaurs to make the Australian nodosaurs more interesting.

  1. Were there plans to do something from the project? A book, a film, a computer game? Why did they fail?

Yes, we did want to publish a book along the lines of After Man. The closest we got was in a magazine called the Prehistoric Times. I also tried to write a science fiction book set on Spec, hoping to get THAT published and leverage it into publication of a Spec field guide.

That ambition led me into fiction writing, which is my current passion. Petrolea and Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen owe a lot to the Speculative Dinosaur Project.

  1. When and why did you depart from the project?

I left in 2004-2005 when I went to college. I no longer had time to keep up with my editing duties.

  1. Why was the original Spec website abandoned?

I couldn’t find anybody else to replace me as webmaster and editor.

  1. Do you follow the work on Spec world that has been done after the main website failed? If yes, what do you think of it?

I don’t keep up much. I hear that the new contributors have added back in a lot of clades that we made extinct (such as pterosaurs), which I think is a mistake. We got rid of pterosaurs, champsosaurs, and others because we wanted Spec to look different from the Cretaceous.

  1. Have you been engaged in some other alternative evolution project?

 Yes. Petrolea is based on the speculative biology question: “what if self-replicating robots evolved into an ecosystem”?

I also have two as-yet unpublished books with a lot of speculative biology:

New Frontiers is based on aliens with different reproductive strategies from humans.

Junction takes place on a world where different alien ecologies compete with each other.

My next project, tentatively titled Fellow Tetrapod, features a Star-Trek-style federation of alternate Earths, each with sapient species that evolved from a different lineage.

  1. What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on an alternate history noir novel called The Centuries Unlimited. It’s about 1/3 done. I’m also going to write a short story for the sequel to the Tales from Alternate Earths anthology.

  1. What other alternative evolution projects you like most? Which of them, you think, are most important for the genre?

Of course I love After Man, which is also the single most important speculative biology work ever. I’m also a fan of Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s Expedition, Harald Stumpke’s Snouters, the planet Fuhara, and Memo Kosemen’s Snaiad.

  1. How do you assess the impact of Specworld project on our world? 🙂

We created you guys! What would you be fans of if not us? 🙂

But seriously, I think we did some good educational work. A lot of Spec’s contributors and fans went on to become real paleontologists and biologists.

  1. Are there plans to restore Specworld website?

Not that I know of. I hope some day I’ll figure out how to get paid for it, and then I’ll do the work myself. 🙂

Thank you very much for your interesting questions. If you or your followers have any questions, please send them to me. You can also contact me through my website, twitter, or tumblr.

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