Wed
Apr 18 2012 4:00pm

Science Fiction Killed the Dinosaurs

Though not the largest extinction in the history of our little planet, the collective death of the dinosaurs still stings. Never mind that we probably wouldn’t have evolved if they were still around nor would Jurassic Park have ever been made, the point is, the dinosaurs are missed. But what was it that caused their untimely demise? The going thinking tends to agree with the Alvarez Hypothesis and points an accusatory finger at a large asteroid, with the smoking gun being the infamous Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan Peninsula. There’s also the notion of increased volcanism and other climate change issues too. But what if it wasn’t any of these things? What if a science fiction thing killed the dinosaurs?

Below are five instances when the extinction of our favorite terrible lizards occurred through science fictional means.

Reign of Fire

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Burned by Dragons

Dragons burned them. The Dragons burned the dinosaurs. Got it? As the voice-over below explains (starting around 2:10) paleontologists discover dragons killed the dinosaurs by burning them all into dust, and the resulting ash in the air actually caused the ice age. This is said so quickly that there’s no time to ask questions like: how did we end up with dinosaur fossils then? Or, why did the dragons immediately go into hibernation after burning all the dinosaurs?

These are questions for a philistine! Obviously the dragons left a few dinosaur bones in the ground for us to discover because they knew it would be fun for us. Further, they went into hibernation after burning up all the dinos because it was hard work and they were sleepy.

 

The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Time War Retroactively Kills Everything

The notion of a war being waged across time is explored extensively in this Poul Anderson novel. If you can get over the idea of a sexy lady character named “Storm,” then the book is actually a fun read as a great exploration of how a “temporal cold war” might actually play out. Multiple timelines are in play at several points in this book, and one outcome which is gestured at is the idea that space battles stretching back into the past actually caused the craters on the moon to form and the dinosaurs to be wiped out. A future paradox where we are the cause of our existence, and thus the death of the Dinosaurs might be the most nerd-heavy application of an ontological paradox we can think of. Dinosaurs AND spaceships? Yes please.

 

“The Dreams a Nightmare Dreams” by Harlan Ellison

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Giant Evil Dream Monster Eats Them

In this very brief Ellison short story, the dinosaurs were not wiped out by some kind of conventional cataclysms limited to our universe, but instead by a trans-dimensional entity that feeds off of dreams and gobbled them up. Here, there was an entire dinosaur kingdom, complete with intelligent versions of the terrible beasts who lived in beautiful cities. But this giant monster, which was some kind of uber-telepath, invaded their dreams and caused them all to die out. Now, the creature sleeps beneath the Yucatan Peninsula and is only prevented from waking by humans concentrating on feeding it certain dreams, which keep it asleep. But if it wakes up, everybody is pretty much screwed. This story shows off what science fiction can do quite well when it wants to: be perfectly abstract by rendering something extremely specific.

 

Doctor Who “Earthshock”

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Space Freighter Crashes into Earth

Part of what makes “Earthshock” such a great classic Doctor Who serial is the various reveals in each of the four parts get genuinely more exciting as the story goes on. After part one, it’s revealed the Cybermen are behind everything that’s going on. Then, everyone is accused of murder. Then there are tons of Cybermen marching towards the audience, and finally, Adric tragically dies and a spaceship full of Cybermen crashes into Earth causing the death of the dinosaurs! Because this episode features Cybermen and the death of a companion of the Doctor, it’s easy for the dinosaurs all dying stuff to get over-shadowed. Oddly, this piece of continuity has mostly stuck in the Doctor Who canon, with the only possible contradiction being Jack Harkness’s statement in Torchwood that he was present when the “asteroid” hit. Clearly, the Doctor didn’t ever bother to tell him the truth about that incident. “Earthshock” also sets up the whole dinosaur thing nicely with the Doctor remarking at the start of the serial that he always “meant to find out” why the dinosaurs died.

 

End of An Era by Robert J. Sawyer

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Time Traveling Paleontologist Does it While Fighting Martians

Originally published in 1994, this Sawyer novel sees a paleontologist named Brandy and his friend Klicks heading back in time to specifically figure out why the dinosaurs kicked it. Once there, they discover blue-skinned Martians who have changed the way gravity functions on Earth. The Martians are actually manipulating the dinosaurs, and occasionally controlling their minds. This leads to a situation where Brandy ends up being responsible for killing all the dinosaurs in order to restore Earth’s gravity to what it should be and allow for the mammals to flourish. The book indicates this is a kind of alternate timeline, which Brandy creates, one that is not the original way the dinosaurs may have died.

This book is notable because it’s almost shocking a novel had never been written with the exact premise before. How many times have all of us imagined a scenario in which Martians control the minds of dinosaurs? It seems like this thing would have written itself out of the ether ages ago. In all seriousness, this book is actually notable because it’s highly readable and despite having a goofy premise, is very moving and exciting.

 

Honorable Mentions: Other Mesozoic Madness

The dinosaurs aren’t always killed by science fiction when they show up in the genre; sometimes even crazier stuff happens to them! Doctor Who of course brought the dinosaurs into the present day in the 3rd Doctor story “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and the reoccurring species the Silurians can be seen as a kind of intelligent species of dinosaur.

This idea of smart, humanoid dinosaurs was ripped off borrowed by Star Trek: Voyager in the episode “Distant Origin.” In all fairness, this is pretty different from the Silurians insofar as these smart, talking dinos actually left Earth in search of a new place to live, whereas the Silurians stayed put.

Further, there’s Dino-Riders (picutred at the top of the post); a cartoon/toy line in which guys from another planet (Star Wars/BSG style) crash land on Earth and strap lasers to the dinosaurs. These toys were totally cool, and I don’t understand why they haven’t been revived.

Finally, a depiction of dinosaur cloning can be found in an obscure novel and film series called Jurassic Park.

 

What about you dear readers? What are some science fiction-style killings of the dinosaurs? Other SF-related dinosaur action? Comment below!


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. Shockingly, the first piece of writing he ever attempted to get published was about dinosaurs and space travel.

19 comments
Sky Thibedeau
1. SkylarkThibedeau
They were all Honkers killed by the Time Traveling Turok Son of Stone and his sidekick Andar.
SlappytheClown
2. SlappytheClown
According to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (Good Omens), there were no dinosaurs. All those bones were scattered around by God as a sort of obscure joke.
JS Bangs
3. jaspax
I've never seen Reign of Fire, but now that I know the premise (the dinosaurs were burninated by dragons), I so want to.
Ryan Britt
4. ryancbritt
@3 Yeah, it's too bad Trogdor didn't show up in the movie.
adrian bellis
5. Nilrem
I can't remember if they actually made them extinct, but 2000 AD used to have a strip where ranchers from the future travelled back to farm/hunt the Dino's (I vaguely recall them killing them off by over hunting).
Eli Bishop
6. EliBishop
Tiny nitpick on Reign of Fire: I don't think the idea was that the dragons literally burned up all the dinosaurs. The dragons just like to burn things up in general - trees, whatever - which wrecks the environment. It was sort of implied that they don't so much eat meat as eat ashes - one of the oddest pseudo-biology ideas I can think of in movie SF.
SlappytheClown
7. Narmitaj
Gary Larson, of course, thought smoking did for the dinos.

I don't see the problem of fossils existing even if the Reign of Fire dragons burned the live dinosaurs into extinction - fossils aren't made only from the last dinos to live, they come from all sorts of times in the previous 150m years.

In Brian Aldiss's 1976 novel The Malacia Tapestry the "humanity" of the story is descended from dinosaurs in an alternative unchanging 17thC-like environment, and the original dinosaurs are still around, though endangered.
Paul Howard
8. DrakBibliophile
There was a book titled _Toolmaker's Koan_ where we learn that the dinos killed themselves off. There was an intelligent species of dinos who had a little war which ended up starting a Nuclear Winter.
SlappytheClown
9. Gardner Dozois
Clifford Simak wrote a short story, name forgotten, in which aliens in Flying Saucers landed and hunted all the dinosaurs to extinction for their meat.
SlappytheClown
10. Stargazer
Robert Sawyer's actually guilty of multiple mass dino-cides: In his Quintaglio trilogy, dinosaurs were killed off on Earth by a superintelligent alien energy being who wanted to promote biodiversity and let mammals evolve (after first having some dino specimens relocated to a distant planet where they could continue their own evolution... no good explanation provided for why it wasn't easier to move the mammals instead!) Despite how crazy the premise sounds in this overly brief description here, I actually have always really loved these books. Nerdy dinosaur scientists discovering evolution and space travel!
SlappytheClown
11. johngarden
You forgot to mention the most plausible theory: They left earth in spaceships, only to return one day very soon (in the form of an indie british rock opera)....
http://mjhibbett.bandcamp.com/album/dinosaur-planet
SlappytheClown
12. Juanma Ruiz
I so can't believe nobody mentioned that dinosaurs didn't die... they just were carried to a parallel Earth where they evolved. Or didn't you watch Super Mario Bros: The Movie?
SlappytheClown
13. a1ay
It was sort of implied that they don't so much eat meat as eat ashes -
one of the oddest pseudo-biology ideas I can think of in movie SF.

Remember that these are British dragons. Eating inedible half-incinerated meat is kind of a national speciality.

Another explanation - can't remember the story title though - was that time travel gets invented and the first thing everyone does is travel back in time to the extinction of the dinosaurs to find out what happened. Unfortunately, too many time machines arrive simultaneously, overlap in space, and explode with terrific force, scattering the dust of their iridium drive cores across the planet...
Ryan Britt
14. ryancbritt
@13

You simply MUST remember the name of the story. Anything which we can describe with the phrase "too many time machines" is a winner in my book.
Alexander Burke
15. aburke2435
Then there's the game Pathways Into Darkness in which a Great Old One equivalent crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago. Now (1996 then) its waking up...

I seem to recall one of the Animorph books dealing with this, but its been quite a while since I read it.
SlappytheClown
16. a1ay
14: I've asked the collective brain of Making Light. I expect an answer in mere seconds...
Michael Burke
17. Ludon
As reported by Howard Handupme on DNN, the We-Say-So Corporation killed them off after carrying out an escalating round of creating new problems while trying to fix pervious problems.

What? no one remembers Dinosaurs with Earl Sinclair and The Baby?
SlappytheClown
18. RyanAilts
I think audiences have killed dinosaurs. It's so hard to have any kind of dinosaur fiction taken seriously by the masses these days. People are of course tired of the "archaic" " lost island" and "dinosaurs and man coexisted" stories. And if you wrote something about bringing the animals to the present with genetics you are labeled a Jurassic Park clone.

It's hard to write an actual dinosaur story these days.
SlappytheClown
19. Zenithfleet
@15: That Animorphs book was one of the Megamorph specials - I think it was #2. The kids are blasted back to dinosaur-time by an explosion of some sort and discover two warring refugee species of aliens. (One of which is responsible for bringing broccoli to Earth. And they're the nicer ones.)

The team throws in their lot with the broccoli aliens (and use their mighty morphin' powers to turn into Tyrannosaurs and stomp alien bases). Their enemies declare that if they can't have the planet then nobody can, and divert a comet/asteroid toward Earth. The friendly aliens plan to use their only super-bomb to stop it...

...but the kids know that a) they need another explosion to blast them forward to the modern day, and b) if the comet doesn't hit, the mammals - and the human race - will never get their shot at glory. Cue moral dilemma...

(Great kids' books by the way - at least until ghostwriting fatigue set in around book thirty. That ghastly TV adaptation, on the other hand...)

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