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May, 2004 : Sub-Genre Spotlight:

Dinosaurs in Science Fiction

For 140 million years, dinosaurs ruled the Earth. At the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 65 million years ago, they went extinct. The mystery behind their disappearance continues to confound scientists to this day. One of the most popular theories is that a colossal asteroid impact with the Earth killed them all off. Another postulates a global climatic change that rendered the environment inhospitable. There are many other theories, but the very fact that we don't know what happened to the dinosaurs perhaps helps account for their popularity, and why science fiction writers and fans seem to be so enamored with them.

Speculative fiction about dinosaurs usually falls into one of the following categories:

Time Travel: Scientists or explorers travel back in time to observe or hunt dinosaurs (i.e., "A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury).

Rebirth: Dinosaurs are brought back to life by scientific means, usually cloning or genetic engineering (i.e., Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, "Trembling Earth" by Allen Steele); or, in some cases, drastic environmental shifts pave the way for dinosaurs to live again (The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard).

Xenosaurs (dinosaurid aliens): Stories about dinosaur-like aliens or alien races descended from dinosaurs (i.e. The Quintaligo Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer, The Homecoming by Barry Longyear).

Lost World: Isolated ecosystems on Earth are found where dinosaurs still exist (i.e., The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs).

In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is mostly known today for being the creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote The Lost World, which is considered the first significant fictional work about dinosaurs. Some, however, may argue that credit should be given to Jules Verne, who published, in 1864, Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is the first novel to incorporate prehistoric animals into the text. Though not about dinosaurs per se, Journey does include a battle between two enormous reptiles that closely resemble dinosaurs.

Despite all the new discoveries in paleontology, dinosaur SF hasn't changed much over the years, and so much of the fiction written decades ago remains very readable today. This sub-genre continued to gain popularity throughout the 20th century as paleontologists made new discoveries about dinosaurs, and perhaps hit its peak in 1993 when the film version of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park was released.

For further reading about dinosaur fiction, I recommend the following: Starring T. Rex: Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture by Jose Luis Sanz (tr. Philip Mason), 2002, Indiana University Press; and The Last Dinosaur Book by W. J. T. Mitchell, 1998, University of Chicago Press.

For more information about real dinosaurs (including artistic renderings), check out The Dinosaur Encyclopedia, created by Graeme Worth. It contains detailed information on all fully characterized dinosaurs described up until July 1999.

The following list of recommended works is only that: a list of recommended works. There are literally thousands and thousands of stories and novels written about dinosaurs. For a more comprehensive list, visit

Essential Novels

Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear and Tony DiTerlizzi
After Professor Challenger's discovery of living dinosaurs in South America, the terrible lizards become staples of zoos and circuses around the world. But when the last of these attractions shuts down, a dinosaur trainer organizes an expedition to return the great beasts to their natural habitat, on that isolated plateau in Venezuela. Sequel to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
The Land That Time Forgot (et seq.) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
A group of soldiers find themselves marooned on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean, which they soon discover is inhabited by dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and other creatures of the distant past. Part of the Caspak series. [Available online]
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
On an isolated island off the coast of Costa Rica, a dinosaur theme park is set up with real dinosaurs genetically-engineered from DNA samples found in mosquitoes preserved in amber. Also worth checking out is its sequel, The Lost World, despite the dreadful movie it inspired (the novel and movie bear little resemblance to each other) and the fact that its title was stolen from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. [Excerpt online]
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
An expedition led by Professor George E. Challenger travels to the Amazonian rain forest and discovers a remote plateau where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. [Available online]
Anonymous Rex: A Detective Story by Eric Garcia
Dinosaurs never went extinct; instead, they secretly evolved into intelligent creatures and now disguise themselves as humans and comprise about 5% of the world's population. They have jobs just like anyone else—doctors, lawyers, even private detectives, like Vincent Rubio, who is hired to investigate a suspicious fire in this farcical, fantastical mystery. [Excerpt online]
West of Eden | Winter in Eden | Return to Eden by Harry Harrison
In a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, hunter-gatherer clans of humans live among the great beasts in North America, meanwhile, the Yilane, a race of intelligent, evolved dinosaurs, thrive in Africa an Europe. But when an oncoming ice age forces the cold-blooded Yilane to explore westward, they discover the humans take a young boy named Kerrick back to Africa with them as their slave. The series chronicles the adventures of Kerrick who escapes his captors and comes to lead his people against the saurian threat from across the sea. Also known as the West of Eden trilogy.
The Homecoming by Barry B. Longyear
Evolved dinosaurs return to Earth to reclaim it as their own. [Excerpt online]
Far-Seer | Fossil Hunter | Foreigner by Robert J. Sawyer
This series chronicles the lives of three Quintaglios, a race of intelligent dinosaurs evolved from dwarf tyrannosaurs—Afsan, the Quintaligo equivalent of Galileo; Toroca, the Quintaligo equivalent of Darwin; and Mokleb, the Quintaligo equivalent of Freud. Also known as the Quintaligo Ascension trilogy. [Excerpts online: Far-Seer | Fossil Hunter | Foreigner)
End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer
A paleontologist travels back in time to find out what really caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and what he discovers is almost too fantastic to imagine.... [Excerpt online]

Essential Short Fiction

"Wildcat" by Poul Anderson
An oil company sets up shop in the Upper Jurassic and find plenty of oil...and dinosaurs too.
"A Statue for Father" by Isaac Asimov
A team of scientists is able to recover fourteen dinosaur eggs from the Mesozoic—a valuable scientific achievement to be sure, but when one of the hatchlings is accidentally electrocuted, they discover that the dinosaurs have other value as well.
"Herding with the Hadrosaurs" by Michael Bishop
On a temporal trip to the Late Cretaceous, two young boys are stranded when a T-Rex attack makes them orphans. They must learn to survive however they can, and their salvation is found in a Hadrosaur herd.
"A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury
On a dinosaur-hunting safari in the past, a hunter accidentally treads on a butterfly, thereby altering the timeline from which he originated.
"The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury
A dinosaur visits a lighthouse every year because its foghorn resembles its mating call. Inspired the movie The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.
"The Measure of All Things" | "Bronte's Egg" | "In Tibor's Cardboard Castle" (forthcoming in F&SF) by Richard Chwedyk
These charming tales tell the story of the saurs—bio-engineered, fully-sentient dinosaurid "toys"— which live in a sort of wildlife refuge located in an old house and are looked after by the resident human, Tom.
"A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp
Reginald Rivers of Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris, tells the tale of a hunt gone terribly wrong to a prospective client.
"The Big Splash" by L. Sprague de Camp
Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris, take a scientific expedition to the end of the Cretaceous to observe the K-T Event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
"Foster Mother" by Carol Emshwiller
A woman in an isolated mountain region raises an infant dinosaurid creature to be a weapon, but forms an emotional bond with it that leads her to question whether or not she'll be able to give up custody of her foster child.
"Creature" by Carol Emshwiller
A simple-minded but intelligent dinosaurid creature—an engineered weapon designed to patrol the empty border lands—is nursed back to health by a kindly stranger. Sequel to "Foster Mother."
"The Virgin and the Dinosaur" by R. Garcia y Robertson
A time travel guide takes a beautiful young paleontologist on a tour of the Mesozoic and must keep her alive long enough for him to work his charms on her.
"Gator" by Robert J. Sawyer
When a sewer worker in New York City is bitten by something in the sewers, Dr. David Ludlam makes a startling discovery about what's lurking beneath the city.
"Just Like Old Times" by Robert J. Sawyer
In lieu of a standard death sentence, a serial killer's mind is "chronotransfered" into the past, superimposing his consciousness overtop that of a Tyrannosaurus rex, shortly before the creature's demise.
"Small Deer" by Clifford D. Simak
A time traveler discovers that the extinction of the dinosaurs was indeed caused by an extraterrestrial event, but an asteroid impact had nothing to do with it....
"Trembling Earth" by Allen Steele
A presidential candidate's visit to the dinosaur-inhabited Okafenokee wildlife refuge goes terribly wrong, and the details are revealed as the survivors explain their harrowing experience to a committee.
"Green Brother" by Howard Waldrop
A Native American boy's vision quest leads to his discovery of his spirit animal, a T. Rex, which comes to life and helps him fend off the troops with which his tribe is at war.

Essential Collections & Anthologies

Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury
Reprint collection: the collected dinosaur fiction of Ray Bradbury, including illustrations by Willliam Stout, Steranko, Kenneth Smith, Moebius, David Wiesner, Gahan Wilson, and Overton Loyd. [Contents]
Dinosaurs! edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Reprint anthology: the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
Dinosaurs II edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
Reprint anthology: more of the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp
Reprint collection: the collected adventures of Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris.
Dinosaurs edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Reprint anthology: the editor's choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
The Ultimate Dinosaur: Past, Present, Future edited by Byron Preiss, Robert Silverberg, & Peter Dodson
Original & Reprint Anthology: a combination of non-fiction and science fiction—informative scientific articles from leading dinosaur experts around the world and speculation from some of the top names in science fiction.
Dinosaur Fantastic edited by Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg
Original anthology: dinosaur fiction covering a range of themes.
Return of the Dinosaurs edited by Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg
Original anthology: more dinosaur fiction covering a range of themes.
The Science Fictional Dinosaur edited by Robert Silverberg, Martin H. Greenberg, & Charles G. Waugh
Reprint anthology: the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published, including a glossary, a geologic time scale, and a reptile classification chart.
Silurian Tales by Steven Utley
Series as yet uncollected, not really about dinosaurs, but probably of interest to fans of dinosaur fiction. These are time travel stories involving trilobites. [Contents]

Other Recommended Novels

Other Recommended Short Fiction

Other Recommended Collections & Anthologies

Copyright © 2004, John Joseph Adams. All Rights Reserved.

About John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams is the editorial assistant at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and the audiobook reviewer for Locus Magazine. His non-fiction has appeared in The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Science Fiction Weekly, Locus Online, and Amazing Stories. For a complete list of publications, visit his website at


May 21, 15:48 by John Frost
Comments on John Joseph Adams' newest bibliography.
May 21, 17:12 by Chris Dodson
Curse you, John Joseph Adams! Just when I get my reading list down to a somewhat manageable level, you come along and write this! ;-)

So much to read, so little time . . .
May 22, 04:29 by Steven Utley
Edgar Rice Burroughs must have loved dinosaurs, because they figure not only in his Land That Time Forgot but also in At the Earth's Core (1922) and its several sequels about Pellucidar, the primeval wilderness lying on the inner surface of the hollow Earth. In Tarzan the Terrible (1921), the Ape Man journeys to Pal-Ul-Don, which also does a brisk trade in prehistoric critters; dinosaurs provide incidental menace in Tarzan and the Forbidden City (1938), and The Eternal Lover (1925), which incidentally features Tarzan, offers further adventure in the same vein. Following Burroughs' lead, the more outre pulp magazines fairly swarmed with reptilian and other survivors from prehistoric times.

John Taine's The Greatest Adventure (1929) begins with the discovery of living dinosaurs in Antarctica -- but the creatures are more, or less, or in any case other than what they seem to be. In Taine's Before the Dawn (1934), present-day observers follow the career of a particular carnivorous dinosaur at the end of the Mesozoic Era.

An especially delightful tale in David Jablonski's Behold the Mighty Dinosaur anthology (New York: Elsevier/Nelson Books, 1981) is John Updike's "During the Jurassic."
Jun 5, 19:16 by Luc Reid
Just to nitpick, that's about 160 million years of existence for dinosauria rather than 140, unless you want to count birds (which wouldn't be a completely outlandish thing to do), in which case we have 225 million years for dinosaurs.

My son is seven, you see, and oh but we've learned a lot about dinosaurs.
Jun 6, 13:21 by Joe Tokamak
What is it about seven year old boys and dinosaurs? I remember it myself; enough that the recent revelation that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was a fairly feeble carrion eater rather than the king of the dinosaurs comes with a certain personal satisfaction: the Tricerotops was always my favorite, along with the one with a morning star for a tail. Ankylosaurus, maybe?
Jun 6, 21:27 by Camden
Ankylosaurus was the one with a kind of shell and long tail that ended like a kind of mace. A club with points kind of deal right? I'll check later, but I remember being a seven year old boy.
Jun 6, 21:29 by Camden
Yeah it was the one with the spiky shell and the club tail, neat. I mean that's not exactly my description, but it was what I was thinking.
Jun 7, 09:27 by Lavie Tidhar
Neal Asher's latest novel, Cowl, is a worthy addition to this list. It's only out in the UK at the moment (from Tor UK) but I assume a US edition will follow shortly. It is available from Amazon UK.
Jun 7, 19:18 by John Joseph Adams
Artistic rendering of an Ankylosaurus.

Use the Dinosaur Encyclopedia. There's a link to it in the article. Pretty cool, I think.

I wanted to actually make note of the most prominent dinosaur featured in each story and include a link directly to a picture of said dino, but it proved too collossal a task to attempt.

Jan 23, 12:14 by Elizabeth Thomas
What is it about seven year old boys and dinosaurs?

I think it's just seven-year-olds in general. My sister and I had this huge tribe of plastic dinosaurs. She had this HUGE T-Rex that was awesome, but I've always been more a fan of the triceratops. There was one that I don't even know what it was anymore, but it was glow-in-the-dark and had some pretty nasty teeth.

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