Fri
Mar 29 2013 4:00pm

Science Fiction Killed the Dinosaurs

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. 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?

Reign of Fire

Cause of Dinosaur Extinction: Burned by Dragons

Science Fiction Killed the Dinosaurs

Maybe 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

Science Fiction Killed The DinosaursThe 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

Science Fiction Killed The DinosaursIn this very brief Ellison short story, the dinosaurs were not wiped out by some kind of conventional cataclysm 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

Science Fiction Killed The DinosaursOriginally 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.

 

Other Mesozoic Madness

Science Fiction Killed The Dinosaurs

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.

Science Fiction Killed The Dinosaurs

Further, there’s Dino-Riders 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.

Science Fiction Killed The DinosaursOn the literary side of things, author Italio Calvino give us a wonderful short story in his collection Cosimicomics. The immortal character named “Qfwfq,” is someone who has been around the universe pretty much forever, always in different guises, and once was dinosaur! In the short story “The Dinosaurs,” Calvino postulates an odd take on evolution, where humanoid-type creatures seem to have developed, but have lost all memory of the dinosaurs. Here, a self-proclaimed dinosaur (and narrator of the story) is able to blend in with the other beings, owing only to the fact they don’t know what a dinosaur looks like. The results of this infiltration are both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Science Fiction Killed The DinosaursFamously, of course, there’s also the Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder,” in which a time-traveling agency allows you to go on a safari and shoot a T-Rex all Bungalow Bill-style. But, if you step off the path and mess with say, some butterflies, you might come back to a completely different alternate-universe present!

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 depictions of the dinosaurs? Comment below!


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

14 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
It's worth noting that, years before Voyager did "Distant Origin," there was an original-series novel with a very similar premise, First Frontier by then-prolific Trek novelist Diane Carey and paleontologist Dr. James I. Kirkland, Jr. (yes, James Kirkland co-wrote a novel about James Kirk). There, the intelligent dinosaurs were descended from raptors transplanted by aliens to another planet, and they used the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and blow up the asteroid before it hit, but the Enterprise conveniently survived the timeline shift (doesn't it always?) and went back 65 million years to stop them. Considering that this is a novel combining Star Trek and dinosaurs, I'm amazed it isn't more famous. I mean, it's geek heaven.

I doubt the episode was inspired by the novel, though. They would have given credit if it had been, and the details are very different.
wiredog
2. wiredog
@1
I remember that book. Bought it, read it once, and threw it away. It was awful.
Andrew Love
3. AndyLove
I don't think "Corridors of Time" had multiple timelines, or changing histories - as I recall, history was fixed (in fact, this review on Tor.com confirms this
http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/05/what-is-living-for-poul-andersons-the-corridors-of-time)
wiredog
4. Alright Then
My favorite dino-genocide comes from Futurama.

Fry: "What killed the dinosaurs?"
Giant Brain: "ME!!!"

Eh, simple enough.
wiredog
5. Tehanu
@2 -- funnily enough, I just re-read it and was very disappointed -- my memory of it from first reading, 20 or more years ago, was a lot different from this time. Too much blood and gore, for one thing, and too much repetition of the basic trope. Guess I'm not as tolerant of schlock as I used to be. Sigh.
wiredog
6. Rudy Ralishaz
I always loved the Harry Harrison Eden series where the dinosaurs never died and ruled the earth as human level intellect creatures while humans were hunted as vermin. Great stuff!
Del C
7. del
The Reign of Fire objection--that extinct dinosaurs shouldn't leave fossils because the dragons burned them all--also implies that mammals should be extinct, because we see mammal fossils! (Also, if humans evolved from apes, how come there are apes?)

Really the dinosaurs whose fossils we see died in the course of natural dinosaur lives long before the extinction. I could be wrong, but I don't think we have identified one dinosaur fossil as "died the year the dinosaurs went extinct".
wiredog
8. Simon Fraser
There's also the theory put forward in 2000ads "Flesh" storyline that the Dinos were all killed and by time traveling cowboys. Their meat sent forwards to a hungry future.
It's ok to kill something that's already extinct right?
David Corless
9. phonos
Homer Simpson, time travelling toaster... An entire planet killed with a single sneeze
Peter Willard
10. Bladrak
There was a story I read In either Asimov's or Analog years ago. Aliens came to Earth with a technology that allows viewing the past. Some paleontologists are using it to study dinosaurs right before the big meteor impact that killed them. They see a giant robot/alien war machine going around killing as many dinosaurs as it can find. They think it's trying to get as many as it can before they go extinct. It turns out the modern aliens have found evidence of the past aliens before, and the paleontologists chief alien contact is their head researcher. I don't remember the issue or author. The only other thing I remember is that when they write their paper about what they found their grad student gets to pick the title and calls it "The Lone Gunman Theory."
wiredog
11. David Bofinger
Rudy Ralishaz, there were no humans in Harrison's Eden series. The main viewpoint species was descended from new world monkeys.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
I think you could get a whole article out of the ways science fiction has shown (non-avian) dinosaurs not going extinct. Besides the Silurians, "Distant Origins," and First Frontier, you've got Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Burroughs's Pellucidar, the Godzilla/daikaiju franchise, Marvel Comics' Savage Land, and so forth. The common thread among those examples is that the dinosaurs survived in remote or hidden locations. (In the original movie, Godzilla was explained as a species that had survived in the ocean depths for millions of years and was displaced from its feeding grounds by American nuclear tests. It's clear there was a whole species that size because the original was killed and a second one emerged in the sequel. The later movies in the '90s retconned him into a more conventional-sized carnosaur that lived on a remote Pacific island and was mutated to giant size by the radiation from the nearby nuclear tests.)

I don't think Anne McCaffrey's Dinosaur Planet would count. I don't remember whether the dinosaurs there were transplanted from Earth or independently evolved. The books were focused more on the mutiny and interstellar politics and stuff, with the titular dinosaur planet feeling like an afterthought.
Thomas Thatcher
13. StrongDreams
Stirling's The Sky People. Ancient aliens, dinosaurs, space travel and cave ladies in fur bikinis!
wiredog
14. brundlefly
In the SUPER MARIO BROS. movie, the K-T impact created a parallel universe that sucked in all of the dinosaurs. They eventually form a dystopian society ruled by Koopa.

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