Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dragon Biology

Peggy at the science fiction in biology blog mentioned Bitterwood today in a post about biologically plausible dragons. Alas, the link she points readers to is broken. I suspect she was directing them to a post I wrote over a year ago called "Building a Better Dragon." This essay examines some of the underlying biological plausibility of my beasties, such as why I went with a four limbed dragon instead of a six limbed one, and why my dragons don't breathe fire.

Peggy's article mainly talks about an Animal Planet fake documentary about dragons that came out a few years ago. I saw it right around the time Bitterwood came out. It was interesting, but they really bent over backwards to explain the dragon fire-breathing. They are correct to point out that animals can produce methane and hydrogen in their digestive tracks, but, as Peggy's blog points out, what's going to ignite it when the dragon burps it up? Cow's burp out enough methane to be potential firebreathing menaces, but they have failed, alas, to develop teeth made from flint and steel.

However! Frat boys have for many years lit their farts with lighters. Suppose you had a vegetarian dinosaur that could belch out twenty times as much methane as a cow, and suppose that that dinosaur had evolved to tool-using intelligence. If it could learn to flick a zippo with it's tongue... hmm. Perhaps a mix of biological fuel and technological ignition could make a plausible fire-breather after all.

Damn. I might have to write another book to explore this possiblity. An alternate earth ruled by super-intelligent giant bovines who fight their former primate overlords with fiery belches. On that world, the most chilling sound any man can hear is "mooo-fwhooosh!"


rastronomicals said...

Very glad to say that I've finally begun Bitterwood, and anticipate enjoying it (and its currently available sequel) thoroughly.

But, having proceeded through Bitterwood as far as the "Pet" chapter, and having seen the following drawing attached to the earlier post,


I have to allow however that I'm a little unclear as to how the foretalon hands would actually operate as such. I am trying to picture the arc through which the dragon hands would travel as the wings moved from fully extended (behind the "shoulders") to fully retracted (at the dragon's side).

If I've got it right, it wouldn't seem that the dragon could maneuver his foretalons to a point in space where they'd be useful at functions like eating (with utensils anyway) or writing.

Perhaps the flesh which covers the wings is extremely elastic, and maybe the wings rotate in a ball and socket joint. Otherwise, I wouldn't know how Zanzeroth for example might pick up an arrow from the forest floor in front of him . . . .

I'm not trying to be nitpicky; as I read page to page, negotiating the plot, I'm certainly not being tripped up thinking 'how is it that these dragon guys move their doshgarn limbs?' I'm much more interested in the relationship between Jandra and Vendevorex, or even Tanthia and Albekizan. And boy, that Murder God. . . . .

But since the idea of dragon anatomy is being brought up, I figured I might say that now that you mention it, I'm not quite sure how the whole thing works.

James Maxey said...


I'm trying now to imagine what you're imagining. I do think that the wings would rotate in a ball and socket joint, much like a human shoulder. The "hands" are located, skeletally, in the same place that a human's hands are anatomically. If you look again at the picture of the dragon you link to and sort of mentally erase the wings and the two extended fingers, the arms are very much like the arms of a man. I imagine that when the dragon is standing, he folds back the two long fingers so that the run parallel to his fore-arm. The skin is elastic, although I imagine that there's still flaps of skin hanging down from the dragons arms when he's standing. The dragon would be able to bring his hands together in front of him, but not behind him.

If a dragon was flying directly at you, so that you were looking at his wings straight on so that they were lines like the hands of a clock, at his maximum back flap the dragon's wings would point to 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. Although he wouldn't do this in flight, he could also move both wings completely down so that they met at the six oclock position.

Is that helpful, or have I just muddied things further?

rastronomicals said...

Yes that is helpful. Perhaps my biggest obstacle in visualizing this had been the way I'd thought of flight as a little kid.

Like, if you're six years old and an adult asks you to flap your wings, what are you gonna do?

You're going to move your arms up and down in a plane perpendicular to the ground.

So thinking of the dragon's wings as incontrovertibly residing in a ball and socket joint is indeed helpful.

I can certainly then see how a dragon would be able to touch its talontips at eyelevel or so, with the wingtips touching beyond that.

And the flaps of skin you mention (that aren't shown in the drawing) are helpful as well. Otherwise, I'd think that when a dragon went to touch his toes, or even his waist, he'd be bound to either rip his wingflesh, or break a bone (neither of which could be very thick).

So. . . thanks! Your patience in responding does not go unappreciated.

Such hypothetical exercises might seem a bit like a wheelspin to some, but for me, trying to think rigorously even as you follow from a fantastic hypothesis is both fun and stimulating, and in this case also serves to increase my engagement in your thus far marvelous fictional universe.