Wed
Apr 3 2013 9:00am

10 Essential Books Featuring Dinosaurs in Science Fiction

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books

The marrying of dinosaurs and science fiction is the most natural and awesome combination, right up there with root beer plus ice cream, Lennon and McCartney, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And when dinos do show up in science fiction they do so in a variety of ways. Whether invading present time, coming back as clones, evolving into intelligent aliens, or surviving in alternate timelines, dinosaurs are relentless in the world of print SF. Here are ten books we think are essential reading for dinosaurs in science fiction.

10 Essential Dinosaur Science Fiction Books Dinosaur Planet Anne McCaffreyDinosaur Planet by Anne McCaffrey (1978)

This little-known McCaffrey effort was written in the early days of her formulating her Pern series. The novel concerns a group of space travelers who “discover” a planet called Ireta which they hope to mine for awesome previous jewels. They find a bunch of dinosaurs and mutineers instead. A sequel called The Survivors (or sometimes Dinosaur Planet II) was published in 1984, but work on the Pern series meant McCaffrey never returned to this world.

 

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books Jurassic Park Michael CrichtonJurassic Park By Michael Crichton (1990)

This book is about some folks who clone dinosaurs and then stick them on an island. As opposed to the film version, the character of Ian Malcolm dies in this book, only to be resurrected in the book version of The Lost World (no relation to the Conan Doyle novel, other than dinos.) This makes Crichton’s The Lost World more of a direct sequel to the film version of Jurassic Park than his own novel. (Read more on why the film version of the Lost World might be better than the book here.) However, Jurassic Park, the book AND film, both still rock.

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books The Lost World Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

Here, the classic notion that dinosaurs might still be among us is executed wonderfully by Sherlock Holmes scribe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Lost World primarily concerns a hidden plateau in Venezuela where prehistoric creatures somehow survived extinction. Serving as the inspiration for several subsequent dinos-in-the-present-day stories, this book interestingly only features four technical dinosaurs: Iguanodon, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Megalosaurus. Any other creatures Professor Challenger and co. encounter are other types of prehistoric reptiles. Explanations here.

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Novels Dinosaur Summer Greg BearDinosaur Summer by Greg Bear (1998)

This novel is a sort of sideways sequel to The Lost World, insofar as it takes place in an alternate universe in which the events of that book actually happened. This means capturing real life dinos and putting them in circuses totally destroys the careers of stop-motion animators like Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. Sad! However, eventually the dinosaur circuses start to slow down, causing all sorts of children’s birthday parties to totally suck. (We might be kidding about that last part.)

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books A Journey to the Centre of the EarthJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)

The title of this one is one big giant spoiler-alert for its premise. Impatient and irritable Professor Lidenbrock and his cohorts descend into darkness and encounter all sorts of awesome critters along the way. However, like The Lost World, many of the prehistoric beasts aren’t actually dinosaurs, but instead, other forms of ancient life. For example: a plesiosaurus (hi Nessy!) and a Pterosaur make appearances. Should this get the credit for being the first work of SF to feature dinosaurs instead of Doyle’s The Lost World. Technically speaking, the answer is probably no. While emotionally speaking, the answer might be yes.

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books Dinosaur ThunderThunder Series by James F. David (1995)

Starting with the novel Footprints of Thunder and continuing in Thunder of Time and then most recently Dinosaur Thunder, this series imagines strange temporal inconsistencies seeing a contemporary world colliding with aspects of the Cretaceous world. Dinosaurs are eating people and jungles are randomly popping up everywhere. In the latest book, a T-Rex has been discovered on the moon. We’ve always wondered what else was on the moon. Now we know.

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books The Homecoming Barry B. LongyearThe Homecoming by Barry B. Longyear (1989)

Apparently, the reason dinosaurs really went away was thanks to some transportation in giant spaceships. Though Longyear doesn’t use the word “dinosaur” all that often in this text, intelligent, long-absent reptiles return to Earth with thoughts about reclaiming the planet. Will these guys cause a new mass extinction? Bets are on the dinosaurs.

 

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books End of an Era Robert J. SawyerEnd of an Era Robert J. Sawyer (1994)

In an attempt to discover why the dinosaurs really died, paleontologists head back in time to discover Martians using mind control on dinos. The main characters’ tussle with said Martians accidentally causes, well…certain events to happen perhaps the way they did before…or perhaps not. Though not Robert J. Sawyer’s only foray into dinosaur SF, it is one of the coolest.

 

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books Fossil Hunter Robert J. SawyerQuintaglio Ascension Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer (1992)

Proving he might be the king (rex?) of dino-science fiction in print, Robert J. Sawyer is also responsible for this trilogy. Primarily concerning a highly evolved form of T-Rex called the Quintaglios (they figured out that whole tiny arm deal) this trilogy is all about how a species of sentient dinosaurs could evolve on another planet and then sort of repress the idea that they were ever from somewhere else. (The Star Trek: Voyager episode “Distant Origin” has the same thing, only the dinos are way less fierce.)

10 Essential Science Fiction Dinosaur Books Ray Bradbury Dinosaur TalesDinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury (1983)

Bradbury’s love of dinosaurs is one of the things that makes him the original nerd. This collection includes all his stories which either deal with dinos directly or reference them. The beautiful story “The Fog Horn” is here, as is the very famous time travel story “A Sound of Thunder.” More importantly, the collection features a heartfelt introduction from the legendary stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. It also contains the most important Bradbury quote ever: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

What are your favorite dinosaur reads?


Stubby the Rocket is the voice of Tor.com and has gotten over many things. The death of the dinosaurs is not one of them.

27 comments
INCyr
1. INCyr
Really? No Dinotopia? That's a major oversight, if you ask me.
INCyr
2. Adam Hunter Peck
+ Dinotopia
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
McCaffrey did technically return to the universe of Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors (which is the title I read the sequel under). Her Planet Pirates trilogy written in collaboration with Elizabeth Moon & Jody Lynn Nye, consisting of Sassinak, The Death of Sleep, and Generation Warriors, overlaps the events of the DP books and retells a lot of them from a different perspective. But it isn't primarily set on Ireta. Indeed, even the DP books treat their titular planet as more of a backdrop to the space-mutiny stuff, which is a total waste of a planet of dinosaurs.

(Also the two linked Ireta series are set in a galaxy governed by the Federated Sentient Planets, which is also an entity in the Pern series, the Ship Who Sang series, and the Crystal Singer series, but apparently McCaffrey didn't consider them a single universe despite reusing the name. That's a bit confusing. I'm not sure if there's any reason they couldn't be treated as a common universe if the reader wanted.)

I love Dinosaur Summer. A book where Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen are central characters who actually go on a dinosaur safari? Awesome!

As for Journey to the Centre of the Earth, is it worth mentioning that the featured "dinosaurs" in the James Mason movie version, dimetrodons, weren't dinosaurs either but an earlier type of warm-blooded reptile, synapsids, that are actually ancestors of mammals?
INCyr
6. Boston Cookie
Totally agree re: Dinotopia. That book/those books are amazing and absolutely essential.
Derek Broughton
7. auspex
I love Sawyer, but two entries from Sawyer and no Harry Harrison? West of Eden and its sequels may well be his best work.
INCyr
8. bugi
I'm totally missing Harry Harrisons "Eden"-Trilogy
INCyr
9. tbob
"I love Sawyer, but two entries from Sawyer and no Harry Harrison? West of Eden and its sequels may well be his best work."

According to Wikipedia, the race in Harrison's West of Eden books are technically lizards, not dinosaurs. I looked it up because I had the same thought as you did.
Rob Rater
10. Quasarmodo
I read Journey to the Center of the Earth was was quite disappointed to find it was literally the worst book I ever read.

I also tried reading Jurrassic Park but never finished it. I just found it ridiculous that for their security system, they'd type in the # of dinosaurs they thought were on the island, and their system would confirm that #, but then when Ian suggested they type in a higher figure, they discovered there were more dinosaurs on the island. But apparently prior to that discovery, every time they did the check, the system would find the exact same combination of dinosaurs. For instance, it always found just 3 raptors, even though there were something like 17 raptors on the island.
INCyr
13. ComputerProgrammer
@10 Quasarmodo

First time posting, but I have to respond to this...

As a software developer, I am often appalled at how the capabililties of computers and programming are treated in books and movies, but I have to say the bit about the security system in Jurrasic Park is by far the most realistic protrayal of software development I've ever seen in fiction. This is exactly the type of mistake a developer will often make -- "There will never be more than X dinosaurs, so I only need to check up to X dinosaurs to see how many there are". If I had a nickel for everytime I've debugged and found this sort of logic at the bottom of it, I wouldn't need to spend anymore time debugging this sort of logic.
Christopher Bennett
14. ChristopherLBennett
@13: I've only seen the movie version, but wasn't that kind of the point of Jurassic Park -- that no matter how well you try to design a system, it'll still be subject to human error and oversight, so something's bound to go wrong?

Heck, that's the meaning of Murphy's Law in general. People think it's just a wry observation about the general cussedness of life, but Murphy was actually an engineer, and his "Law" is a specific statement about safety design: that if a design fails to take precautions against a particular failure mode (so that it "can go wrong" in that way), then that failure will eventually, inevitably happen.
INCyr
16. Staar84
I'd just like to add another vote for Dinotopia. It's really worth editing the post to add it. Honorably mentionm, perhaps?
Nick S
17. kukkurovaca
Oh, man, definitely definitely definitely Dinotopia.

Also, while it's maybe a little obscure, Robert Silverberg edited a book called "The Ultimate Dinosaur," which collected some great short fiction, non-fiction, and awesome art.

Also, Bakker's Raptor Red, while perhaps not science fiction, might deserve a mention as well...
INCyr
18. Dick S.
I would like to nominate Michael Swanwick's "Bones of the Earth." This works well as both a time travel paradox and a novel about dinosaurs.
INCyr
19. Raskos
Second to "Bones of the Earth", not just for its depiction of dinosaurs and time travel paradoxes, but for its deft and insightful (minus the frequent sex) depictions of palaeontologists.
Brian R
20. Mayhem
@ChristopherLBennett
You beat me to the comment about the Sassinak stories, but minor correction - those, the brain ships, and the Crystal stories are explicitly in the same universe - some even feature the same characters.

They all started out as independent but by the end of it they were a complete mishmash.

The Pern & Talents ones are separate though.

As for Jurassic Park ... the original novel is a classic work of thriller fiction, right down to the fiery conclusion. But he clearly wrote himself into a bit of a corner, hence the Lost World being a more of a reboot.
Christopher Bennett
22. ChristopherLBennett
@20: Thanks. I guess Wikipedia's McCaffrey article needs correction too, then. It's been a while since I've read them, so I didn't recall how much connection there was among them.
INCyr
23. Waterdog
I'll add my voice to the chorus and suggest that one of Sawyer's books should have been bumped for Swanwick's Bones of the Earth. ("Any list you can make I can make better; I can make any list better than you.")
Alan Brown
24. AlanBrown
I am glad to see Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World here--it has been a favorite of mine since childhood. I am sure I am in the minority here, but I always thought his best character was not Holmes, it was Professor Challenger (with the folks in The White Company coming in a close second).
INCyr
25. Corey27
I read a pretty good short-story compilation called "Dinosaurs II" that features at least one Robert J. Sawyer story.
Sara H
26. LadyBelaine
I will add my full throated agreement to the chorus bemoaning the omission of Dinotopia (and its progeny - there are three, equally gorgeous sequels including the 'Dinosaurs in Imperial China' book, Journey to Chandara). I tsk in chagrin. Tsk, tsk.

I must also throw in my own recommendation for Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick, as has been duly noted to joyously feature of including dinosaurs,parralell timelines, time travel, severed stegosaurus heads in styrofoam beer coolers, timelines running parallel and a vengeful successor terrestrial intelligent species that doesn't like how humanity fouled the nest, so to speak.

Spoilers 'albanized' for your protection.
Alan Courchene
27. Majicou
The marrying of dinosaurs and science fiction is the most natural and
awesome combination, right up there with root beer plus ice cream
Why you'd want to ruin perfectly good ice cream with hideous, awful root beer is a mystery to me, but to each his own (maybe rockets have no taste buds.)

Dinotopia honestly sounds more like fantasy than s-f (I think I may have read the first book of it, but I can only remember it being a picture book, if an excellent one.) If picture books are to be included, I'd have added in Dougal Dixon's The New Dinosaurs, which is meant to read like a book of popular science from an alternate timeline, more or less.
Jon Fris
28. mehndeke
@27

Dinotopia - the story of a scientist and his son getting lost in a storm on a ship and widing up on an island unknown to mankind where dinosaurs and humans have lived together for some time. On this planet. Definately S.F.

Also required for this list. Can't believe they missed it. It may be more of a child's book, but it's required dino reading even for adults. Such a good series.
lake sidey
29. lakesidey
Tarzan the Terrible? :) Not the greatest, but...

~lakesidey
Alan Brown
31. AlanBrown
Woah, come to think of it, Tarzan at the Earth's Core and all the other Pellucidar stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs were great prehistoric adventures (and also some of those tales had dirigibles, which made them doubly awesome).
INCyr
34. CG Mosley
The Land That Time Forgot!!! I can't believe it's not on the list...

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